About Min Huei Lu

Hi I’m Min Huei. A multidisciplinary designer with a deep background in graphic design building delightful user-centric experiences and meaningful identities. Most recently, I was a Lead Designer at Gong cha where I designed digital experiences that created emotional connections and social value.

Interview with Min Huei Lu

Min Huei Lu ("MHL") interviewed on Friday, 21 January.

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

MHL : I have more than 5 years of design experience in the industry. I have experience working as a freelancer, studio designer, agency designer, and in-house designer. I have participated in some exciting design projects for clients like CVS, Xfinity, Comcast, Aetna, Hippo Insurance, Braid (fintech), Muinin (Tech), ProSim (A.I.), and Gong cha Franchise. In 2019, I received my master of fine arts degree in graphic design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

How did you become a designer?

MHL : I’m fascinated about putting together images, typography, and motion graphics to communicate an idea to a wide range of audiences. One of the reasons why I chose to become a designer was because I had the opportunity to design a graduation photo album for school when I was 15. After graduating from college, I started designing branding for local mom-and-pop shops, albums for wedding companies, user interfaces for tech companies, and creating graphics for tattoo artists. In 2019, I received an MFA design degree from the Academy of Art University. I worked as an agency designer and in-house designer. I believe that working as a designer is a privilege. As an artist and designer, I am able to offer my unique perspective and creative solutions to make the world a better place and help drive businesses. Doing this gave my life more meaning and purpose.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

MHL : The top three aspects of the design process that are important for me are Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. Inspiration includes research and understanding of the user and the problem. Ideation involves coming up with ideas and solutions that I came up with when I was inspired. Implementation includes user testing, A/B testing, and design iteration based on the user’s feedback. There are two common themes of design throughout all my projects and they are user-centric design and emotional design. I believe a good design should be functional, intuitive, and evoke human emotion. When I just started my career 10 years ago, I drew a lot of sketches in my sketchbook. While moving forward with my career, I became more experienced with digital tools and the latest technology. I gradually became a tech-savvy designer. In the early stages of my career, I loved making things by hand and I appreciated beautifully hand-crafted furniture. I also enjoyed binding physical books. I truly admired Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, he was a German-born American architect whose rectilinear forms crafted an elegant simplicity that epitomized the International Style and exemplified his famous principle that “less is more.” I embraced the concept of “less is more.” Whenever I work on a project, I always pay extra attention to non-visible things like layout, white space, and the grid system.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

MHL : I feel very inspired and become more eager about my work. However, the most exciting part for me is the inspiration and defining problems. Designers must be curious enough to understand the users and their problems. Whenever I design a solution, I usually research what a user's pain point is and how other people address this problem. After gathering all the knowledge, I learned to develop a solution, which will always be a continuous learning process. I especially like user testing by observing how users interact with the product, which verifies my hypothesis, giving me a clear direction to iterate. Whenever I see the user engagement increase on the website I design, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

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

MHL : Becoming a great designer is a constant process of self-improvement and education. On top of continuing to master essential design skills, there are lots of other non-design things that designers can learn and improve upon to make me even better at what I do. The skills such as Empathy, Critical thinking, Communication, Coding, Analytics, Business, Finance, Research, Psychology, Marketing, and Networking Some of the best designers are ones who can identify with their users, customers, and clients and be sensitive to their needs. Too often, designers can get caught up in their own bias or their own desire for what a product should be, and they completely ignore who they are actually designed for. Empathizing with the users and clients ensures I'm creating designs with purpose and with the right intent. My interest in psychology, which has built up since I was a teenager, helped me strongly in developing the aforementioned skills. I also had a great chance of implementing these learnings in practice during my work as a Lead Designer at Gong cha USA CA in the USA.

