Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer YINGRI GUAN ("YG") for their original perspective and innovative approach to design as well as their creative lifestyle, we are very pleased to share our interview with our distinguished readers.
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 be a designer after high school graduation.
YG : The most important factor that motivates me to become a designer is creativity involved in everyday life. Design offers me the opportunity to observe, see the world in a different light, dig to the bottom of problems that interest me, draft a concept and through iterations, seeing that idea come to life and be out in the world. Whether it can make a difference, the creative gesture and constant evolution is what inspires me to design. It is just satisfying for me.
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.
YG : Currently, I am interested in designing products that simply delight people. The products have a very broad definition, whether it's a digital interface, tangible object, 2-D graphic layout or interior layout. Any creation that combines the knowledge of design, art, mathematics and science to express reality and provoke contemplations are my inspirations to work on.
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.
YG : Good designers usually solves for the problems and provide solutions that address the problems. Great designers are willing to dig to the fundamentals and aim to redefine the problem if necessary. Great designers usually help to revolutionize a design problem. Great design is invisible. It almost feels like it wasn’t designed at all. This is what differentiate good from great designers. Good designers will rely on their technical skills and base their design on principles (a machine could learn that by the way), but great designers bring more to the equation. I think that this is what creativity really is.
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.
YG : From business perspective, good design is more valued today because it sells, makes a good impression and hence more profits. From consumer perspective, good designs benefit our everyday life. Everything is designed and the good designs really improve our lives. From society's perspective, design drives innovation. The design process motivate people to analyze problems, concept solutions and great innovations come through that process and that's when society gets to be pushed forward at a faster speed and at the same time with
YG : I'd love to design home interiors and for people who I'd trust.
YG : I am really looking forward to build a large public interaction installation. In that setting, people can enjoy the art together with their loved ones, family and friends. It's full of joy and delight.
YG : I think the secret recipe of success in design is by doing, same as other professions. There are talents and also intuitions involved in design. But when it comes to what makes great designers, it's always through constant practice and experience.
YG : I am always inspired by Tokujin Yoshioka, Kenya Hara, Naoto Fukasawa and Yuri Suzuki.
YG : My favorite design would be Zojirushi rice cooker. The automation of rice cooking on this machine makes life so convenient and also cooked to preferred taste.
YG : My greatest design would be designs combining art, design, technology and mathematics to format physical visualizations that gives meaning to reality.
YG : I think to be better designers, it's always by doing. When people have good ideas, sketch them, concept them, ask for feedback and iterate to improve them. Just like how Tim Notke said “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”Everyone get better not by whimsical luck by hard practice everyday.
YG : I would probably become an artist. I've said in a TV interview when I was 9 years old that I'd always want to be an artist. I might have chosen a different path in the beginning because of family and societal pressure, but I believe I'd end up being an artist eventually if I hadn't become a designer.
YG : Design is a form of creation, solving the problems, bring delights to the fundamental problem. It's becoming like air for breathing. When working on design, I feel energized, every nerve would be so charged.
YG : I've came across many supporters along the way, family, friends, professors, supervisors. All of them form my support team and they function different roles when I need support.
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.
YG : I think the obstacles were mostly creative drain. There's always a need to come with an empty mind and approach a problem from the fundamentals. Sometimes when hitting a creative drain or block along the way.
YG : I think the best way to present their work is first define the problem they are solving, propose the hypothesis of the reasons that's causing the current problems. And then explain why they made all the decisions that leads to the current solution.
YG : My next design project is exploring the concept of ambiguity. I want to approach the perspective of ambiguous concepts and how different cultures have all different perspectives.
YG : My ultimate goal as a designer would be offering delights. To solve a problem would define a design solution whether it's good or not. But having the delights makes the design ultimately enjoyable and great designs.
YG : I think people expect greatness from esteemed designers. People understand and appreciate design have lots of their own opinions of design principles.
YG : Design helps to create a better society as some designers work on big world problems like climate change, affordable housing, gender equality and hunger. Design comes in every aspect of our society not only to solve those big problems, but also makes our lives better by providing different perspectives on how things could be done differently, hence pursuing ways to make our lives better.
YG : I am currently working on another data visualization design project that examines deep ocean creatures and their micro-organic relationship with the environment they live in.
YG : Ice core, crystal visualization and diatom lights are examples of design projects that gave me the most satisfaction. Because those projects were end products of combination of different specialties and they present reality in my own perspective to people and offers new insights into concepts, information and data that could not otherwise be paid attention to.
