Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer Yunzi Liu ("YL") 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.

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?

YL : I learned painting for around ten years before high school. For college, I studied English at Beijing Language and Culture University. Then, I worked in an advertising agency for a year. This experience made me realize that I had to study graphic design more professionally so I went to the United States for an MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art and worked as a freelance designer thereafter.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?

YL : The impulse of creating something new urges me to innovate. Repetitive work is the last thing I want to do.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?

YL : I was not forced, but I was encouraged. My mom is the person who knows me better than myself. She saw the designer in me when I was very little so she sent me to an art tutoring center and she always encouraged me to enter the art world.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?

YL : I like to design books. Typically, the stories in my mind are pretty complicated, so books can provide me enough room to narrate.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?

YL : Do not follow the trend. I do encourage young designers to create something out of their passion and make them attractive. If you think outside of the box and make your idea convincing, you will be the one who leads the trend.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?

YL : 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.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?

YL : To make a good design even better, you should pay attention to the details. I evaluate design by examining if the details are designed carefully and cleverly.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?

YL : Good design can promote social development. In recent years, speculative design has become a hot topic. Designers no longer simply follow the users' needs, they start to predict the future and cope with probable issues. Most of the software updates and new mobile phone functions offer us more convenient or more interesting methods to achieve expected results.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?

YL : I would like to design for the 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.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?

YL : I always need time to redo or modify some of my previous projects. Whenever I look at the project I did before, I will come up with better ideas. I tried to redo several old projects and I learned even more than doing new projects.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?

YL : My secret is summarizing my concept in one simple sentence. This may not be helpful for everyone, but it works well on me. After brainstorming and researching, I will get too many ideas to express in one design. At this time, I will force myself to make a choice and use one simple sentence to conclude my concept. This becomes a standard for me to examine if my idea is clear enough.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?

YL : I got inspired and encouraged by Sagmeister and Walsh. Not just Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, everyone working in this studio is not just a designer, but also an artist. Their particular way of developing a project shows more possibilities for graphic designers like me.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?

YL : There are many great designs and we can talk day and night. If I have to name one, I would like to say MUJI’s whole brand concept. It sounds like a cliche because so many people have talked about this design. However, it has been a guiding star for me since I started my career as a graphic designer. MUJI proves that a themed shopping experience can make a huge difference. The whole team’s design process and teamwork are also like textbook examples.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?

YL : Choosing the greatest design is as difficult as choosing your favorite child. I worked hard on every project and each of them has room to be improved. Maybe I can tell a bit about the most interesting project I finished. I am a big fan of detective stories, so I initiated a project which is a life-size surreal crime scene where the audience can search for evidence and clues to find the murderer. I held an event in that space. 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.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?

YL : When I see a great design, I cannot help thinking about how did the designer come up with that idea. Typically, a big idea is a snap of inspiration. Even the designer might not know where it came from. To constantly create exciting work, we need not only a one-time inspiration but also a creative thinking method that can guide us to infusive results.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?

YL : I might have become a professional bartender. I know little about beverage and alcohol. I would like to learn if there is an opportunity.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?

YL : This is a frequently asked question and my answer changes every time. For me, “design” is everything that is evolving. At the very beginning, I was a half-outsider of graphic design and I thought “design” was a logical problem-solving process. So I highlighted this on the first page of my portfolio when I applied for the MFA program at MICA. Ellen, on the contrary, told us that design was not simply problem-solving, but a story-telling process. I cannot describe how huge her influence is on me. All in all, my understanding of design is always evolving. For now, “design” has become a much broader notion than simply a problem-solving process or even storytelling. It comes to an interdisciplinary level. Designers are no longer a messenger, but more like a pathfinder.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?

YL : My family. My mother encouraged me to do art and design since I was very young and she also gave me spiritual support when I doubted myself and stressed out.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?

YL : I have got a lot of help from my instructors and classmates.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?

YL : During my experience as a graphic designer, most cases that I have encountered are commercial ones, and some clients have told me not to be too creative. I understand that in some circumstances, being creative is not the priority, or even impedes the function of the design products. However, I cannot help doubt if I am doing the job that I enjoy. This sort of self-questioning was the biggest obstacle. Then I realized that it was my cowardness that hindered me from being an optimistic designer. If I have a dream of making a change, I should go for it however difficult it will be.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?

YL : First, you should know who you are presenting to. If you are presenting your work to non-designers, you should use less jargon and explain every basic norm; if you are presenting to your boss or interviewers, go straight to the point. Second, you should introduce the brief you have received, and then summarize your concept. Before showing your design, you could also provide the audience some information about the research you have done or an inspirational mood-board you have collected. When you show your design work, tell the audience about your process, the problems you have encountered, and how you have resolved these problems. Then, it is time to answer questions.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?

