Ryan “Snufflemuffin” Weisgerber is the mind behind Hug the Universe.
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, why you create, what was the beginning of your journey in regards to illustrating your thoughts.
Well, first things first. My name is Ryan, and I’m a writer, illustrator, and art director.
In terms of how I got into design, I feel like I kinda fell into it. My first love was music, and when I was younger that was my ambition career-wise. I thought that learning design would help me in marketing my music, so I initially got into design with that goal in mind. But then design kinda ran away with me.
I spent the first 10 years of my career being pretty resentful of said career for what I felt was “taking me away from music,” and only in retrospect about 10 years in did I realize what had happened and how excellent of a fit it was.
I have a certain set of propensities mentally and emotionally, and my design work really benefits from those propensities and has helped to hone them.
Ya know, I’m also really glad the music thing didn’t work out the way I had hoped—I think I’d hate working in the music industry.
I’ve always been really driven to live my life with great clarity and intention, and to help others improve their own experiences through doing the same. So design for me is one way I can help people better understand things, experience more enjoyment in what they’re doing, and better express themselves.
Creating beauty and helping others is a huge part of what I want to be remembered for, and design has been a great skill for me to nurture toward that end.
Secondly, Snufflemuffin? What’s up with that amazing last name?
Uhh, it’s easier to pronounce than “Weisgerber”? 😀 (Which is pronounced “vice-gurbur,” btw.)
Actually, I have a tendency to get fixated on fun word combinations my brain stumbles across like “pickle bear,” or “nugget butler,” or made-up names that I use in design comps, like “Billy Buttonfarmer.”
When I moved to Portland back in 2009 I used “snufflemuffin” as my Twitter handle because it delighted me, and then I wound up meeting a lot of people in the design community through Twitter… and the name stuck.
Bringing delight into the world is really important to me, and I love how delighted people are to discover that a bearded man in his mid 30s is called “Snufflemuffin.”
Plus it’s memorable, so it’s proven itself a worthy moniker. 🙂
Using both your personality and your history to influence your creativity is a very open and honest approach. With that, creativity is something that is very illusive as far as quantifying it. I really appreciated our discussion about this the other day and thought you might have some more thoughts about it as it relates to how you divine your ideas and concepts.
To me, creativity is more a process of listening than anything else. And I think of the process of inspiration more like being a radio than being a god. Radios don’t create the sound you hear through them, they transmit signals, and you get to choose which signal to focus on by changing where the dial is pointing.
A lot of times I think of my role in creating things as being a steward of that idea. It can feel like the idea wants to come into the world, and it’s pretty rad that I get to have a say in the form it takes.
That was very much my experience with creating the OMG Friends (which is a line of pocket-sized adventure plushes that I designed for kids a few years back).
Aside from being the art director at Muse Storytelling, you have a side project that just came out. What can you tell us about that?
I do! It’s a blog (which you can find at www.hugtheuniverse.com), and it’s a growing collection of my writing and illustrations around the pursuit of personal excellence through increased clarity.
It’s a really multifaceted endeavor for me. It’s a vehicle for me to learn a lot of new things about life, communication, and business; for my desire to empower people; to introduce some of the characters I’ve created (Snufflebear, Dream Beaver, The Colorasaurs, etc.); to put some beauty out into the world; and to delight people.
It’s also a way that I’m “coming out of the closet” in terms of some hard things I’ve experienced but felt afraid to talk about.
Being human and the world we’ve created is complicated and it can be f@cking scary, and there’s a lot of absolutely crazy stuff going on around us. I say in my inaugural post that I know I can’t change the world by myself, but I’m going to do everything I can to help the effort, and Hug the Universe is one way that I’m doing that.
My hope is to also have it be a beacon that’s transmitting “HEY!!! I’m here!” to other like minded and like-oriented folks. I want to increase my community of amazing people who are contributing amazing things to the world.
The more I think about it, the more I think of you as a cross between scientist and illustrator. Meaning that you use your illustrations to explain complex ideas. For instance your Cyanodon What can you tell us about your connection between these things? Is it off base to make that comparison?