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

MHL : My very first freelance design job was designing the user interface for an automatic parking payment kiosk. I had so much fun working on this project, understanding the user pain points by conducting user research such as observation, user interviews, and competitor research. I paid particular attention to detail such as the size and location of the dispenser concerning the users’ perspective and streamlining the step-by-step instructions. The automatic parking payment kiosk was successfully launched in Taiwan in 2016. Nowadays, information has become so much easier to access because of ever-advancing technology. Almost every company uses websites, applications, and social media to connect with their audiences and provide their services. Today, more and more consumers prefer to buy online rather than from brick-and-mortar stores. A well-designed digital product offers a great online experience. I have a considerable interest in prototyping and interaction design. My favorite platform is the application that involves human-computer interaction, psychology, marketing, information architecture, and user experience. The user-centered app design needs to be aligned with the brand’s aesthetics, functionality, intuition, ease of use, and have great features. Seeing people connecting with my designs have always brought me joy. I want to learn about human-machine interaction and design more digital products such as the web or app.

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

MHL : It doesn’t matter if you are a new graduate design student or an experienced designer, you should always take control of your career when seeking the next design opportunity. Take the time to get your hands dirty by producing thousands of sketches, building prototypes, and conducting user testing. I overcame a lot of obstacles when I graduated from design school. By the time I graduated, I did not fully understand the design industry landscape. I wasn't sure what kind of designer I wanted to be. I was also not sure what kind of work environment that I would thrive in so I can grow and be able to contribute my creative talent. I accepted every opportunity that was given to me. There were times I spent too much time doing unimportant tasks, and there was also a period of time when I got burned out because I did too much work. It was a valuable experience for me to learn how to manage my time productively and meet my client’s expectations to the best of my ability. I’m now better at prioritizing my tasks, as well as understanding my client's business goals so I can be able to present the artwork in a way that will encourage my clients to move the project forward. I received the best advice from my art director when he said: “Don’t be afraid of failure. Learn to be in an uncomfortable situation and lean into it – you’ll never know how good you can be unless you try.” I would like to advise young designers that one of the best ways to gain knowledge and improve their skills is to get a lot of experience doing projects!

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

MHL : Empathy is the secret recipe for a successful design project. I see design as a way to initiate a conversation with the audience. When it comes to communication, you should first know your audience and their pain points and motivation. I then deliver a solution by addressing the users' concerns. Some common mistakes or biases that designers should avoid is telling the client: I think this is better because I like it. When it comes to communication with the stakeholders, creating a user persona could effectively give stakeholders perspective. Sharing accessible data with the stakeholder to support your point, providing a tangible example of the impact provided by your solution, and last and most importantly, require further action from the people you are communicating with, such as making a design decision.

What is your day to day look like?

MHL : I usually work at the office from 8:30 to 16:30. While I commute to the office, I listen to a design podcast. The topic of the podcast is very diverse because it features different design research methods, UIUX, design interviews, as well as design communication and management. I usually have at least 5 design meetings per week. I meet with a variety of stakeholders, cross-functional teams within an organization, and creative teams. I also attend bi-weekly marketing meetings once a week to discuss upcoming updates, brainstorm design ideas, and plan events. The most recent meeting dealt with standardizing branding for brand Instagram posts. Weekly design meetings involve discussing the status of everyone’s work, any ongoing issues, and any announcements that need to be made. Things like project deadlines and problems with clients take precedence over other matters. Being a designer means that I have to increase my skill level with design tools, sharpen my domain knowledge by conducting and synthesizing research, and contribute to product and design strategies in everyday life. During my free time, I like watching YouTube videos about design, reading design blogs, browsing design portfolios, and finding inspiration.

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

MHL : As a brand designer, I fully understand I serve a brand. Therefore, everything I create should follow the brand guideline and brand unique aesthetic. Meanwhile, we need to catch up on the latest trends to make them relatable to the audience. The key is to balance between personal artistic style and what users want to see. I am forever inspired by the creative process of creating something new, innovative, and progressive. I get inspiration from various sources, such as design video, music, movies, tv shows, books, blogs, portfolios, podcasts, interviews, focus groups, museums, exhibitions, shopping malls, stores, apps, websites, or simply just talking to people.

