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Name: Yiying Lu
On Visually: yiyinglu
In Design: More than 10 years
1. Tell us a bit about yourself: how did you get into design, and how long have you been doing it?
Hello. My name is Yiying Lu. “Yiying” is 2 characters in Chinese. “Yi” means happy; “Ying“ means creative; and you need to smile to prounce the name right! (Bet some of you think I’ve just made this up… but that was indeed from my grandpa…)
I grew up in Shanghai, China, with crayons, vintage cartoons and piles picture books. I guess the first time I got into design was at the age 5: I was giving away candies to friends in kindergarten. Those candies were in different fruit flavors with no packaging, so no one really wanted them. I decided to draw various fruits on white paper to wrap those candies, then those were a hit… I’m just suprised that no one has ever compained if that caused any tooth decay yet.
Despite the love of art, I went to a technology high school because a of a bet (more on that later), where I studied hardcore math and science. Later, I moved to Australia and the UK for University education in Design. I figured that Design is a great integration of my childhood artistic practice and my teen technology learning experience, and I am fond of Koala & the Beatles. After graduating with 1st class honors in Bachelor of Design Visual Communication from University of Technology Sydney and an exchange study in Advertising & Illustration at Central Saint Martins Collage of Art & Design in London, I worked at J. Walter Thompson, McCann Erickson and taught typography at the University for the past seven years. I have also been runing my own art & design studio in parallel, and I was fortunate enough to work with amazing people, companies and organizations, such as: Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco, The Shorty Awards, South By Southwest, Mashable, Scholastic, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, 500 Startups, Pepsico, Smashing Magazine, Australian Museum, New South Wales Trade & Investment, Twitter and the Visually Team. (O.K. I better stop bragging and do more design now!)
2. In 7 words or less, describe your style.
Simple, Direct, Clear, Concise, Colourful, Diverse, Yiying
3. If you could take a seminar with one designer or artist, dead or living, who would that be? Why?
That would be Milton Glaser. Not just because of his the iconic design of “I Love NY” or wonderful Bob Dylan poster art, I was rather inspired by his TED talk on “Using Design to Make Ideas New,” where he introduced “the idea of doubt into graphics”. I also found it’s fascinating how he was equally affected by both Giorgio Morandi and Pablo Picasso, the two very opposite design personalities: Morandi’s modesty, his dedication, his simplicity, his desire for nothing except the work and Picasso’s egocentric, narcissistic self-expression, his willingness to take chances and his fareless artistic courage.
And he tells great jokes!
4. What’s your favorite color? Why?
In nature, this is the color of most new buds, symbolizing new life and possibilities. I love the fact that it also happens to be the most visible color to the human eye, because it sits directly in the middle of the frequencies of visible light.
Another interesting personal discovery on Chartreuse, from my color theory research and yoga practice: In yoga, there are seven energy centers in the human body called Chakras; each chakra is associated with a particular color. The color Yellow is associated with the third Charkra, the Solar Plexus Center, which symbolizes personal power and inner intelligent awareness, whereas the color Green, associated with fourth Charkra: the Heart Center, symbolizes the consciousness of love, empathy, selflessness and nature.
Chartreuse, following the above perception, would be interpreted as the process of moving through Yellow (Solar Plexus Chakra) to Green (Heart Chakra), transcending from the ego, individual & materialized world into a journey with others, the higher realm of the global consciousness…
Oh, and last but not the least, I love Kermit the Frog!
5. What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your work and what did you learn from it?
For a long time, I used to think that going to a technology high school was probably the biggest mistake I’d ever made. In my elementary school, one of my best friends had a bet that I wouldn’t dare — nor be able to — get into a technology high school, knowing that I was good at art and terrible at math. Yet, I won the bet by getting into a selective technology high school, which seemed a triumphant success in the beginning, yet it resulted a miserable seven years of hard-core study in math, science and computing. During my entire teenage years, I spent a lot of time regretting that I did not follow what I am naturally good at – ART, but chose to pursue something I really struggled with – SCIENCE, all because a silly little bet.
However, towards the end of my high school, I came across Left Brain & Right Brain Theory, which made me realize that that “mistake” could be a blessing. Our two different hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking: Left Brain thinking is logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective and looks at parts, whereas Right Brain thinking is random, intuitive, holistic, sythesizing, subjective and looks things as wholes.
