Game on: How Rapha Lopes creates eye-catching, gaming-inspired icons
“I prefer to do and learn different things instead of focusing on just one area. It helps me to be the designer I want to be.”
We’re proud to have so many talented designers here at Sketch — including the incredible Rapha Lopes. Beyond creating amazing things for us, Rapha also shares his love for video games with the world through designing eye-catching icons, interfaces, and illustrations. We were psyched when we had the chance to sit down with him and share his story with you.
How would you describe what you do at Sketch?
At the risk of summarizing too much, I solve problems through visual design at Sketch.
You’ve done icon design, product design, illustration and more. Where did your career start and how has it evolved over the years?
After graduating in Graphic and Industrial Design, my career started in advertising agencies, designing all kinds of things you can imagine (brands, magazines, websites, etc).
Around 2010, I started working at a company that specialized in iOS apps for big brands in Brazil. At the time, everything was still quite new in app development, but that’s how I started working with a focus on UI design.
Over the years, I discovered icon design and started to design app icons for several companies and indie developers around the world. And some years ago, I started experimenting with things like 3D illustration and game development — but I never stopped designing UI or icons.
How would you describe your style as a designer?
Oh, this is difficult. I don’t know if I have a style. To be honest, sometimes I don’t even know how to describe myself as a professional!
Over the years, I’ve realized and accepted that I’m a curious person by nature, and that I love learning different things — even if they’re not design-related. So this probably puts me in a group of ‘generalist designers’, if that even exists! Someone who is not necessarily an expert in anything, but versatile in many things.
And I’m totally comfortable with that. I prefer to do and learn different things instead of focusing on just one area. And in some ways, it helps me to be the designer I want to be.
I prefer to do and learn different things instead of focusing on just one area. And in some ways, it helps me to be the designer I want to be.
Of all those areas of expertise, which one excites you the most, and why?
I don’t have a favorite, I like to design interfaces as much as I love to illustrate or design icons. But there is one thing that really excites and connects all the works I like to do: I love to try to bring more art to design.
Not the art we see and appreciate in museums, or the art as a personal and subjective expression of the artist. I mean the fundamentals of art that are also applicable to design. There are so many hidden gems in art that a designer can learn and feed on.
Even the basics like color and light. When you dive deep into it — beyond the fundamentals like color harmony, for example — it opens a new horizon in front of you and opens new possibilities that you can apply to your design work to improve it.
Video games seem to have had a big influence on your career. What about them do you think has inspired you as a designer?
I’ve played video games since my childhood. I still have good memories of when I used to play Atari with my father, or when I finished a game for the first time.
So yes, they were always present in my life, and at some point, they started to be a big influence on my career because of their artistic nature.
The storytelling, the intention of every detail to make players feel they are in a feasible universe, the artistic freedom to create things… All this inspires me to face my design work from another angle, to think in a more artistic way — free from our design dogmas.
What are some video games that inspire you the most?
I love several games, and there are a lot of great companies out there. But honestly, the Nintendo games are frequently the ones that inspired me the most. And it’s funny because at a first glance their games don’t seem to have evolved over time. After all, you still need to save the princess in the castle.
But even after so many years, they seem steadfast with their beliefs of what makes a game a good game. They seem to be on their own way in the mission of entertaining people, and they are clearly not concerned with following trends.
Playing their games, I feel they have a special ingredient that they have honed over the years. When it works, it brings a very unique ingredient that puts a smile on my face, even having to save the princess for the thousandth time.
It inspires me to try to be myself and keep looking for my unique ingredient too. So I can improve on the things that only I can offer.
We noticed you’ve been working on your own video game. Could you tell us a little more about it?
This is just a side project, one of the several side projects that I started and didn’t finish yet 😅
It started when I discovered a way to make games just by using logic such as: ‘when something happens, do this in that way’. It allowed me to do something that was not possible for me before — at least not without years of expertise in programming.
These kinds of things are amazing. I still love when I see developers or product managers feel encouraged by how easy Sketch is to use, and they just jump into it to design or test their own stuff without any help from a designer. People feel empowered by the tool when this happens. It gives you a superpower that you didn’t have before.
I still love when I see developers or product managers feel encouraged by how easy Sketch is to use, and they just jump into it to design or test their own stuff without any help from a designer. It gives you a superpower that you didn’t have before.
How does Sketch, as a software, help you in your design process?
There are a lot of things in Sketch that are directly inserted into my design process. The way the vector editing works, the easy way I can add a fill or border to a layer is just by pressing F orB (and using the same shortcut to disable them). TheCmdK shortcut to scale something, theCtrlP to toggle between vector/bitmap — which is very nice for icon design! And the new corner styles, which are great for game UI and graphic design. There are a lot of these to mention, it’s difficult to remember them all!
But the thing I appreciate most about Sketch — and it’s directly connected to my design process — is how easy it is to use. Even after all these years of using the software and seeing so many evolutions and lovely new features, I have the feeling that the essence of Sketch is still there, intact, and still shining. Yes, it evolved and now it’s a super-powerful tool. But it’s still easy to use, and still easy to get things done.
What are some features in Sketch that you wish more designers knew about?
It’s difficult to point out specific features, there are a lot of nice things, but I tend to think it’s directly connected with the kind of work each of us does every day.
For me, I love the way Sketch lets me add effects on a layer. It’s easy to add what I need, clear to understand what’s happening, and also very versatile. I only need a few clicks to make what I want in the way I need.
What’s one tip you would offer young designers still figuring out what their specialty is?
Well, have fun! 😊 This may sound too simple, but it’s something I would say to myself when I was younger. I still try to keep it in mind today nowadays, too .
Having fun for me means lots of different things. It’s about taking advantage of every chance to learn something new, being curious and without prejudice towards new things, and being free to experiment and to make mistakes. You have to be free to think in different ways, to be different if it will make you feel better with yourself, to follow your own path instead of staying in the path of others. And you have to open your own doors without fear, but have the humility to recognize your mistakes and not be afraid to go back, open another door and move forward again in another direction.
It may take time for you to discover your specialty, or what makes you unique. But it does not mean you need to take it too seriously.
So just keep looking to the horizon and keep your goals in mind, but also enjoy the journey, enjoy your life and have fun in the process. It will be a rollercoaster, with ups and downs. But having fun in the process will perhaps make it easier to listen to your heart and discover your specialty.
It’s about taking advantage of every chance to learn something new, being curious and without prejudice towards new things, and being free to experiment and to make mistakes.
Finally, are there any upcoming projects you’re most excited about?
Unfortunately, being curious also means starting a lot of things and not necessarily finishing them all 😄
But there is a set of Christmas icons that I started last year that I absolutely love the result. Again, I was trying to make a set of icons with a more artistic look & feel, and it was nice inserting all the layers of lights and shadows to simulate brush strokes. So I really like the result so far, and I’m hoping to have time to finish the other icons on this set before this Christmas 🤞
Want to keep up with Rapha’s designs? Follow him on Dribbble and Twitter.