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

MHL : Good design is not just what looks good. It also needs to perform, convert, astonish, and fulfill its purpose. A good design should not be measured finitely – multiple perspectives should also be taken into consideration. These are aspects that define a good design: 1. Functionality The product must optimally perform the main task or function to satisfy the needs of the consumer. 2. Repairability The product must be designed so that it can be easily repaired whenever necessary during a malfunction. Repairing the product must be done quickly and inexpensively. 3. Reliability A product must perform exceptionally well and provide trouble-free service for a decent period of time. It should be maintained regularly so it won’t break down all the time. A reliable product can gain the consumers' trust and loyalty and this encourages sales in a competitive market. 4. Aesthetics Aesthetically pleasing products have the inherent power of being able to impress and immediately attract users. 5. Durability Durability can influence a product’s service life. A durable product can perform reliably for a longer period of time. Durable products always manifest good quality. 6. Producibility The product must be designed so that it can be produced in large quantities with ease at a minimum cost. 7. Simplicity The simpler the design, the easier it will be to produce and use. Simple products are also economical and reliable. The product should accomplish the least number of operations without affecting the quality of its performance. 8. Compact The product should be small and light enough that it will occupy less space and won’t be too heavy. Therefore, the company should really try to make its products as compact and light as possible. 9. Intuitive Designing products intuitively will eliminate the need for user manuals. A good design makes it apparent that the product functions well enough because it is easy to use and understand. 10. User-centered design. User-centered design (UCD) is an iterative design process in which designers focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process. User-centered design adds intellectual and emotional value to its product and, thus, increases user satisfaction and improves the user’s well-being. 11. A good business Assuming a product is designed to sell, a good design will stand out in a competitive market. These are the most common mistakes to avoid when designing a product: 1. Focus too much on the aesthetics All product designers should try to achieve the right balance of aesthetics, performance, and cost. These, along with other factors, are integral to a product's success. If a product is only visually appealing, it will not succeed. It also needs to perform well. 2. Failing to Understand the Consumer The product is ultimately being designed for the consumer. Products that are so poorly designed are the result of the lack of attention to the customer's needs. One aspect of this is selling at the wrong price point. 3. Forgetting to Study Design Trends Another vital point to study are trends in the design segment. Customers always want the latest version of whatever is in the market. Therefore, it's essential to stay updated in whatever segment the designer is working in. 4. Not Focusing on the Right Specifications Each product will have a specific set of specifications and requirements that the designer must meet. Likewise, designers must keep in mind the particular standards that the product must meet. This includes designing, manufacturing, and standards testing. 5. Not Considering the Legitimacy of Intellectual Property Rights Intellectual Property (IP) is legally protected, and copyright infringement is a serious and expensive offense. An IP breach can result in a huge loss of money, even if the owner of the copyright wants to settle the breach out of the courtroom. It's also a big embarrassment and will result in much negative public relations. Many designers forget about this while they're designing. However, it's important to keep IP in mind when creating a product from scratch. Before a product designer starts working, they must do research and ensure what they've created isn't already patented by someone else. If it is, they must pay for the right to use that particular technology.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

MHL : The most significant advantage of being a designer is that you have the liberty to express your imagination and creativity to the fullest. Many designers can happily say that they love doing their job every single day. The most significant disadvantage of being a designer is that designing can be a very time-consuming process, especially when you try to make things better than they already are. There is no right or wrong answer because designing is a subjective process which means the design can only get better. There is no such thing as a perfect design. A piece of artwork can always be improved. Designers can frequently find themselves in endless meetings discussing revisions and iterations. Managing time and meeting clients' expectations are essential skills needed so designers can do their job well. Managing the project is crucial because the designer and stakeholders define the objectives, scope, budget, deliverables, goals, audience, and timeline, which they have discussed at the beginning of the project. I manage the project's timeline by listing down how many tasks are needed to be done, estimating the timeframe by doing some research, getting some inspiration and ideas, and producing possible prototypes. I also evaluate the meeting time with clients and stakeholders. There are times that I often have to do multiple iterations. When designing a timeline for a project, I intentionally leave some extra time for iterations. At the beginning of each kick-off meeting, I would also clearly communicate with clients about agreeing on a definite timeline and limiting the number of iterations that a project can have. When should I decide my design is ready? In my early career, I frequently spent too much time polishing one particular project. Constantly checking with the project manager or clients helps me prioritize tasks better and decide to move on. I believe that the "golden rule" is understanding how the design fits into the company's overall goal to help make crucial design decisions.

