About Yunzi Liu

Yunzi Liu is a multi-disciplinary award-winning designer and artist based in New York. She was born and raised in China and came to the US in 2016 for an MFA program in Maryland Institute College of Art. Basically, she works on printed matters such as books, posters and exhibition materials. Unlike full-time graphic designer, Liu focuses on expanding traditional graphic design to an unconventional level. She believes that how viewers experience the design product is the priority for graphic designers. Besides working on design projects, she is also exploring materials such as concrete, ceramics, and paper to integrate graphic design with gallery experience.

Interview with Yunzi Liu

Yunzi Liu ("YL") interviewed on Tuesday, 17 November.

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?

YL : Being an artist is a childhood dream for me. I studied painting for nearly ten years before high school. However, due to the artistic atmosphere in my country at that time, I had not studied art until the last year of college when I realized that the desire for creation and innovation was sparkling with excitement at the bottom of my heart. So I picked up my pen and started to draw. Influenced by my designer friends, I took graphic classes and worked for a design agency in Beijing for a year. Our clients included Tencent, SnapPea, and so on. Later on, I went to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for a graphic design MFA. After graduation, I worked both on commercial cases and my own art experiments. I never distinguish art and design as completely separated fields, and my design or you could say art practice is always trying to bring them into each other and yield some inspiring results.

How did you become a designer?

YL : When I was in college, I suffered from insomnia for quite a while, and I decided to draw positive images to cheer myself up. People around me loved my drawings so I opened an online store to sell my prints. Then how to package them and decorate my online store became a problem, so I took design classes and fell in love with graphic design. To study design more professionally, I went to the US and studied in an MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I guess the impulse to express and share is the internal drive for me to do good design.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

YL : The basic function of graphic design work is to deliver a message correctly and instantly no matter through pictures or types, so the first thing that I consider when I start a new project is what I want to say or need to say. The next question is how I say it. The answer depends on many aspects, such as your target group, the form of output, and even your client's budget. Then comes the essential part which I call the "spirit of a design" is the emotion it may trigger. A good design should arouse certain emotions of the audience, and sometimes motivate them to take certain actions. I would stand in their shoes to examine my design projects and make adjustments. Sometimes I will ask my family or friends for feedback. Technically, I rely on digital tools such as Adobe Suite and other 3D software. At the same time, I fancy hand-made physical models. I will say if conditions permit, the physical model my first choice.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

YL : My emotions go up and down during a design project. Overall, nothing feels better than solving a problem in a creative way. When I come across a problem, I will list several plans to solve it and give every plan a try. Sometimes the results turn out to be completely different from what you imagine. You have to try it. When I look at the right design, I know at the first sight that this is the one. Surprisingly, I am not so eager to look at the final results. Probably because I do not like the end of a creative process. I wish there were no deadlines for any projects and I would revise and revise.

What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?

YL : Story-telling skills give me a huge help when I design. For me, a good design product tells people a story of a brand, background of an event, or history of a person. Telling an attractive story and controlling the tempo and rhythm is essential.

What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?

YL : I grew in a small coastal city, and my personality is quite introverted. As a result, my design style is natural, simple and I pay much attention to environmental topics. I hope there will be more opportunities to work with non-profit organizations and work on some projects that can arouse people's attention to environmental problems and take actions.

What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?

YL : I would like to say, do not follow the trend or pursuit "beauty" blindly. I bet many young designers may have a common experience where your client does not prefer the one you think is the best but decide on a relatively "ugly" version. However, when you become more and more experienced, your design antenna becomes more and more sensitive. You will not pitch the "best-looking" design but the "correct" one. Kenya Hara said good design looks natural. A trendy design does not suit every brand. Imagine you were your client, what you would like to promote, and imagine you were a customer, what you would like to buy or experience. Practice for some time and you will see differences.

You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?

YL : I believe that a good designer is always thinking in their audience's view and provide what the customers need, and a great designer keeps offering people some products or services that they will need in the future. My advice is always creating the trend instead of following.

What is your day to day look like?

YL : Typically, I wake up, do some stretch, have breakfast, and open my mailbox to read articles from my subscription. Sometimes I go through Instagram feeds and watch some related videos. I deal with projects in the afternoon and get feedback from my clients before dinner.