YG : I'd like to see design industry having more positions and also designers who work across different disciplines. I hope some designers eventually don't have or give specific area that they are specialized in, but rather designers are creators who solves problems with their thinking and ultimately bring some delight to the customers.
YG : I think we are going to see more and more people working on projects that span multiple disciplines. The boundaries are continue going to dissolve. We will see more and more design positions would require knowledge in different areas such as technology, science, engineering and etc. More and more people are going to be working across the different disciplines and use multiple skillsets to solve design problems.
YG : 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.
YG : I usually start a design project by understanding and form a big picture of the project I am working on. For instance, I would need to understand the contextual information around how this problem interacts with the other areas it's touching, the background of the problem, a clear picture if this problem is really a fundamental problem. The currently surfaced problem could be a surface phenomenon of something deeper.
YG : I think my life motto is Woody Allen once said that '99percent of life isshowing up'. It's just doing project by project, day by day and focusing on each moment.
YG : I think they are mutual influencers of each other. Sometimes a design would set a trend, for instance, when apple came out, a lot of the products were mimicking the apple design. For trends to set the designs, sometimes people could be heavily influenced by some famous celebrities etc. Then a certain style of clothing or a certain way of living heavily influence the public. Those times, the trend influence the designs. But either way, people are always in tune to the story and the image different products and design can offer them.
YG : Technology is the tool I use for designing. For instance, I rely on different technologies to help me concept design ideas. Then I need technology to formulate design solutions, finally the execution of my designs also utilizes technology.
YG : I use visualization, adobe creative suite, laser cutter a lot for my work.
YG : Color materials and ambient in design play very important role in terms of design. They are the expressions of design. Whatever choice of materials, ambient design and color are intentional and reflects the design decisions that's been made.
YG : People can ask anything about my design. They are welcome to poke around my designs and I'm always to hear critical feedback from people.
YG : I often think about why this new great design or product is good in the first place. Usually there's a reason why it's good, why it caught my attention and what I could learn from that situation.
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.
YG : Joey Roth and Renee Ruffino. Joey was my previous supervisor and Renee was my undergraduate advisor as well as manager. I had a lot of conversations with Joey about his design philosophies and what he is interested in designing. Just interesting topics in general. I found that has broadened by view and changed perspectives on my design philosophy. Renee is such a kind and also
YG : Books have the most effect on me are Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind , Designing Design: Kenya Hara and Harry Potter.
YG : I developed skills through lots of thinking and trying out different things. At the same time, I believe my intuitions have heightened. I think intuition comes through a lot of listening to inner voice and tune into what's important to the fundamentals. A balance of intuition and user testings is really powerful for designers.
YG : I would love to meet Qi Baishi, a Chinese painter. His paintings are unique to his own style. They are simple, with only a few strokes, he can depict spirit of almost anything. His most famous subject is shrimp. I read that he would have aquarium of shrimps and study their behavior in oder to better portray them. I'd love to discuss about Chinese painting philosophy. How he perceives Chinese abstract painting and I think his style is shown through his life style, his philosophy towards life and art in general. It would be eye-opening to discuss about his philosophies in general.
YG : I feel everything is the same. The awards and recognition are acknowledgements to the work I have done in the past. Now I focus on the current projects and where I want to go next.
YG : My favorite color is purple, favorite place is the nature. Favorite food is spicy food. Favorite season is spring. Favorite thing is and brand is Aesop.
YG : The funny thing I have experienced as a designer is once I would so dislike it when people call me doing arts and crafts as designer. I think now I am fully embracing those terms or the boundaries blurred so much that I don't care about what I'm being told. I see myself more as a creator who is interested in combining domain knowledge of design, art, technology, science and mathematics to create things that would help with a problem.
YG : What makes my day great as a designer is if I have made some progress towards certain projects, or I spent some time doing nothing and just reset myself. Or sometimes could be I explored somewhere in the nature, and that inspired me. A great day could have many possibilities.
YG : It was obvious to me that I wanted to be in a profession that's creative and yet works with aesthetics.
YG : I think future beholds many possibilities. In thousand years, I am not sure humans would still be of the same form of existence. Maybe some of us moved to other planets. Everything is possible. However I do wish that people would still be in touch with themselves and not consumed with technology.
YG : I am also into cooking and I see that as another meditative and relaxing form of creation. If you have any recipes to share with me, please don't hesitate. I am always into discussions about how rice could be cooked differently and how people approach cooking. Or just anything you want to reach out and share. Love to connect.
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