Michael Tangonan has only been out of school for a few years, but he’s already amassed an impressive resume as a graphic designer: projects for Nike, full-time gigs at agencies in Dallas and Austin, and logo work for a professional athlete. And while he’s rightfully proud of the designs in his portfolio, he’s ready for more.
“I just moved to Austin, Texas, because there’s so much happening with UI/UX [User Interface and User Experience] design work here, especially with companies like Facebook and Snapchat,” says Michael. “This is what I want to start doing.”
As consumers continue to access media on a number of different devices, designers must adapt their work to more compact spaces and screens, hence making the “user experience” successful. As a UI/UX designer, designers must consider every visual element on a mobile device, and how each icon, button, and image will work together. UX design goes beyond simply beautiful work, and challenges a designer to think about how that beautiful work will adapt in different spaces.
“At first I was really scared, but it’s fun for me now,” he says. “Every designer should understand this; it’s the direction the industry is headed in.”
Michael, who grew up in the Philippines, became interested in design after moving to Texas in high school. After expressing an interest in photography, his guidance counselor suggested a design class, where Michael was amazed by the way he could manipulate images in Photoshop. He got an associate’s degree in Multimedia Publishing before deciding to enroll in Full Sail’s Digital Arts & Design program.
“I knew if I was going to go to Full Sail, I was just going to focus,” says Michael. “It’s super accelerated. You can’t miss any time. And during the program, we [Michael and his classmates] competed with each other. We challenged each other because we wanted everyone to be good.”
That focus paid off. Beyond his 40-plus hours a week of class and schoolwork, Michael started playing around with logo design. In 2011, over Spring Break, he whipped up a logo for NBA player Jeremy Lin, who at the time was making waves with the New York Knicks. Michael shared the logo online, and it took only a few days before it made its way to Lin’s camp.
“His marketing manager saw the logo and asked to purchase it for his Nike branding,” Michael remembers. “Jeremy himself tweeted out the logo, and that really helped me get my name on the map. So many people love sports, so if you can get one of your favorite athletes to share your work, it can really open so many doors.”
After graduation in 2012, Michael was hired at a small print company in Florida, where he earned valuable experience before moving to Dallas to take a job at an agency that worked with Southwest Airlines. This year, he relocated to Austin to work with an agency that lists Nike as one of its biggest clients. Michael freelances for them now, in addition to working for vacation rental website HomeAway, where he’s helping with a major brand redesign, continuing to sharpen his UI/UX design skills, and venturing outside of his comfort zone of sports-inspired design.
“I love that every sports design is strong and powerful, but is still unique,” says Michael. “But I focused on sports for two or three years, and now I’m working on more family-oriented content and really challenging myself.”
And while he still considers his dream job to be as a designer at the Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon, Michael is making sure that until then, he’ll be far from a one-dimensional designer.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a sports designer,” says Michael. “I want to show everyone that hey, I can do other great work too.”