JESS YEUNG

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Could you describe the kind of work you do, and a project that you’re currently working on that you’re especially excited about?

I’m a senior designer at Marie Claire magazine. My team and I are in charge of laying out every editorial page the readers see in the magazine. Marie Claire isn’t just a women’s fashion magazine. It encompasses everything women are interested in -- fashion, beauty, health, politics, world news, pop culture, social activism, profiles on trailblazing women changing the world, and everything in between. The topics are so varied that the design work never gets boring! 

I recently started a new design Instagram account, @yeungfrankenstein. One day I realized that having an outlet to post my work regularly would push me to create more. It gives me a concrete purpose to play around with what I’ve always wanted to learn like animation, hand drawn type, cut paper, collage, etc. The work doesn’t have to be perfect or polished, just results of freewheeling creative experiments.

 
 

A common thing in your work is bold use of color - is that a conscious choice, or do you just gravitate naturally towards bright colors?

I’m like a moth to flame when it comes to bright colors and bold prints. This preference influences all aspects of my life including wardrobe, decorative choices, and even TV show binges. I’ve always been drawn to shows and movies with colorful, but deliberate visual direction like Pushing Daisies, Sin City, and anything by Wes Anderson. However, there is great power in subtlety. The older I get, the more I’m appreciating the simplicity and restraint that comes with creating an understated color palette.

 
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What’s the process for creating the branding for a company? 

The most important step is understanding what the core values/purpose of the company are and how to express that to the world. A shoe company isn’t just selling merchandise, it could be selling an athletic lifestyle, a luxurious indulgence, or, simply, comfort. These different messages will dictate different directions of the brand voice. 

Then, it’s about translating that message visually. This is the fun brainstorming part. You get to do visual research, draw sketches, and put together mood boards. Once you have a general visual direction, you can further solidify it with typeface exploration and color palette development. These fun, but challenging exercises will affect how consumers perceive the brand. Each typeface choice and color shade can elicit a different visceral response. You want to make choices that will express the exact feeling you want while being unique to the brand. With the imagery, are you going with photography or illustration? What style is each of those going to look like? It’s always a best practice to refer back to your intended audience to help guide some of these choices. 

Finally, you figure out how to use the combination of imagery, color, and type to create a unique, cohesive, and flexible set of visuals that can be applied to different touch points. Hopefully by the end of this back and forth process, you’ll have created a beautiful and well-thought out branding campaign.

 
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You’re quite tech savvy - you’ve dabbled in animation, are proficient in editing programs, and have basic coding skills. Were you always a computer-oriented type of gal? Or have you adapted to be that way over time, given your career?

Thank you! I definitely wasn’t always like this! All designers have to be savvy and adaptable. Sometimes people tend to forget we’re problem solvers too, just visual ones. In order to do that, we try a lot of different concepts, techniques, and approaches before we execute an idea. Ask any designer and they’ll probably tell you most of the skills they’ve picked up were partially from tutorials and partially from messing around and discovering something cool. That’s how I figured out how to make gifs and animations in Photoshop! 

My parents also instilled in me a sense of curiosity for learning new things. They would always tell me “Be proactive about learning so that your value as a designer is always increasing!” With the ever-expanding landscape of social media and the ubiquity of well-designed template generators, it’s important to be aware of new trends and technology. Learning animation, coding, and social media marketing just gives me a bigger repertoire of skills to work from. 

 
 
 
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How do you connect with other creatives? Do you find yourself enjoying the collaboration process, or are you more of a solo worker? 

More and more I’m learning to enjoy collaborating with other creatives. It was daunting when I was fresh out of college and bombarded with talented designers sharing their masterpieces on the internet. I never felt worthy enough to work with anyone. But if you find the right people, you’ll realize that you have just as much of a point-of-view to contribute as anyone else. It’s eye-opening to see how different people approach the same problem. In the end, you get to use all the strongest pieces, and the results are always so much better than what you could have done yourself.

 
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Where do you find inspiration in your daily life? If you’re feeling uninspired, is there something you do to kickstart your creative process? 

