April 25, 2018

KEY LARGO — Graphic and industrial designer Angela Guzman attributes growing up in Key Largo to fostering her creativity, which has led her to a successful high-tech career in Silicon Valley.

Some of her work has included designing user-friendly experiences for complex operating systems and changing human communication through her super popular iPhone emoji sets.

Guzman currently works on Google Assistant interface technologies. She’s behind enhancing the user’s experience with the virtual assistant that can schedule events and alarms, search the internet, shop and, most notably, hold a two-way conversation with users.

“It’s really sophisticated, it can understand little kids’ commands,” Guzman said during a recent visit with family in Key Largo.

The open-space Google office is a happy place, she says. 

“It’s an inclusive, creative place. The company is a collaboration. They’re thoughtful of how to bolster communities and donate to good causes,” she said.

On her desk she keeps a picture of her dog, Pixie, a couple of Android figurines and a stack of plain white paper, where her designs often start.

“I like to always have a stack of clean white paper to sketch on,” Guzman said.

During her creative process, she said she often thinks of the Keys “to bring her to focus.”

She spent a lot of time drawing in her childhood hometown and said she still has a red clay cardinal she made as a fourth-grade state project at Key Largo School.

“I had Ohio. Cardinals are Ohio’s state bird,” she said.

Guzman, the youngest of five girls, has a sister who was studying architecture while she was at KLS. This inspired her and after high school, she went to Rhode Island School of Design, a prominent art and design college.

While earning her master’s degree, her last summer there, Guzman interned at Apple.

It was a three-month paid internship. Her assignment was to illustrate emoji, those ubiquitous text message smiley faces and other images used to express an idea or emotion.

She created the party popper, heart, orange, apple, eggplant, engagement ring and about 175 more. Each one, she said, was researched thoroughly and crafted with precise pixel placement.

Guzman said that a lot of her emoji designs were conceived while working with her mentor and now best friend, Raymond Sepulveda, who has been an inspiration to her. Even though she doesn’t work alongside him anymore, the two remain close a decade after her internship. 

“The party popper. I like that one a lot. It’s a festive happy one, it’s a celebration,” she said of her favorite design.

Initially, creating an emoji would take her two days. She had to be choosy with her pixels, as they need to be deliberatively calculated. After some time, she was able to make one in about three hours.

The pink bikini with the yellow polka-dots she said came to her when she was at the beach with Sepulveda and he sang the 1959 novelty hit song by Brian Hyland. She envisioned the Keys while creating it, she said.

“It’s so beautiful down here. It’s calming to me,” she said.

When asked what advise she has for young aspiring artists in the Keys and elsewhere, she recommends exploring the many different avenues for artists.

“If you think of all the different apps on your phone, there are artists who designed them,” she said. “So just imagine how many different tons of career paths there are. Plus, if you get to do what you love doing, then it’s a much better path.”

To view some of Guzman’s work, visit her website at guzdesign.com.