Made in China, polished in Singapore and currently living in US, Yingri Guan is a multidisciplinary artist and designer based in San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently working as a designer at a tech start-up. When not designing, she brainstorms and makes art. She is also into traveling, reading, and cooking fusion dishes.

Interview with YINGRI GUAN

YINGRI GUAN ("YG") interviewed on Tuesday, 2 June.

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

YG : I started learning Chinese painting and calligraphy when I was six years old. Since then I've fell in love with art and design. I painted free style paintings, wrote calligraphy, designed booklet, public boards. I've always wanted to be an artist creator, but only became clear to me that I want to bea designer after high school graduation.

How did you become a designer?

YG : I chose to become a designer. I knew that I could not be an engineer, or an account who my mom wants to me to be. It was a conscious choice. When I was in Singapore, I remember very clearly that I felt that I wanted none of the choices that was in front of me. I could no longer be in a profession that I could not feel the drive to be in. I did not choose the art as my subject during my A-Level studies. Being conforming to what's the norm and what everyone chooses for their combination was my default mentality. In a way, the conscious choice to become a designer was my first step in saying yes to what I want internally and break free from other noises around me.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

YG : My design style is a combination of something technology and future thinking driven and yet offers organic feeling of the final output. It was a combination of factors that made me explore more of the style. I had a background in Chinese painting where a lot of deep seated hidden meanings are hidden in the strokes. Therefore, lots of human interpretations are required. Chinese painting is based on Yin and Yang, the human interactions and abstract philosophies, therefore giving its organic and highly sophisticated looks behind those paintings. Yet, I also integrate different new technology and data research into my work to give meaning to existing phenomenons. Therefore, there are a mixed combination of organic and future driven feelings to my work and yet they exist harmoniously together.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

YG : I focus a lot on the emotional aspect when I design. I love people to be attracted to the aesthetics beauty of my designs, yet my designs would be functional.Most of all, I want people to feel happy and elated to see and own my design.

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

YG : I think the humility. Humility is the biggest enabler. When approaching a problem, humbleness allows me to empty my mind and really start to empathize with the audience and hence draft design solutions that would best suit the design problem. Humility also enables me to be always iterating on the design and understand there's no completion but just phases to designing. This mindset really helps me to always see different problems from different perspectives.

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

YG : I'd love to continue building more works and exploring the combination of art, design, technology and science to make experiences that greatly help people's lives. What's next is I think I'd like to continue push myself in that direction but I am also open to what comes to me. I find that my path has been a combination of planning and surprises. Often times those surprises would lead me to something really exciting. So I don't have a solid plan for what exactly I'd be doing next. But I have a general direction of where I want to go and see from there.

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

YG : I believe that I am not a design legend yet. There are a lot of improvements ahead of me. However, to become a better designer, it always comes down to practice. By doing everyday, it's practicing the design processes everyday. It's about always focus on the process and constantly iterate and refine personal design theories and form your own design opinions.

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

YG : I think the most important thing is to be patient. It touches many aspects. We need to be patient with ourselves, where we are and where we'd like to go. Sweating over the things we have not achieved demoralizes and also could also reduce momentum. Patience with clients are also important. Most of the time, it comes down to communications and designers also find ourselves in the position to understand clients' needs and also educate them on how design works. That takes a lot of patience. Last but not least, patience with our work. Sometimes it just takes a little bit more pushing to get to the finish line. And patience is needed to keep us hang in there and be able to see the project through. Therefore, pearls of wisdom for young designers is patience and that could carry you a long way down the road.

What is your day to day look like?

YG : Usually I start off my day with 15 minutes meditation to clear my head and mind to be able to jump start my day. Then I usually start reading some of the main articles on some of the design websites I follow. Then I would think about the major things and tasks I need to do for the day. Then my day would be go about accomplishing those goals and tasks. I really love walks in nature to meditate as well as getting inspirations. Nature keeps me happy and excited throughout the work day.

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

YG : I always lookout for design trends and news. I go to websites such as Dezeen, Design Milk and Muzli etc to discover what's happening in the current state. I usually would like to get to know the current trend and what's happening. However, I don't have rules or particular viewpoint whether my designs would adopt the current trend or constantly adapt to the current trend. I think design choices including style serves the purpose of the design problem. So I won't force the style in a particular fashion. However, I notice that good designs usually the style takes less precedence and design fades to the background and essentially it would just work. Hence, in the end, style, trend etc won't matter when it comes to good designs. Designs that simply works would stand out.

