Design Gurus Summit: Q&A with Yiying Lu, Award-winning Artist and Creator of the official Dumpling Emoji

Yiying Lu award-winning artist and designer. Born in Shanghai China, Educated in Sydney Australia & London UK, now based in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, she currently is a Design Lecturer at the NYU Shanghai Program on Creativity & Innovation. Yiying was named a “Top 10 Emerging Leader in Innovation” in the Microsoft Next 100 series. Her projects have been featured in many publications, including The New York Times,Forbes, The Atlantic, NBC News, TIME, Wired Magazine, and so on. Yiying’s client list includes Disney, PepsiCo, Microsoft, Twitter, Sony, Expedia, and so on. Her notable projects include Disney Shanghai Recruitment Campaign, the official Dumpling Emoji, the Twitter Fail Whale, Conan O’Brien’s Pale Whale, and the SXSW Interactive Big Bag Art.

Yiying has taught typography and magazine design at the University of Technology Sydney, and also a guest lecturer at the Program of Creativity and Innovation at New York University, Shanghai. She currently works with startup companies and corporate organizations in Silicon Valley and around the world to improve their branding and design, in order to increase their user acquisition and market growth.

She will be speaking at the Uncharted Minds Design Gurus Summit on September 19th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.

Q. When you were growing up, were you always interested in art and design?

A. Oh yes! I always find art and design fascinating. My grandfather encouraged me to draw and make art pieces at a very young age, and I happened to really have a knack for — which activates my creative mind. As a teenager, I decided to attend a technology high school that focused on mathematics — which stimulate my analytical mind. This was while I was growing up in Shanghai. It was the combination of both areas that gave me such a passion for design, as design combines both left-brain and right-brain approaches, the analytical mind and the creative mind.

I personally consider art and design as two different languages. Sometimes they intersect, other times they differ from each other. It depends on the intentions behind these 2 creative acts. My understanding is that design is usually conclusive — design aims to find a solution, often for other people’s problem. It’s more of a collective act, thus a good design practice requires communication and empathy. Art is often open ended. It raises a question — art aims to release the inner voice, often from the artist. It’s more of an individual act. Thus a good art practice requires passion and dedication.

Q. What were some early influences on your career choice?

A. I was born and raised in Shanghai, which has always been a very multicultural place — it is a meeting point of traditional & modern; the fusion of east and west.

When I was born, China had just opened its door to the rest of the world. I remember in the early 90s a huge wave of foreign trades and investments happened in the country. In order to maintain their authenticity and also cater to the local audience, Western brands adopted an interesting mixed use of eastern and western design elements. For example, KFC and McDonald’s uses both English words and Chinese characters in their logos. Coca Cola had traditional Chinese patterns embedded in their package design. Pizza Hut even offers Peking Duck Pizza. Many other brands adopted similar approaches.

Shanghai has been known for adopting avant garde ideas and fashion, while preserving the traditional culture and ideology — such as the Shikumen (a traditional Shanghainese architectural style combining Western and Chinese elements that first appeared in the 1860s). This juxtaposition of western and Chinese cultural elements set the foundation for my design ideology, creating design experiences which embodies local flair in the context of globalization.

Q. What did you study in college?

A. I took an introductory Design & Media course at University of New South Wales, where I explored various areas in design and realized I was very passionate about visual communication. I then transferred to the University of Technology Sydney to pursue a degree in visual design communication and graduated with first class honors. I specialized in Typography, Magazine Design, and Illustration. I went abroad and studied Advertising for a semester at Central St. Martins College of Art Design in London, UK. I enjoyed my classes so much that I decided to work with the global advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson during my final year at school. In my job, I combined the design thinking skills I gained at CMS to conceptualize ideas and the technical skills I learned at UTS execute my ideas.

Q. What did your parents do?

A. My father worked as a Japanese-Chinese translator in marketing, travelling between Tokyo and Shanghai for many years. My mother went with him during my childhood and became a stay-at-home mom. She is a fantastic cook. She also likes to makes fashionable clothes, which I still wear today.

Q. Tell me about your first creative job.

A. During school, my first creative job was teaching at my university. One of my professors suggested that I should teach typography and magazine design in my second year in Sydney.

But I did a number of other things to earn money before teaching, during my first year at college: I was a waitress in a Yum Cha Restaurant, which actually provided great foundation and inspiration for my dumpling emoji designs; I made sushi for a while; I conducted government surveys as a bilingual interviewer. These were in fact all creative jobs as well, because I designed and created experiences for other people.

Q. What were some early lessons you learned about creativity?

A. A good design practice should involve some degree of “play”. I believe designing is a nonlinear process. It’s like improv comedy. It’s about working with others and embracing uncertainty as part of the process.

Over time and with experience, you gain the confidence that you can come up with better solutions. More importantly, you will be able to create something truly extraordinary. I think Maya Angelou said it best, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Q. What do you do for creative inspiration? How do you generate so many ideas and stay inspired?

A. I find inspiration everywhere, even in the most mundane places. I can get inspired by going to San Francisco Chinatown, or when I have a great bowl of Pho, or the patterns from the skin of a honeydew melon, F line streetcar, city lights, I even find doing this Q&A inspiring… When you are paying attention and appreciating the wonder of ordinary life, you will discover something extra-ordinary. When you are curious and having fun, extraordinary ideas will come to you. If you live each day with a sense of wonder, ideas will flow through you.

I love collaborating and communicating with people. I call this the mind ping-pong. A great conversation is a great energy change. Sharing ideas with others helps me think better and come up with new ideas a lot faster.

Q. What career advice would you give to young people today?

A. Always start with the question, Why? Ask why you are doing this? Why did you make that choice? When you start asking why, you will find that you’ve had the answer all along.

Q. Hardest part of being a creative director?

A. The most challenging part is the moment when you get a new project and you are required to be creative. I believe creativity is a never ending dance of duality between two states of mind: Confidence and Fear. No matter how much experience you have, there are always constraints, challenges, and insecurities, which create fear: a fear that you may fail, a fear that your ideas won’t be as good as last time, a fear that your client might not like you work, a fear that you might not like your own work.

Q. Favorite part of being a creative director?

A. How I am able to continue conquer the hardest part.