What is your biggest design work?

MHL : The project, artificial intelligence used in graphic design, is my graphic design's master of fine art (MFA) thesis project that I did while I was studying at the Academy of Art University. The project took two years to develop. The thesis project emphasized the advanced study of the field by conducting quantitative and qualitative research, hosting focus groups, creating inspiration, coming up with ideas, prototyping, and user-testing. NPR once hosted a show in which they asked questions like, “Will a machine do your job?” According to the report, there's an 8 percent chance that graphic design jobs will become automated within the next 20 years. So how can we convince today’s designers that artificial intelligence (AI) is not a threat and should be embraced to help solve problems by doing highly repetitive jobs? The MFA thesis, Minarva, is a campaign that aims to create a meaningful human-machine relationship. Instead of eliminating the designer's occupation, AI can become a design partner and tool that designers can utilize to meet ever-evolving workplace demands. Minarva can help designers understand AI and the impact it brings to the design field. The Minarva campaign aims to encourage designers to take advantage of this technology. With the help of AI and current technology, I created multiple designs for this project at much faster rates and reduced costs. There are many surprising ways that AI can be used in graphic design, such as rapid prototyping, A/B testing, analyzing vast amounts of data, suggesting design adjustments, resizing, determining product localization, creating variations, and creating the same graphics in multiple languages. AI/ML transcription dutifully translates a sketch to comp and into markup. Transferring drawings into a working prototype is part of the designer's job, but that is not the actual thinking. Designers have already solved the conceptual part of the problem, and we share these solutions with machines so we can solve new problems. We find the clerical aspects of our work painful because they are tedious, time-consuming, repetitive, detail-oriented, complex, and joyless jobs. However, machines are great at doing those jobs. Human designers and robots should be able to work together side by side and do wonders. The challenge of this project is to understand a complicated subject matter and develop an easy-to-understand infographic with a unique visual language. I always try to avoid using robots to represent the images I generate because they are so cliche. I have been exploring many AI image generator applications that have already been published online. I tried to understand the level of quality that an AI image generator could deliver. I have been testing two different websites. The AI image generators will allow anyone to become digitally creative and get the most out of their images. I was genuinely impressed by these experimental design methods because AI generated a new image effectively. It took less than an hour to process an image, and it allowed me to process an unlimited number of photos, and the best thing about it is that it was free. I used the images that AI has generated to design posters. I took some photos that have been generated by AI and used Adobe Photoshop to split the RGB colors and added some image noise and glitch effects to convey the ideas of creativity and technology. As a result, I created a unique visual language by using the collage technique. It is a great satisfaction that “Artificial intelligence in design event marketing material” has been granted the Silver A' Design Award in graphics, illustration, and visual communication design category by the international design academy.

Who is your favourite designer?

MHL : I find Oliviero Toscani’s works very cool. He is an Italian photographer who is best-known for designing controversial advertising campaigns for the Italian brand, Benetton, from 1982 to 2000. I think Lindon Leader is super cool because he designed the most recognizable logos in the world – the FedEx logo. Lindon Leader wanted the logo to do more than just say a name. He wanted to give more information about what the company did. This is how he came up with the idea to put an arrow between the E and the X. If I were given a chance to meet a deceased designer, I would like to have a conversation with Salvador Dalí, a Spanish Surrealist painter and printmaker known for exploring subconscious imagery. I think Paul Rand was an American iconic graphic designer of all time who is best known for his corporate logo designs, including IBM, UPS, Enron, Morningstar, Inc., Westinghouse, ABC, and NeXT. He was one of the first American commercial artists to embrace and practice the Swiss Style of graphic design. I always feel inspired by some of my favorite role models in design like Donald Norman. Donald Norman proposes a concept of emotional design which evokes emotion to encourage users to use it and elicit a positive emotional response. The architect I admire the most is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-born American architect whose rectilinear forms, crafted in elegant simplicity which epitomized the International Style and exemplified his famous slogan that “less is more.”