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

YG : First of all, I usually look at if the design solves the actual problem. If it does, then it passed the bar of being a good design. Next, look at if the design speaks to its audience and if it's sustainable. Having the above criteria would make it being a good design. The telling part of whether it's a really good design is if this design is seamless and went a step above and beyond to elevate the solution. It gives the design solution a different and much better meaning and presence.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

YG : I'd say design is never complete and there's always improvements can be done. I think it really varies based on projects. Some projects might have really clear problem definition early on and hence require less research to clarify problems. Most of the time, problems are more ambiguous, hence more research, more analysis are needed to clearly define the problem that the project is solving for. Hence , the duration is really hard to measure in terms of days. But in general, I'd measure by iterations, so mostly 3 iterations for it to come pretty close to the final forms to call a completion for the targeting phase of design.

What is your biggest design work?

YG : I am most proud of a piece named Ice Core. It's an installation consisting of 8 wax tubes that visualize the last 400000 years of data of carbon emissions and temperature. Hence this piece provides the insights for global warming in the most intimate way and gives people a very direct viewing relationship with this broader concept. This piece is special because it's a combination of everything I like: art, design, technology, data and science. It's only the combination of those things have produced this piece that presented the reality to my audience in a new way. The most challenging aspect was the making of the tubes. Every layer of the wax was molten and spread over on top of each other. It was the most time consuming and yet hugely satisfying project as people really enjoyed seeing the piece so close up. I am currently working on a project exploring marine creatures and their patterns.

Who is your favourite designer?

YG : I really admire Kenya Hara, Tokujin Yoshioka and Naoto Fukusawa. The reason I really like those designers is because they know how to express their philosophy, design opinions in the most simple language and gestures. Their designs are simple but elegant. Each piece of design seems so intuitive and natural to be the designs they have done. I think they are the examples for good design because I just forget they are designs. The design become part of the product/object and integrated seamlessly. If I have the chance, I'd love to speak with eohMingPei. His architecture is all over the world and I admire his courage for designing and standing by his own design in regards to the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre. I'd love to learn from him to have such belief in his own design and stand in firm ground to see his design come into fruition.

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

YG : I am currently living in Seattle. Cultural heritage of China definitely affects my designs. For I find lots of traditional designs beautiful and seamless. For instance, the wood designs that requires no nails and yet ties together the structure of perfectly built buildings is just phenomenal. I often compare my designs to those concepts. Those are definitely my inspirations. I am currently living in the United States. While it is extremely inspiring and also fortunate to be in a design culture highly evolved to power technology development and lots of research has gone into the work of research to sell. I think those do influence how I design products and my views on design.

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

YG : I think an ideal design partner would be someone who would inspire and challenge each other at the same time. They never shut down any ideas but would push further the design ideas to achieve the best possible results. I do believe in co-design, but precedences need to put set forth to ensure successful collaboration. The most important characteristic for a designer would be patience in my perspective. Why? This is because whether it is about understanding design problems, having the patience to keep iterating on the designs and gathering feedback. Also involves having the patience to follow through with the implementation if needed. Patience requires flexibility to be open to changes. Also designers utilize patience to keep getting better and better.

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

YG : I am always contributing to the society to give back as a global citizen. As a designer, I have always taken up non-profit projects since 2002. Some highlights of projects I have worked on: a catalogue for teaching English to immigrants, designing logos for a domestic violence support organization, design for garbage sorting system etc. Since 2017, I have started contributing a substantial piece for charity auction each year and has seen really good response since then. In 2018, Artspan San Francisco auction, I sold a piece in support of Bay Area artists. In 2019, Luminous SF, an acrylic glass heart was sold, all proceeds goes into supporting medical research and education. I'd love to keep contributing to these organizations and see myself really push the boundaries in terms of design and also practices.

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

YG : By participating in A'Design Award, I had the opportunity in meeting other excellent designers all over the world and having good interaction in terms of exchange of design philosophies. This competition has greatly expanded my horizons and raised bars for myself. I also really enjoy the different opportunities to participate in the international exhibitions to showcase my work. Design competitions becomes very motivational for my career as it encourages me to get out there and seeing what's out there. I feel honored and excited to be recognized as the Designer of the Day.


Diatom Lights Illumination

Diatom Lights Illumination design by YINGRI GUAN

Cava Light Installation

Cava Light Installation design by YINGRI GUAN

Crystals Art Installation

Crystals Art Installation design by YINGRI GUAN


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