How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?

YL : I think the design field will more tightly combine with technology and science. Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality have become a trend for a while. Also, speculative design and sustainable design will play a more important role in the future.

How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?

YL : I will consider if the design delivers the correct message, and then the right emotions to serve the design purpose. For example, If you are designing a popular science book for children, the text should be as simple as possible and the images should be easy to understand. Children should find it fun and eager to read it. For better designs, sorely serving the user's purpose is not enough. It will be difficult to push forward the design industry. Actually, designers are endowed with the power to shape users' behavior patterns and thinking mode. New designs and technologies will inevitably “force” people to do something they have never done or thought they would do. Designers should take advantage of this and contribute to our better future.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

YL : I have to say, practically, it depends on my clients and how big the projects are. For myself, I never want to stop working on any projects, I wish I could revise each project again and again.

What is your biggest design work?

YL : My biggest and favorite design work is a life-size surreal "murder" crime scene where the audience can search for evidence and deduce who the murderer is. I am a big fan of detective stories, and always attempt to initiate a project to relate my hobby to my design skills. Two years ago, an opportunity came to me so I designed that space and held an event there. People who signed up their names formed groups of detectives to solved the case together. I interviewed some of the participants and got many helpful suggestions. This is a valuable experience for me.

Who is your favourite designer?

YL : I adore Jessica Walsh because she is the opposite of me. After graduation, Jessica came to the well-known Sagmeister with her portfolio and finally collaborate with him to establish Sagmeister & Walsh (now & Walsh). Her ideas are bold and her visuals are exaggerated. She also founded an initiative Lady, Wine & Design worldwide to share design-related information among female designers. She dares to think and dares to do. This is why I admire her. If I were able to talk with a dead designer, I would choose Ikko Tanaka. He is my first idol in the design field. Opposite to Jessica, he is an extremely introverted person. He said he even felt ashamed in his own exhibition and hoped no one knew he made those designs. In fact, he knew a lot about Japanese cultural deposit and integrated into his design successfully. Personalitywise, they are two extremes. I think they are both successful because they create design products that can fit into their societies, which is also my standard for good design.

Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?

YL : I seldom listen to music. When I work, I put my body and sould into the project so that any sound coming from the speaker cannot get into my head. In my spare time, I listen to stories. There is an App called Ximalaya. People read stories for fun and I have been listening for around seven years. My cultural background influences me a lot. It shaped my thinking pattern which may go against the purpose of raphic design. Let me tell you about an embarrassing experience I had at school. Since I am a typical sensitive Asian girl, I encountered a severe culture shock when I first came to America. During my first year at school, there was an assignment to design a blindfold. I came up with a scenario where a girl was saying goodbye to her boyfriend who had to go far away for a long time. My idea for the blindfold was to hang thin willow (which means “stay”) branches down from the blindfold. Emotionally, the girl wanted to persuade her boyfriend to stay. But he had to go, so she covered her watery eyes to avoid him feeling too heartbroken. These tangled feelings excited me and I could not wait to realize this design. At this moment, my professor only said one sentence to kill my buzz: why not cry? The biggest obstacle that my cultural background gives me is how to make things simple and living in the US, getting to know a completely different thinking pattern helps me a lot with simplifying my visuals and specifying my ideas.

Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?

YL : I worked in teams years ago, and now, I typically work alone. Because of my personality, my first choice is working by myself, but I constantly encourage myself to collaborate with other designers and artists and work in teams because communication skills are very cutial. The opportunities are very limited to imporve the ability to pitch your ideas and digest feedback.

What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?

YL : I always want to work with material scientists to design textbooks for poor kids in rural areas of China. Usually, they use donated textbooks that have been marked and not consistent. I do hope one day they can get their textbooks at a low price. I believe as technology develops, we can find recycled materials to realize this dream.

What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?

YL : The best thing to win an award in such a world-famous competition for me is gaining confidence. It is a strong approval of my design skills and concepts, and also it encourages me to do more and better designs. Meanwhile, by seeing other designers' design projects, I was inspired and encouraged. Another good thing was that I was interviewed by a local newspaper of my hometown and my mother bought eight copies.

Yunzi Liu Profile

Quirky Louise Book

Quirky Louise Book design by Yunzi Liu


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