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Interdisciplinary designer Yan Yan

Updated: Apr 4

Yan Yan is a highly accomplished interdisciplinary designer, focusing her work on critiquing and interpreting the social landscape through the creation of artifacts and narratives infused with critical thinking. For Yan, design is a tool for exploring the truth about the world and the internal universe. Her approach involves pushing experimental boundaries and imagining fictional scenarios that speak to contemporary social behavior. Yan's works encourage viewers to reflect on their personal experiences through a systematic and hypothetical lens.

Yan earned her MFA in design from the California College of the Arts and currently works as a Product Designer at Captiv8. Her projects have garnered several accolades, including the Gold Award from the Indigo Design Competition, the Silver Award from the Novum Design Competition, and the A' Design Award. Her innovative works have been prominently featured in exhibitions worldwide, such as at the esteemed London Artill Gallery, Museum of Outstanding Design, 40 x 40 Exhibition and the Rome International Art Fair, etc. Yan's accomplishments have led to interviews with prestigious media outlets such as Beijing Joy FM Radio, ITSLIQUID, and the China Science and Technology News Network, etc. Meanwhile, she has had the privilege of adjudicating as a juror for esteemed events including the apexart Open Call, the 2024 New York City Scholastic Awards and Illinois Student Invention Convention.

Interdisciplinary designer Yan Yan

Yan, your work is described as a critical interpretation of the social landscape through design. How do you balance the interdisciplinary nature of your work with the goal of critiquing and understanding societal behaviors?

My work thrives on the confluence of design, art, and social critique. Balancing these elements means keeping a laser focus on the primary objective of my work: to ignite thought and challenge the status quo. It's not just about creating something that looks good; it's about using design as a lens to scrutinize and reflect on societal issues. This approach transforms my projects into mirrors reflecting the complexities of the world we inhabit.

For example, with my project Anonymousociety, it began with a simple yet profound act: posting a questionnaire in a public area to delve into why anonymity holds such significance for people. This initial step was crucial, laying the groundwork for the entire project. It allowed me to explore how the concept of boundary consciousness influences individual behavior. Starting from there, I developed smaller projects to further examine these interactions. This process, deeply rooted in industrial design and user experience methodologies, provided a solid foundation from which the project could grow and evolve.

I bring together diverse methodologies from different disciplines, ensuring that my creations are not only aesthetically appealing but also rich in narrative and context. This fusion allows me to produce work that serves as a critical examination of societal behaviors. By weaving together insights from various fields, I aim to craft pieces that resonate deeply with viewers, prompting them to question their perceptions and engage more critically with the world around them. It’s about sparking a dialogue, pushing people to see beyond the surface and think about the underlying messages conveyed through my designs.

Interdisciplinary designer Yan Yan

With design as your tool for exploring truths about the world and the internal universe, how do you approach the creation of artifacts and narratives that challenge conventional perspectives and encourage viewers to reflect systematically?

In using design to uncover truths and challenge norms, my approach combines in-depth research with creative expression. I immerse myself in the subject, observing human behaviors and societal trends, which informs the development of my artifacts and narratives. These creations are designed to provoke thought and offer new perspectives, encouraging viewers to systematically reflect on their surroundings.

I focus on marrying form, function, and meaning, ensuring each piece not only looks compelling but also conveys a message that prompts introspection. By intertwining design principles with storytelling, my works become more than just visual or functional objects; they transform into interactive narratives that engage the audience in meaningful dialogue about pressing societal issues.

This iterative process of creation and refinement helps me maintain relevance and impact, pushing both myself and the audience to continuously question and reinterpret the world around us.

Interdisciplinary designer Yan Yan

Your approach involves pushing experimental boundaries and imagining fictional scenarios. Can you discuss a project where this approach significantly influenced the outcome, and how it speaks to contemporary social behavior?

In my project Anonymousociety, the approach of pushing experimental boundaries and imagining fictional scenarios played a crucial role in its development and impact. This project wasn’t just about creating a series of disconnected pieces; it was about constructing an entire world that speaks to contemporary social behavior.

I developed a variety of artifacts to populate this world, each serving to enrich and expand the narrative. The magazine "Existence," served as a gateway into the secret society, offering fabricated interviews, stories, and articles that provided a backstory and depth to the narrative. This magazine became the narrative core, tying together the different facets of the project and enhancing its immersive experience.

The Anonymousociety website served as an online archive, a repository of artifacts and information about this clandestine organization. It was designed with a catalog style graphic language, maintaining the anti-brand ethos while offering a comprehensive and accessible view of the society’s history and activities. This website became a central hub for the project, allowing viewers to explore the world of Anonymousociety in depth and at their own pace.

Other elements like the instructions and flyers were designed to extend the narrative into the physical world, encouraging interaction with the concept of anonymity in daily life. These pieces helped to illustrate the societal impact of constant exposure and the human response to it, further enriching the project's narrative.

Through these interconnected elements, I built a world that not only illustrated the concept of psychological anonymity but also engaged people in a conversation about the nature of identity and privacy in our modern, exposed society. This world-building approach significantly influenced the outcome of the project, allowing me to create a rich, multi-faceted exploration of contemporary social behavior that resonated with audiences and sparked dialogue.

Interdisciplinary designer Yan Yan

Having received prestigious awards and exhibited globally, how do you perceive the impact of your projects like 'Anonymousociety' and 'Nemoo' on both your career and the broader design community?

Receiving prestigious awards and exhibiting globally has been a significant milestone in my career. Experimental projects like 'Anonymousociety' have not just marked personal achievements but also contributed to a broader dialogue in design, challenging and expanding the ways we think about social issues through the lens of art and design.

These projects have influenced my career by establishing me as a designer who is unafraid to tackle complex social themes and experiment with the form and function of design to communicate powerful messages.

In the broader design landscape, 'Anonymousociety' and 'Nemoo' have acted as catalysts for discussion, inspiring other designers and artists to explore similar themes and methodologies. This ripple effect has the potential to enrich the design field with a diversity of perspectives and innovative approaches to using design as a tool for social critique and change.

Interdisciplinary designer Yan Yan

Given your extensive experience and recognition in the field, what are the next steps for you in exploring the intersection of art, design, and social critique? Are there any new themes or methodologies you are eager to explore in your future projects?

Moving forward in my career, I remain committed to exploring the intersection of art, design, and social critique. My recent project, SheSaying, involves branding for a Chinese-language podcast that delves into the varied experiences of women, aiming to create an inclusive and diverse atmosphere. Inspired by my grandmother's undocumented stories, this project emphasizes the importance of giving a platform to all women’s voices. The branding of SheSaying uses a variety of fonts to represent the diverse narratives, highlighting the podcast's dedication to inclusivity and authenticity. As the host and designer, my goal is to ensure that every female voice is heard and celebrated.

Looking to the future, I am eager to investigate themes of digital existentialism and the ethics of artificial intelligence in design. Projects like SheSaying represent my ongoing effort to blend design with technology, creating meaningful and engaging social commentary.

Interviewer: Zin

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