You see, I was born as a Right-Brain dominant thinker – whose strength is being imaginative, spontaneous and intuitive, hence good at expressive and creative tasks = ART; but its weakness is the lacking of logic, critical & analytical thinking (Left-Brain thinking). My seven years’ learning experience at a TECH high school, which I thought was a huge mistake, actually helped me focus on my logical thinking, analysis and accuracy. It effectively developed my originally weaker left brain and made me a “whole-brained” thinker with the ability to think with both left and right brains, shifting tasks to the hemisphere of the brain that’s best equipped to tackle them. During my University period, I realized that I could easily learn and master a new software / app / language to design and create visual art work. I started to appreciate the solid foundation I have gained from math, science and computing study during high school.
Going to Tech high school for me is very much like the process of fixing a lazy eye. By putting a patch over the good eye (right brain thinking), this forced the ‘lazy eye’ (left brain thinking) to work harder and strengthened its muscles (thinking ability). This allows both eyes (brains) to function together properly as a team (whole brian thinking).
I did not realize this until very recently. Just like Oprah Winfrey said, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” I thought I’d like to share my experience and this might be an idea worth spreading:
“Every single mistake is a blessing in disguise…there are actually untold blessings hidden within every mistake.” – Tao Te Ching
6. What about your biggest achievement? Tell us about the project you are most proud of in your career so far.
I would have to mention this personal artwork named ‘Lifting a Dreamer’, which eventually became the Twitter’s overcapacity icon – the “Twitter Fail Whale”. When Twitter experiences an outage, users see this illustration of eight orange birds using a net to hoist a whale from the ocean, captioned “Too many tweets! Please wait a moment and try again.” Soon, there were hundreds, probably thousands of creative works inspired by this single illustration: from 3D sculpture and cupcakes to lego versions and real tattoos, and some of the beer bottle label entries for The Fail Whale Pale Ale label contest.
There are many funny ‘modified’ Fail Whales out there, here are just a few of the clever, talented and amusing homages and take-offs I enjoyed. Amazed by the power and creativity of the Twitter user community, I have also created a page dedicated to all the whale sightings.
Perhaps most people do not know that this illustration was originally created as a personal birthday e-card to my friend overseas. My initial idea behind the illustration was: I am sorry that I can not travel overseas to celebrate your birthday, so I drew these little red birds to carry my big wish (the Whale) across the water to you! An illustration of an impossible dream came true. It fascinated me when Twitter co-founder Biz Stone picked this image, he saw the art as the whale symbolizing Twitter’s scaleability issue, and those red little birds represent Twitter employees working hard on fixing the problem.
It is a serendipity for the image to be found and used on a major social media website, which allows the art to be seen by millions or even billions of people. Milton Glasers once mention the concept “In Search of the Miraculous”: Art is the act of making things that move for the mind, which is our [artists'] deep aspiration. I will always remember how grateful I felt when I read the Wired article titled “Fail Whale Gives Frustrated Twitterers Something to Smile” back in 2008; every time I receive personal emails & tweets from people saying thank you for the happy art, that makes me feel better even if twitter is down; and more and more companies were inspired by this and started to create their own visual 404 page art, which humanizes the technology.
An Eureka moment: back to our discussion on my favoriate color, I found this entire phenomena is relevant to my perception of Chartreuse earlier: from a personal use (a birthday wish to my friend), to a visual message to global audiences – bring the art to everyone; that is really the process of moving through Yellow (Solar Plexus Chakra) to Green (Heart Chakra), transcending from the individual into a journey with others, the higher realm of the global consciousness.
And of course, what I most grateful and proud of is being commissioned by Conan O’Brien and his team to create the “The Pale Whale” art below for Conan’s big premiere on TBS and on TeamCOCO website as an animated 404 page!
I am proud of this project not just because it is well paid (laugh), but the fact that Conan is my personal hero. His advice to young people in his last show on NBC truly helped me go through some of my toughest time in life: “If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” I created this piece of artwork with my highest regards with the use of the palest color pallet!
7. Who should we feature in this space next?
Nigel Holmes – his 50 Years of Infographic Designs are both delightful and informative.