2018 SXSW Speakers: Yiying Lu, Part 2

Yiying Lu is passionate about bringing more art into the tech community, and being a cultural bridge between East and West. Born and raised China, educated in Australia and London, UK, she now splits her time between San Francisco, Shanghai and Sydney.

In 2017, she became IDEO’s first Artist in Residence in China. Previously, she was the Creative Director at 500 Startups, where she worked with hundreds of startups on branding and design. She currently runs her design studio in San Francisco and speaks at conferences around the world on design and innovation. She is the artist behind the Twitter Fail Whale, the official Dumpling Emoji, Conan O’Brien’s Pale Whale and Disney Shanghai Recruitment Campaign. Lu was named a “Top 10 Emerging Leaders in Innovation” of Microsoft Next 100 series, and a winner of Shorty Awards in Design. She is also a frequent SXSW participant and was the artist for the SXSW 2012 Interactive Big Bag.

For the 2018 event, her presentation is titled Create Cross-Culture Designs for a Global Audience (5 pm Monday, March 12, Austin Convention Center, Room 18 ABCD). In advance of this talk, Lu shared her thoughts in this space yesterday on her creative journey, bringing art to tech and how to be more innovative. Today, she offers tips and reflections on the SXSW experience for both new and experienced festival-goers.

When did you first attend SXSW?
2011. How Time flies!

You’ve done different artworks with SXSW over the years. What’s the most impactful project you’ve been involved in? What’s the most quirky?
The most impactful project so far was probably is the artwork for the SXSW 2012 Interactive Festival Big Bag, which everyone was carrying to transport conference materials, extra shoes and water. As for the most quirky, another project happened at SXSW 2014, when I got invited to the Mashable House to create a real-time art piece inspired by their space. They had the Internet’s most famous feline, Grumpy Cat, in the house for fans to take photographs with, and an installation resembling Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball MTV for people to ride. So I made an impromptu artwork of Grumpy Cat riding a wrecking ball.

Do you have a tip for newbie SXSW attendees?
The key for your first (or any) SXSW is as follows. Pace yourself and trust serendipities. Imagine you are going to Disneyland for the first time, but only for an hour — do you get that feeling? There is a term for it — FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). That’ll be how you might feel when you are a newbie at SXSW. Because there will be a LOT going on simultaneously in different venues at the same time, thus you need to accept the fact that it is impossible to attend every talk, hit every party, see every show. As long as you keep in mind that it is a massive and yet well-curated event with heaps of interesting people around, every place you end up has its own potential. Just be present and enjoy! Bonus tip, make sure you check out the SXSW Interactive Trade Show (March 11–14). Hundreds of companies and startups from around the world will showcase some of the latest technology, gaming, new gadgets, and you can experience them firsthand. Some of them spent years for those few days, and the energy is incredible. And drink a lot of water!

What’s the best way for startups to leverage the SXSW platform?
The SXSW Interactive Festival has been the center of gravity for global startups for more than a decade, from Twitter (2007) to Foursquare (2009), Highlight (2012) to Meerkat (2015). For startup founders who want to leverage the SXSW platform, I’d recommend checking out SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event, which showcases some of the most exciting tech innovations including Siri, Klout, Hipmunk, Tango. There are tons of other pitch or showcase events to attend as well, just keep an eye on the SXSW mobile app, leverage Twitter, Facebook and Eventbrite to research for events, talks and presenters you are interested in advance. It could also be helpful to read Dennis Crowley and Ev Williams’ answers on Quora towards the question “What is the process involved in launching a start-up at SXSW?” When you are at SXSW, be open to pitching to people to extend your network, ask for intros and be willing to make intros for others, learn to handle rejection and trust that serendipity happens.