YL : My next design project will discuss the plane and space. In the future, I will focus on experiential graphic design.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?

YL : I wish that I can bring something new our of graphic design. Now I am working on using graphic design to create more interesting physical interaction with the audience.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?

YL : Please expect a more creative future.

DL: How does design help create a better society?

YL : Designers should take mane social responsibilities. Great designs will look beyond customers and inspect the social, political, and environmental climate to indicate and address future issues and provide more possibilities. Meanwhile, sustainable design saves resources on our planet. Collaborating with technological fields will also help solve social issues.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?

YL : I am currently working on an online store to sell my prints and other art crafts.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?

YL : I seldom feel satisfied with my finished projects. I feel better when I am working on a design, especially when I come up with a possible solution for the problem I have encountered. Solving a problem is a great satisfaction.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?

YL : I wish working conditions for graphic designers can be improved. I am worried about the designer's health because, in most places, designers are usually working for extra hours.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?

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.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?

YL : It depends on the scope of the project and also the schedule of clients.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?

YL : I will start with words and sentences. Even though I am a visual designer, texts still come quicker than images, which is reversed from most of my fellow designers.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?

YL : When you make something no one hates, no one loves it.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?

YL : This is "the chicken or the egg" question. The fact is, in many cases, trends set the design, but great designs should always set the trend.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?

YL : Technology is the best friend of graphic designers. We use software to deal with images; some programs can collect data; Artificial intelligence and Virtual Reality equipment expand the users' experience with design.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?

YL : I use the Adobe Suite for digital design. I also do printmaking.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?

YL : The color palette will define the personality of the design. For example, black and white indicate that this design product is pretty neutral and serious; pastel colors are soft and tender; high-saturated colors look energetic and unique. Materials determine the touch feeling, even the imaginary touch feeling if the audience is not able to touch the actual products. Ambient will influence the function of a design and how people appreciate the design.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?

YL : I hope people can ask me why do you start this project. After I decide on one topic, I tend to research a lot of related information and get too many ideas. So I have to frequently ask myself why I start this project and be specific.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?

YL : I will try to imagine how did the designer come up with this great idea.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?

YL : I think co-design will work for some people. An ideal design partner is someone who can listen and speak politely about his or her ideas.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?

YL : Our program director Ellen Lupton at MICA influenced my design most. She showed me how important that story-telling is in design as well as the importance of emotions and experience.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?

YL : I would like to mention BJ Novak’s The Book Without Pictures. He has a very witty and funny conversation with the reader by wording and phrasing, as well as typography. This is my personal “textbook” for story-telling.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?

YL : When I learn new design skills, I practice with tutorials, not just watch, and develop some projects based on new skills.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?

YL : I would like to talk with Jorge Luis Borges. Even we live in different periods I can feel a strong mental connection with this literary giant. He provides philosophical guidance for me. Whatever job I am doing, I believe that I can get life suggestions by talking with him.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?

YL : I still have a long way to go before becoming a famous designer. It is hard but still rewarding.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?

YL : I love the color apricot. For me, it is a color of spring which is my favorite season. Going into nature is always the top one that I would like to do in my spare time. I like to go hiking or to the seashore to get some fresh air. For food, I am not picky. If I have to name one, I will say Sashimi. Favorite thing, for now, is my massage seat. As for the brand, I would like to pick up a series of products instead of a whole brand: Guerlain Muguet, a series of perfumes to celebrate Frech Le Temps du Muguet on each May 1st. Every year the perfume bottle features one special craft, such as ceramics, embroidery, and this year's silk weaving. This advertises and praises craftsmanship and produces great design work at the same time.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?

YL : Let me tell you about an embarrassing experience. 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?

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?

YL : An inspirational conversation with my friends can make my day. Communication is very important for me to keep energetic and motivated as a designer.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?

YL : I think so. When I was a child, I was not interested in anything except reading and drawing. When I was four, my mother sent me to an art tutoring center. I was the youngest but one of the best of the one hundred-student class (amazingly big class, haha). I showed my art talent at a very young age and that is why my family has always been supportive. I am very lucky.

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?

YL : There are so many possibilities. I hope in the future, we can discover more environmental-friendly energy and co-exist with nature harmoniously. Technology should become a tool to protect the earth.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?

YL : I wish I could write a detective story myself. I am planning on the plot.



Quirky Louise Book

Quirky Louise Book by Yunzi Liu

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