2018 SXSW Speakers: Yiying Lu, Part 1
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.
At SXSW 2018, Lu will cover Create Cross-culture Designs for a Global Audience (5 pm on Monday, March 12, Austin Convention Center, Room 18 ABCD). In advance of her talk, she shared her thoughts about her creative journey, bringing art to tech and how to be more innovative. Tomorrow in this space, she’ll offer tips and reflections on the SXSW experience for both new and experienced festival-goers.
Now that you’re working for yourself, what is your main focus?
Distill and Share. Over the last 10 years, I’ve done creative works for hundreds of brands around the world. Beginning in 2016, I started to travel and speak about lessons I learned at international conferences and write more often on Medium. This year, I will continue to focus on distilling more experiences into talks (including at SXSW, blog posts, podcasts, and potentially a book), to share my creative journey with more audiences.
Growing up in Shanghai, you were into comic books and graphic novels. What were some of your favorites and why?
I consumed heaps of pictorial books growing up — my dreams used to appear in black and white dialogue boxes. My favorite comic books were a series of cartoonists around the world called “Life. Love. Humor,” which included a variety of amusing global comic artworks from Snoopy to Garfield, Popeye to Father & Son. I love humorous comic books from around the world. They transcend linguistic barriers and put a smile in mind, simple and yet profound.
How did your childhood hopes and passions connect to what you are doing now?
Like many other kids, my childhood hopes and passions involved an endless amount of ice creams and fried chickens. My name “Yiying” is two characters in Chinese: “Yi” 怡 means happy; “Ying” 颖 means creative. So one thing I am always interested in, apart from food, is storytelling through colors and shape. The fact that I created the original artworks for the Dumpling emoji, seems pretty consistent with childhood hopes and passions.
What are you most excited about at present?
I’ve been working on my standup comedy act, called “Speaking Yiyinglish” — some previews here and here. I’ve been also very excited about is integrating art with blockchain technology, and reimagining art as a new type of currency.
You’re a certified trainer in Dr. Edward de Bono’s thinking methods for corporate innovation. Could you suggest one thing that companies could do to be more innovative?
To be innovative means to introduce use or show “new” methods or ideas. To achieve something “new” meaning to break free of existing thinking patterns. To achieve this, companies should not only consider introducing talents from different gender, race and culture backgrounds, but also consider bringing talents with diverse expertise into the workforce. For example, in Silicon Valley, tech companies in particular often have tech/business experts as EIR “Entrepreneur-in-Residence” to bring new tech and business ideas into the workforce. I’d suggest they should also consider having an AIR “Artrepreneur-in-Residence” to bring design and creative ideas. By embracing the power of differences and allowing talents with complementary skill sets to collaborate in the workforce, this will introduce new perspectives to break free of existing thinking patterns and accelerate innovation.
What is the most overrated tech trend at present?
Perhaps, the most overrated trend *IS* tech itself. And this comic strip by Sarah Cooper is pretty spot on.
You’re a vocal proponent for the importance of using art to make tech more engaging. Can you give us a few of your examples that demonstrate this?
QR code wasn’t widely used during its early days in 2011. It’s functional, but it’s not visually engaging. I always believe that the word “Function” has “Fun” in it, so why not make it attractive? I experimented with watercolor to reimagine this technology into something people might feel more relate to, and recorded the process of making as a stop motion. When Microsoft announced the Surface Pro, I was invited to be one of the artists to create artworks using the new tablet. I took inspiration from online pop culture, and created four pieces of art x tech mashups artworks. Before making the art, I realized that the brief only asked for the final art pieces, yet this would not showcase HOW the technology works, so I recorded the process of my entire creative process to showcase the new device in action:
Last fall, you spoke at EmojiCon, the first-ever conference dedicated to smiley faces. Explain why emojis are important to the tech experience.
Emoji is a new form of visual language that enriches our digital communication and makes it more enjoyable. They have universal meanings that transcend linguistic barriers. Apart from words, people now can use these visual representations to express emotions as an alternative way of communication, and it adds a new dynamic to our tech experience. Psychologist Dr. Owen Churches said it well, “over time, as our brains become accustomed to perceiving a symbol as ‘happy,’ ‘sad,’ or ‘excited,’ we gain an ability to actually feel the same emotion that we would feel by looking at a real face. Emojis give us the unique ability to make digital communications feel and act more human.”
Which visual artists and graphic novelists inspire you most?
Miyazaki Hayao’s work has always been an inspiration to me. In his own words, he creates “fictional worlds that would soothe the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality.” I admire his dedication to pouring his heart and soul into storytelling. Another favorite visual artist is Feng Zikai, who reintroduced the term “Manhua” (“Manga” in Chinese) in China in a modern sense. He often uses a hybrid of Chinese and Western techniques to reinterpret some of the most ordinary things in life with heartwarming insights and affection. I also adore Chuck Jones’ work. His work is always filled with surprise and delight.
What was your favorite book and music of 2017?
My favorite book of 2017 was Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” I discovered this book after watching her TED talk “Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.” My favorite music of 2017 is “Way to Go” from Aussie Band Empire of the Sun.
Click here to read Part Two of this interview with Yiying Lu (in which she discusses her ideas for maximizing your experiences at SXSW).
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.