Give us some of your favorite examples of how SXSW has best incorporated art into the event.
I feel that SXSW isn’t just a tech show — it’s more of an ideas show, where technology meets with art, music and film in creative ways to bring new concepts and experiences to people. I loved last year’s “Infinity Room” art installation by mixed-media artist Refik Anadol, that used trippy audio and visuals to create an illusion of infinite time and space. I also loved Japanese artist Akinori Goto’s art installation “Toki” that used 3D printing, projection and motion to explore time and space. Also, it was refreshing to see brands like 3M bring art and science together in a renewable energy art installation, representing its sustainability effort at SXSW 2016:

Tell us some of your favorite memories of SXSW.
One of my favorite musicians I discovered at SXSW was St. Lucia. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch their live performance at the 2016 SXSW Interactive Closing Party. One of my favorite speakers at SXSW was Gary Vaynerchuk, I enjoyed his insightful answer towards a question asked “How to Network with ‘Relevant’ People at SXSW” (FYI, it may contain some strong languages). My favorite networking event at SXSW was a Korea Creative Content Agency’s networking lunch, which offered everyone delicious Korean bibimbap and refreshing rice wine, together with an incredible Korean heavy metal music performance!

SXSW is a very big part of the identity of Austin — and vice versa. How do you think it would be different if it were in Silicon Valley?
For me, SXSW and Austin are inseparable. When I first visited Austin during SXSW eight years ago, I loved hearing people say “Keep Austin Weird.” I think it would be very different if SXSW were in Silicon Valley, as much as I love the possibility of change and adore Silicon Valley (especially when it’s in HBO), it ain’t Austin

Can you share a preview of what you’re going to talk about as a Featured Speaker this year?
I’ll be sharing my 10 years of cross-cultural design practice for global brands and businesses such as Disney, Twitter, 500 Startups and China Australia Millennial Project. I’ll also be sharing personal journey of how I became the artist of the official Dumpling Emoji, the Twitter Fail Whale, and the Conan O’Brien’s Pale Whale, as well as my experience as IDEO’s first Artist In Residence in China. It will be a 45-minute talk exploring creativity through colorful logos,​ illustrations, typography designs​ and marketing campaigns with occasional bad puns and silly jokes — as I’ve also been working on my stand-up comedy sketch for a while.

Tell us some of your favorite places to visit/eat/hangout during SXSW?
There two spots I love which are uniquely Austin, both were introduced by my friend Victoria Taylor, whom I met at SXSW 2016! One is a hidden gem on 6th street: Museum of the Weird, where you can see mummies, monsters, mermaids & live sideshows on stage. The other one is an independent toy store on 2nd Street called “Toy Joy,” this place is packed from floor to ceiling with fun toys… from vintage candy to Hello Kitty, from Batman to Rick & Morty and everything in between. Food-wise, Austin is one of the most exciting food cities in the U.S. There are plenty of good places to eat. That said, during SXSW you should also try at least one free breakfast taco from some sponsored street team or buy food from a pop-up outside a venue. I once a catfish taco back in 2014 from a food truck outside the Austin Convention Center and it blew my mind! Since you are in Texas, you have to eat at least one BBQ meal, Moonshine Patio & Franklin Barbecue are both excellent. I’d also recommend Torchy’s for its breakfast tacos, and Chuy’s for its hangover brunch and its Tex-Mex interior design. Easy Tiger and Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden have great beer and snacks. If you want to go upscale for dinner in Austin, I would suggest Uchi, Uchiko, Perla’s or Odd Duck. Amy’s Ice Creams are perfect treats on a hot spring day in Austin.

Is there any SXSW-related rumor you’ve secretly wished it’s true?
For years, I’ve secretly wished the rumor that Daft Punk would play at SXSW were true. Last time I saw them live was in 2008 in Sydney, Australia. It’s about time, and I feel it coming!

Imagine SXSW in 2023. What will be different?
SXSW will become even more global with a higher percentage of content creators and audiences attending from all parts of the world. There will be more ways to interact with content in realtime during the conference through virtual reality and augmented reality. Not quite sure if self-driving cars will be replacing pedicabs and car sharing rides by that time, but there surely will be more robots with artificial intelligence hanging around. It surely will be pretty different from what the current SXSW is, but hey —enjoy what it is now… because the present is a present.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.



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Hugh Forrest

Hugh Forrest


Celebrating creativity at SXSW. Also, reading reading reading, the Boston Red Sox, good food, exercise when possible and sleep sleep sleep.