Hmmm… on one hand I have what some people call a “childlike sense of wonder” with life —I’m just fascinated by things, like the physics of light and color (which is reflected in The Colorasaurs who are a family of dinosaurs that teach 21st Century Color). Another factor is that I love learning. And another factor of it is that I’m really drawn to what is accurate.
Not “right” (whatever that is)—accurate.
I guess that’s where the “science” thing comes in. I want to see things have a measurable impact on people’s lives and experiences, and one of the most beneficial things that contributes to anyone’s experiences is increased understanding and clarity.
This is a theme for me.
When you are beginning a creative project, do you have a formula or process that you follow to get from A to B?
Absolutely. I do a ton of front-loading in terms of research and understanding the requirements of the solution that’s needed. I conduct in-depth interviews with the clients and/or teams of people my designs are meant to support, identify what’s going on in the industry around them, articulate what other people and/or companies in the same industry are doing well and not-so-well, identify keywords for the project’s objectives, etc. etc.
I do all of this before considering anything pertaining to the visual design of anything. Once all of that information is in place, I feel that additional answers to things like “what color should it be,” or “what typeface should we use” almost just fall into place.
Form follows function for me. I have typefaces that I love (Gotham, Graphik, Museo Sans, Equip Slab, etc.) and colors that make my li’l giblets tap dance (like PMS 313!), but the needs of the project are more important than my personal tastes.
I noticed that in your sketchbooks, you have a really amazing balance between massive amounts of thought dumps and illustrations. Are these always related? Do you find yourself floating away from your thoughts to become more illustrative? What is the transition there? Or is there one?
Huh, I think the sketches and thought-dumps are all part of the same process. Everything for me is super interconnected, and all of my characters and designs are the result of a lot of evolution and thought. So, I write, I organize thoughts, I sketch ideas, I write more, throw things out when the context changes, sketch more, and then a design or character (same thing, really) boops out the other end.
The OMG Friends were a really good example of this. A lot of people have been surprised to see the amount of thought, planning, and prototyping that went into their creation. Each one took a huge amount of time to discover.
I say “discover” because that’s what the process feels like to me. I’ll be creating something like a character and people will ask what its name is, and my response is typically “I don’t know—she/he hasn’t told me yet.”
Yeah, my favorite projects are the ones where it feels like the thing just really wants to exist, and I’m just helping guide it into the world.
Do you have a design maxim or philosophy that silently guides your decisions?
I’m a big fan of Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Design
Ah, yes. Mr. Rams is an inspiration to a lot of people for a very good reason. A career of distilling truth out of product design will do that. Can you give an example of these tenets in action in your work?
Well, I think all of those lenses are involved to varying degrees in everything I do.
As a specific example though, I’m really averse to anything that’s trendy because I think it’s a surefire recipe for things looking dated in the near future. So, everything I do is about beauty and craftsmanship and not what’s in fashion.
Man, I have very low regard for things that are fashionable. When I find something that large groups of people are doing I generally think it’s something to be cautious of, not jump into. There’s a lot of rehashing of crazy and misguided ideas in the world.
I’m also a huge advocate of design being unobtrusive and being as little design as possible. If most of what I’ve done is invisible, then I feel I’ve done a good job.
This is a double edged sword though because it’s what leads a lot of people to think that “simple” equals “easy.” As in, “I just want a simple website.”
Trust me, I want to give you a simple website (or logo or what have you), but that simplicity is the result of a very involved and detailed process.
Simplicity is the aspiration, not the process.
Excuse me, but that was a phenomenal quote there. I’m totally stealing that. So what sort of projects are you working on these days personally and professionally?
Hug the Universe, Hug the Universe, Hug the Universe. IT’S ALL HUG THE UNIVERSE! Right now at least. This is something I plan to continue building out for many years to come, but laying the foundation is the first order o’ business.
I have a fairly good sense of what shape it’s going to take in the end, and I’m really excited to meet it. 🙂
Thanks so much for taking some of your time today to talk with us today Ryan!
Are you a professional artist or designer? I’d love to talk with you about your work! Reach out to me here and maybe you, too, will be featured in the ProTalk!