Above the Fold: Mengyan Li, Industrial Designer
In Above the Fold, we spotlight individual members of Coroflot's vibrant creative community. The idea is to take you behind the scenes and inside the minds of talented Coroflot members who we think are doing exceptional work. Coroflot was created by designers, for designers, and Above the Fold is the place where we can talk to creatives about work that we not only love, but think you'll love too!
Back in April we held our first ever Sketch Jam design sketching competition here in Portland, OR. Out of the sixteen people that competed, one of the standouts was a graduate student from the Savannah College of Art and Design named Mengyan Li. What stood out about Mengyan was the fact that not only was she a super talented design sketcher, but she was also passionate about drawing storyboards and other kinds of illustration. Across all of these mediums she demonstrates a high level of skill, yet what really stands out is the way she often fuses each of them together. It's not uncommon for Mengyan to present her inspiration boards as storyboards complete with comical characters to get the message across. Between her work at Sketch Jam and her Coroflot portfolio, we knew we had to chat with Mengyan about her unique approach to design.
Was there a specific moment in life where you realized you wanted to pursue a creative path?
When I was in the kindergarten, I got a drawing board as a present from my dad. And this drawing board became my favorite toy for years. Every day I held the board in arms and drew whatever I saw or imagined. I think that would be the moment I fell in love with creativity. I'd never seriously considered pursuing a creative path, though I think I can live creatively no matter what kind of career I pursue in the future, until I finished my high school and selected my major in the college. I [have not been able to] live without imagination and creativity since childhood, but I finally decided to be a creative designer at the moment that I chose Industrial Design as my major.
Who are your design heroes?
I have to name Raymond Loewy. There are so many talented designers and artists that I admire, but Loewy was my first design hero. I read about him in my textbook during the freshman year, and got so impressed with his design works. These years I am following a fashion illustrator whose name is Jae Suk Kim. She may not be a "heroine", but her drawings are so creative and enjoyable. I am dreaming to become a great designer like them.
Can you share some details about your most recent project?
I started writing my thesis since last September, so the most recent project should be the packaging design I did during my internship at Disney Design Group in 2016. I am an industrial designer, but I'm also passionate about other creative works. When working at Disney, I did not only product design, like toys and souvenirs, but also illustration and packaging design. The DISNEY BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 25 ENCHANTED YEARS PIN packaging (limited edition) was done during that time, including the Ballroom Framed Pin Set (background), the 4 Pin Boxed Set (box), and the Mystery Set (box). I tried to combine the original scenes from the animation with these products to make them look special but also authentic.
You recently competed in Sketch Jam. Can you tell us about why you wanted to compete and describe the experience overall?
This competition was actually "an unexpected journey". I was checking my email that day, and suddenly noticed a promotion from Coroflot. When I saw the word "Sketch", I got excited because I love sketching so much and I'd love to meet those sketchers who have the same passion. And of course, I want to prove my skill and show my drawings to others. So I applied, and I was selected as hoped. Everything was packed in three days and then I took my first trip to Portland. I haven't been so excited and nervous for years, and this live competition brought me back to my college time when people competed face to face with a time limit. Instead of competition, I prefer to call it a game because everyone had fun. I didn't win in this game, but I met talented people and had an unforgettable memory there.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I am writing my thesis now so I am pretty excited about the theory I am studying and the product coming out at the end. My thesis topic is THE CYCLICAL NATURE OF DESIGN: How Driving Forces Affect Product Design. It will explore the applicability of dialectics to the design industry, studying how all design is cyclical in nature, how each future development builds on past evolutions, and why it happens in this way. There will be a chair design produced to show exactly how design incorporates these rhythmic elements as it evolves.
One of the interesting things about your style is how you seem to combine your love of illustration and storyboards with product design. How did you come upon this style and can you walk us through some of your process for creating?
I came upon this style because of my passion towards sequential art. I have been drawing storyboards all the time since I got that magic drawing board, and I found it is always the best way to draw people's attention. Storyboarding has this power to turn even an extremely boring day to a readable humor. Storytelling is the most effective tool to make audiences enjoy a presentation, make them patient and curious to accept an idea, help them better understand an instruction, and keep them awake in lectures. People love cute stuff.
About my process of creating, if to describe a product design opportunity, I usually just turn the existing problem into a cute storyboard or illustration and make it visual. Watching images is much more interesting than reading words. The translating process is as simple as a nature to me since I have practiced from the time I was a few years old. If I have to prepare a presentation, I will treat this presentation as an entire story, so making a presentation is just like making a storybook for audiences; every page has plot.
Are there any projects (professional or personal) that you are especially proud of?
I'm pretty proud of the project I did during the internship at Fossil. It was a watch designed for camping theme, so I made the hour hand and minute hand into transparent color pieces. Using yellow represents daytime, and blue represents nighttime. "When yellow overlaps with blue, something green happens; when sun alternates with moon, a day of camping ends". As time is going, the color pieces are moving, and the overlapping area is changing, which means the green memories about camping are always there, coming from days and nights, changing its shape as if it were alive.
I'm also proud of one of the school projects I did, which is a design of a folding bicycle. It was aimed to be portable and comfortable, so after doing research, I decided to make the wheels foldable. The wheels will be made of solid rubber, divided into sections, and folded towards the center like a flower. In this way, it could save a lot of space without reducing the size of wheels in return.
What tools (physical or digital) do you find yourself using repeatedly?
I LOVE PHOTOSHOP. It is my favorite application in the past, present, and future. Illustrator and SolidWorks/Rhino are daily tools too, for industrial designers. My favorite physical tool should be micron, which I cannot live without. Markers, pencils and watercolors are also necessary sometimes.
Do you have a ritual for getting in work mode (music you listen to, certain exercise, food you eat) aka a productivity tip?
Many things help, like candy, fruit, tea, soda, or natural fragrance. Beautiful music is always a good friend of design, and sometimes I will play the Jurassic Park series as background sound. Also, a clean and tidy environment is necessary for a good mood. Upon all of these, a good sleep is the most important. I feel so energetic after a good rest and can do things in high efficiency, while I can't do a great job with a tired brain. The perfect work mode consists of sunlight, music, tea, and a robust designer.
Outside of your professional life, do you have any other creative outlets or hobbies?
My major is industrial design, but I also do illustration and comics as hobbies. I love fairy tales, scientific fiction and fantasy, so I usually draw those things that don't exist in the world - well, maybe they do exist somewhere, who knows? Imagination is the best gift we got. Sometimes I grab my sketchbook and draw a scene that I saw in the city or in my mind; sometimes I do origami to make myself peaceful; sometimes I write poem or make up stories; sometimes I just daydream about what may happen in the parallel universe. Creativity and imagination are continuous, priceless, and limitless.