Visualizing Exceptional Design
Designer of TED Conferences
by Elizabeth Lavis|
12 Jul 2023
Hsiao-Wen Hu, or Nancy as she commonly goes by, is a designer for TED Conferences with a tried-and-tested approach to exceptional design that hinges on visualization. “I’m a very visual person,” she says. “I always start with visual exploration that could include sourcing images, finding mood colors, mapping out structures, and starting rough sketches.” Hu likes the flexibility to play around with different approaches to see what fits each project.
Her work is deliberate and inspired, with rich saturated color palettes and creative fonts, a perfect fusion of creativity and focus on the end user. Hu, from Taipei, Taiwan, studied Commercial Design, where she learned to focus on the practical elements of design. “I think that kind of training is intended to prepare students like me to be flexible and all-rounded since graphic designers in Taiwan are generally expected to be able to do any graphic work in any kind of visual style,” she says.
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While Hu was able to learn the industry ropes rapidly, her initial education didn’t give her much design flexibility. “It didn’t allow me to explore my creative identity, which left me confused and frustrated,” she says. “That was why I decided to go to graduate school to really dig deeper into the history and knowledge of design.”
The twin talents of understanding the nuts and bolts of why design works and an in-depth understanding of her personal process have helped Hu succeed, although it’s not always easy to harness her creativity under pressure. “I’m not especially good at dealing with time pressure,” Hu says. “I need to move away from the screen and spend ten minutes to stop, take a walk, and let my brain work before coming back to my computer to start sketching.”
Despite challenges in staying creative on deadlines, Hu finds tremendous satisfaction in her work. “I enjoy the process of translation when an idea becomes something concrete and beyond myself,” she says. “Thinking about how to tell the story and communicate is sometimes the most challenging but also the most interesting. There are thousands of ways to do it, and each has its own charm and audience.”
Hu’s thesis project, Craft as Time Capsule: Postdigital Preservation, is an excellent example of storytelling and design examples that are well-organized and deliberate while still being very creative. Her work ethic and vision also help develop client rapport, including dealing with harsh critiques. “I try to understand where the criticism comes from by asking specific questions,” she says. “I’ve only had a few experiences where I’ve had to convince a client to trust by better judgment, though, because I usually present multiple options and references to explain my point visually.”
Hu draws a lot of inspiration from Instagram, mainly because it’s a tool that merges storytelling and design. “I follow a lot of designers, artists, and studios from all over the world on Instagram,” she says. “The variety and diversity of work is always very inspiring.”
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