Yuxin Zhou on her speculative practice and the balance between research and play
Pokémon, peaches and process: Yuxin demonstrates the future of a young, multidisciplinary design practice through her refreshing combination of academia and gaiety.
- Harry Bennett
- 16 November 2020
Challenging the role of 2D and 3D within graphic design – be it with printed publication, digital editorials, identity or web design – Shanghai-based designer Yuxin Zhou’s practice is concerned with production and, importantly to her, preservation. Stemming from her desire to find her own language and document “fragmented ideas,” Yuxin’s work has a whimsical, folkloric and questioning quality that is found more commonly in illustration and film-making than graphic design.
Recalling a recent personal project of narrative posters, Yuxin tells us “I once had a dream where an orange falls into a swimming pool,” where the orange then “gently asked if I mind to put it back on the tree.” Turning this into a poster series next day.
Yuxin also set out to use the medium of posters to document her research into materials, ideas and research concerning “legends, technology and imagination around immortality.” Attracted by the “mythical meaning” behind specific objects, such as the “immortal peach” consumed by mortals due to their mystic virtue in Chinese Mythology, Yuxin finds a comfort and interest in not just the historical and imaginative side of the latter, but also the personal side. “My mother once asked me what will happen if she is gone – I told her: ‘you will live forever cause I’ll find the peach of immortality for you,’” Yuxin narrates, adding “who doesn’t love myth? And who doesn’t want to bring immortality to our mother?”
Demonstrating further speculative tendencies within the core of her practice, Yuxin also recalls final work made at the London College of Communication that considered the future relationship between ‘smart home’ devices and their users. “Applying Object-Oriented Ontology, the video aims to challenge the anthropocentric narrative by taking objects as storytellers,” she notes, contrasting an emotional narrative with a “reductive aesthetic.” Tackling rounds and rounds of iterations, Yuxin finally settled on 3D animation, of which she had no prior experience, to construct a speculative narrative between fiction and reality – for which she won a speculative design award from Core77 for its touching script and thought-provoking narrative.
Originally studying fashion design and engineering at university, Yuxin moved into design after being attracted to the combination of aesthetics and rationality, telling us “I was enchanted by graphic design because it occupies the intersection of the science of communication and the art of aesthetics, which makes it fit me perfectly.” Although initially finding herself lost in the emphasis of commercial gain in the more marketing-focused areas of the field, Yuxin found an excitement during her postgraduate master’s degree, moving to LCC to read graphic media design. “I realised graphic design for me is not a three-minute passion but something I want to keep exploring for a lifetime,” she says.
Here she learned to break out of her comfort zone and found that the rewarding element of design comes from the challenges of the process, telling us “design is not as clean or cut-and-dry process as I imagined, but a messy, wet, experimental process with a beautiful result that could break all boundaries.” In discussing her creative practice, Yuxin correspondingly recalls that “every medium has its advantages and shortcomings,” explaining that “I love the feeling of building a grid system for book design projects, but I also agree that 3D and motion design is the future.” She expresses an internal clash of logic and feeling, finding herself being drawn from one rhythm to another without being able to fully settle on one. “The outputs could take various forms, the key is to find the most suitable medium for each subject,” Yuxin adds.
As rigorous, speculative and academic as Yuxin’s striking design practice is, the process and outcomes are equally as playful. “I think it’s quite important to be in a state of play when it comes to personal work,” Yuxin tells us, explaining “I would allow my subconscious to take over so that I can freely associate.” Actively avoidant of cementing a visual style, Yuxin tells us of her spiritual likeness – Ditto. “My friend once described me as a Ditto, a Pokémon who is capable of transforming itself into anything perfectly,” Yuxin explains, “that’s praise but I was worried it might also show that I still don’t have a so-called personal language.” In acting this way, Yuxin’s work continues to be exciting and refreshing, continually challenging the shape of her practice and the outcomes of her research and development. “I’m always on the way to find the balance between a solid concept and a proper expression,” she adds, looking to explore the interplay between content and form utilising personality and design observation.
Yuxin Zhou: The essay book (Copyright ©Yuxin Zhou, 2019)
About the Author
Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.