Breaking down cultural barriers through art and design
Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication), 2008
Raised in Shanghai, Yiying Lu came to Australia to study design at university and is now working with tech startups in Silicon Valley. An ‘artrepreneur’, she’s on a mission to bridge cultural divides, from art to tech and East to West.
Between branding work and exhibitions, Lu gives public addresses and runs online classes, teaching creatives how to design for a global audience.
She’s also working on a picture book, The Very Hungry Red Panda.
“People say to me, ‘I’ve finished school, how do I get a job?’” she says.
“When I look back, I realise I never actually found a job.”
Lu may not have sent out CVs, but she’s incredibly good at leveraging social media and monetising her work. By the second year of her degree, she was already licensing her designs to companies such as the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and one of the world’s biggest games corporations.
Someone else is always sacrificing their potential to let you do your thing, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t work hard.
When Disney opened a resort in Shanghai in 2016, they hired Lu to localise their campaign material. Her take on Mickey, while undeniably Disney, is in the style of a Chinese paper-cut figure, complete with traditional motifs.
“I wanted to do the seemingly impossible: unify something that’s so global, but also local. I wanted to find that common voice while keeping what is unique about the location,” she says.
From logos to emojis, Lu’s iconic creations speak to people all over the world. This, she says, is the beauty of being a designer.
“I don't just create art for art's sake. I create design for communication's sake,” she says. “It’s about understanding what the audience wants and what the client wants, then find their common ground — the message. I’m a vessel, helping these two things connect. In a lot of art and design, the aesthetics overshadows the subject matter — that’s not communication, that's only self expression. Design should be for people, not just for designers.”
Yiying Lu is the recipient of the 2019 UTS Alumni Award for Excellence in Design, Architecture and Building.
ROLE MODEL: Professor Louise McWhinnie, Dean of UTS’s Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation. “When I met her, I saw a global soul. We instantly bonded.”
SECRET SKILL: “I’m an animal whisperer.”
Q&A: Yiying on leading positive change
What are you most proud of in your career?
"That there’s a community out there that recognises what I do as being meaningful, adding value to people’s lives and allowing others to co-create."
Is there a moment that changed your career?
"When I was studying, I had a job at a dumpling restaurant and it taught me how hard some people work. There was this old lady who’d make shrimp rolls all day. Who knows, if she had the opportunity and education, she might be a better designer than I am. I realised that someone else is always sacrificing their potential to let you do your thing, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t work hard."
What advice do you have for design graduates?
"Travel. Go to Japan, Zimbabwe, China — anywhere you don’t speak the language. You’ll feel extremely uncomfortable, you’ll be forced to be silent and listen, and you’ll train your intuition."