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jia-yi liu

she/her | site | instagram

Hey, Jia-yi! Hows things?

Really good thanks! I’ve just had some rice paper rolls (blame my Instagram for my current obsession), feeling ready to chat

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Taiwanese but I grew up in the UK. I go back and forth between Buckinghamshire and Taipei. So I love talking about food and the weather - “Have you eaten yet? Wow it’s hot today isn’t it.”

Give us some fun facts about you?

Am I fun?! I love lists so that gives you a clue…

  • I am not athletic in the slightest but I love a sports docuseries (Cheer, All of Nothing, Last Chance U, The Last Dance). Something about how these people push themselves to the limit and dedicate themselves to their passion & talent makes me feel like I should do more with my life than watch them on TV and eat popcorn crumbs off my belly.

  • I have been known to eat plain tortillas and call it a meal.

  • I started my painting career at 9 because I took a Bob Ross painting course at a shopping mall in Taiwan.

So you’re an illustrator and designer, which do you prefer (tough I know!)

I think I enjoy different aspects of them both. So as a designer it’s all about the problem solving within constraints. What problem am I solving and for who, how does beautiful design tell the story of the solution that this product or brand is offering.

For illustration it’s more visceral, how can I communicate a feeling through an image. How can I capture a moment or an idea and make someone feel something be it nostalgia, warmth or even just relaxed.

It’s interesting when I mix the two and create illustrations for my branding work because you realize even the choices of brushes and shape can really affect the overall tone of a brand. But also how powerful illustration can be when tailored to branding because it gives a whole new layer of emotion.

Always been creative?

I’m an only child so I spent a lot of time lost in my own world. Drawing was an easy way to channel all my imagination and structure my games So if I wanted to play a palace garden designer I’d draw all the garden flat plans, I loved playing ticket master (planes, trains, you name it, don’t ask) I’d design tickets. It kind of grew from there.

If you weren’t a creative what do you think you’d be?

A florist maybe. I did a very short stint at a flower shop when I was young and I think there’s similarities, like picking paints to picking flowers for an arrangement. The whole idea of height and visual space in a bouquet in relation to the vase and the space it’s going to be in. Plus have you seen those Japanese ikebanas? Go Google it, it’s stunning. At the end of the day who doesn’t smile when they come home to a vase of beautiful flowers.

So you studied at Falmouth and then at Shillington two big names in the creative world! Did you enjoy your times there?

Absolutely! It’s so so cheesy but it’s about the people you meet when you do courses like those. I completely understand the financial burden especially in the times we’re living in so you can 100% gain the technical skills you need online. But the people you meet will inspire you, teach you and support you in your career and life to come, which is so important if you’re heading into the creative industry.

Any advice to anyone leaving education?

Personal projects show people that this is the work you are passionate about, who you are and what you want to say even if no-one pays you, all wrapped up in a beautifully executed creative medium. That’s a lot of important things to say all in one go - make sure you’re armed with a good one to interview with.

Everyone says personal projects are important and they really are Do work you love not what you think other people want to see.

You were spotlighted over on Creative Boom for a hugely important project that you did called Let’s Get Names Right, talk to us about the project.

I created a campaign for something that has happened to me all my life - being Taiwanese my name is an awkward one to pronounce in English. I know it’s happened to my friends as well, so I thought I would do a funny campaign like a GIF, JIF situation. As I started work and researching the topic, both conducting interviews with friends, as well as online reading, I found the mispronunciation of names, can have a significant impact on identity and privilege.

So I began using the humor from the anecdotal examples I gleaned from my experience and the interviews with statistics from my research to highlight how non-English names are marginalised. Things like not spelling a name correctly on an email (even though your name is right at the top) paired with insights into how much money goes into corporate diversity training when spelling a name is a very small and free step to creating an inclusive workplace.

What was it like being featured over on Creative Boom?

It’s pretty humbling to be featured anywhere to be honest! I think I’m naturally quite shy so things like interviews and features, taking up space is very alien to me. Though I’ve come to realise if I speak up maybe it’ll help other people who feel the same way open up too.

Having since been featured I do get DMed saying that “Happens to me all the time.” or “Yes, I get it.” I think that’s what the internet is good for, finding your tribe and feeling less alone.

How important is it that big names pick up issues such as this?

Really fecking important! It’s the power of design at its most glorious that you can diffuse a topic like this with humor, type and illustration. It’s a sensitive area and it’s easy to point fingers these days and accuse people of being “unwoke” or “cancel” someone; so highlighting design that aims to share experiences from perspectives that people might not have considered before is more important than ever as it seems like we are more and more divided.

What can society do to change and be more inclusive?

Ask more questions might be an obvious one, but if you take it into the context of design just asking “Hey could colour blind people read this?” or asking for feedback like “Do you feel like this character illustration system represents you?”. Or “Hi, am I actually saying your name right?” Small things.

You’ve worked for some BIG brands such as BBC international, Forbes Japan and The Economist! Do you have a fave?

Ahahaha a girl doesn’t illustrate and tell! I will say my favourite jobs are the ones that include nature, animals and landscapes! I get really lost in the illustration, in a way I get to visit and see things without leaving my desk.

How did you develop your style?

Ah the elusive illustrative style, the holy grail of grads. This was something that stressed me out so much - but it was just trial and error plus perseverance. I just kept grinding out my sketches until what I envisioned in my head matched what was on my screen. It doesn’t stop either! So right now with my personal work I’ve been redrawing the same poster idea for weeks now because I can’t get the “vibe” right

But a practical tip apart from hope, a full moon and prayers is workshops and lessons. I take so many workshops that aren’t necessarily for anything, just for the sake of learning - Sarah Beth Morgan’s class over at School of Motion, Jessica Hische’s type classes on Skillshare, Ellen Lupton’s lectures on the history of graphic design are fab too.

Talk to us about Adobe Live!

It was so nerve wracking - the team at Adobe were so so lovely but drawing live is epically hard. I think if I had the chance all over again I would go in more prepared, I wish I spilled more workflow secrets that would’ve been useful to an 18 yr old me. But I think 18 yr old me would have been pinching myself that I’d be given the opportunity, that people would be interested in how I draw!

Who are your standout creatives?

So she is my friend but I find her so creatively inspiring! She’s a mix of so many things, designer, illustrator, 3D artist … I think she has so many wise things and advices to share.

For my final question, whats next?

Lots of trying out new things at the moment! The idea of my own multi-disciplinary studio is on the docket but that’s a long term dream that I’m trying to make happen. I recently completed my first short graphic comic - I took a workshop in Seville with the amazing Fran and Ed (from Frannerd). I’m also learning 3D illustration in Blender, it is an incredible amount of fun. So who knows where these things will lead me

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