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

MHL : It is a privilege to live in California. Northern California includes the Silicon Valley technology industry and Southern California includes the movie entertainment industry, where they combine diverse cultures and embrace innovative ideas. For me, creativity comes from a lot of research, such as reading blogs and articles, listening to music, watching movies, and conducting user interviews to get a much better perspective. I was born and raised in Taiwan, but I have been living in San Francisco since 2016. Whenever I design artwork, I usually combine Western and Eastern culture and visual aesthetics into the design process. In Asia, Asian aesthetics pays a lot of attention to details and realism, but creativity has many limitations. On the other hand, western aesthetics is influenced by individualism while unique personal style and creativity are more valued. I recently spearheaded the design of the marketing campaign, company social media, and website for Gong Cha, an international tea chain with over 1,500 stores across 19 countries.

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

MHL : As a designer, I'm a great team player as well as a great individual contributor. As a result, I'm very comfortable working alone or working with a team. In my career, I've worked with various companies of differing sizes, and each company has a different organizational structure and different ways of working with designers. When I just started working with a new client or a new company, I usually ask what their design process is all about and their preferences when working with a designer. From there, I adjusted my workflow according to what we agreed to. Designers often work in a highly collaborative manner. The primary focus of the design team is to define the look and feel of the brand product image through experimentation, critical thinking, and extraordinary attention to detail. Designers should articulate ideas clearly, engage in a constructive debate, and accept feedback that will lead in the right direction. Within a design team, each individual has their strengths and specializes in areas where they can grow. I want to work with people who can maximize the contribution of every individual by cultivating a culture of cooperation rather than competition, where designers feel comfortable sharing their knowledge. Design teams are most productive when they know that the work is meaningful and adds value to the company's long-term goals. Individual contributors have a different way of working compared to designers who choose to work as a team. The farther individual contributors go to advance their careers, the more they focus on their craft. As a result, they wield a large amount of influence while constantly sharpening their skills and instincts. I'm very grateful that I've learned so much from doing different projects and working with many types of clients. Each project has a unique design process. I'm currently the lead brand designer for Gong cha, an international tea chain with over 1,500 stores across 19 countries. My primary duty is to elevate the brand identity to promote the Asian brand to western mainstream society. The deliverables consist of many things from brand assets, marketing campaigns, brand videos, product photoshoots, store interior designs, and online digital presence such as social media apps and websites. My primary job is to coordinate a complex set of materials that must function together as a whole. This idea also includes marrying multiple messages with divergent formats—all with a unified and holistic aesthetic. This aesthetic has to contain the essence of the Gong cha brands and Gong cha's unique storytelling style.

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

MHL : As an artist and designer, I see myself as a visual communicator and humanist. Therefore, the designer must have a deep understanding of society's psychological and social impact, such as social justice, EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion), and sustainability.

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

MHL : Already in the application phase, I noticed what a positive image and international appeal the A' Design Award has! Everyone I told about my application was enthusiastic about my participation and many followed my work even more attentively than before. The demands on the competition entries and the information to be provided are very high but absolutely justified. This design award requires the applicants to make a sincere effort and to intensively deal with the submitted work (and also with their personal development). The knowledge gained is a great opportunity for self-reflection and further development. After announcing the results, I received excellent international feedback. Especially my existing customers and long-time companions felt that the award confirmed that they had rightly given me their attention. I also had the impression that for some this also led them to reflect on themselves and the object as well as on questions of design. I am very proud to have received the A' Design Award and am overwhelmed by the positive effects I have already experienced.

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