When I’m feeling stalled, I like to go analog. The best (and worst) part of pencil and paper is that there’s no CMD + Z. If you mess up, you have to find a way to fix it, cover it up, or turn it into something else. You might not end up with what you intended, but, hopefully, you end up in unexplored territory. Sometimes I’ll pigeon-hole myself into one idea, so forcing myself to work offline is a way to combat my own misguided instincts.

I also find that going to museums and looking at non-design-related things are a great way to jumpstart my creativity. Something that continues to inspire me is theater productions. I used to be a theater kid in college, and seeing the amount of imagination it took to transform a script into a fully-realized set with costumes, props, and lighting was astounding. Especially for student productions, we had to milk that shoestring budget so creativity and resourcefulness were always put to the test. I feel fortunate enough to be in NYC where the best performances are just a quick subway ride away. How these professionals convert a static and finite space into a portal to another time and space is amazing. While I’m watching, I’ll take note of the small design details that the production staff meticulously selects hoping that will trigger some new ideas. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Who are your inspirations in the art world? Any women creatives that you emulate or admire?

I have so many! Yuko Shimizu, the Japanese illustrator, is one of my all-time favorites. She’s one of the few prominent illustrators working in the US that frequently depicts Asian protagonists in her work. Her subversive point-of-view and detailed executions leave a striking impression, even for those who aren’t familiar with her work. I also feel personally connected to her because she’s the person who inspired me to go into design in the first place. Yuko came to speak at my school and talked about her previous life working in corporate PR in Japan for eleven years. She realized she wasn’t happy, so she packed up her life, and moved to NYC to get an MFA. She emphasized that as long as you have the passion and aren’t afraid to work hard, it doesn’t matter how old you are when you start your career. My naive 20-year-old self, who thought at the time it would be too late to switch into design, needed to hear that. My life trajectory could have been very different had I not gone to hear Yuko speak that day. Funny story: My boss at my first job out of college actually knew her. She called the office once and I got to briefly fangirl her.

Other creatives that inspire me are: Pum LeFebure, Dana Tanamachi, Roanne Adams, Christene Barberich, Jessica Walsh, Cass Bird, Ayako Ito, Malika Favre, Annie Atkins, Lauren Hom, Jennet Liaw, Kelli Anderson, Louise Fili, Molly Scannell, Sophie Leng, Zuzu Snyder, and Beth Hoeckel just to name a few!

 
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As senior designer at Marie Claire, what does a typical day look like for you? 

Every day at Marie Claire is like working in a sorority with all my favorite people. Before I started, I had never worked at a magazine and worried everyone would be Emily Blunt’s character from The Devil Wears Prada. God, was I wrong! Everyone is smart, opinionated, witty, generous, and multifaceted. I’ve been at MC for four years and we’ve become a well-oiled machine just humming along. There are three of us in the art department. We each have our own sections that we design with a corresponding editor and photo editor. Once we meet and determine what kinds of photos best complement the text, we’ll start designing. Most of the day is spent in Indesign laying out pages and trying out different ways to use hierarchy, type, and image to best lead the reader through the story. I most enjoy designing collages. They’re intricate and thoughtfully layered with an abundance of imagery that immerse you into the theme of the page. 

 
 
 
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What’s something our readers should know about you? 

I started out totally isolating myself and my work out of insecurity. I was always hesitant to share it with others for fear of negative feedback and being designated a fraud who somehow wandered over from the biology department (I used to be pre-med!). But guess what. The more often you share your work and humbly ask for honest feedback, the more invested your colleagues will be of your success. Over time, I learned that when it comes to critiques, it’s not about me, it’s about the work. As a creative, we put so much of our points-of-view into our designs that it can be hard to separate the two. But if we can take a step back and review it objectively, we can gain valuable insight and become better designers.

 
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Where do you see your art evolving in the next five years? Are there any big goals you're planning for the future that will help with that evolution?

In the next five years, I’m looking to start my own business. Design won’t be the focus, but it will be a big part of it. I’ll be taking my creativity offline into a more experiential execution. It’s in its nascent stages, so I don’t want to share too much right now! But this is something I’ve always been passionate about, and finally having a concrete direction is so exciting! My coworkers and I are also collaborating on a series of projects so it’s a great big ball of creative energy every day at the office!

 

 

Check Jess out on Instagram and her website.

And check out her Ten Facts feature here.