From Risographs to UX Design: A NYC-Based Artist's Unconventional Rise as a Graphic Designer

Zhenyuan Shi

"While we live in a world where technological innovation meets artistic tradition, we mustn't forget where we come from as we embrace the future," remarked Zhenyuan Shi, a product design expert who, outside of her professional work, is also a printmaker, applying her artistry through a more conventional medium, risograph printing.

In today's artistic landscape, where digital mediums often overshadow traditional artistic forms, Shi's words resonate deeply. Despite this broader trend, Shi has forged her path, bridging the gap between emerging tech and traditional art, as evidenced by her role at Spotify's digital user design experience team and her experience building a unique portfolio of mesmerizing risograph prints.

Shi as a User Design Expert

Based in New York City, Shi obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and TV production from the Tisch School of the Arts in 2018 and later pursued a Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technology from the respected Parsons School of Design. Her academic expertise translated into creating engaging experiences on Spotify, notably the features 'Your Artist Messages' and 'Clips,' which altered how artists engage with their listeners.

'Your Artist Messages,' pivotal for Spotify's 2022 Wrapped experience, drew the attention of media giants like TechCrunch and Billboard. Leveraged by over 40,000 artists, from Taylor Swift to Billie Eilish, it has transformed user interaction on Spotify. 'Clips' further strengthens this bond by allowing artists to upload short videos, a unique feature where Shi served a pivotal role.

In 2022, the Grace Hopper Celebration acknowledged Shi's artistic journey by inviting her to discuss her rite of passage into design from a traditional art background. The discussion titled "Breaking into product design as a non-designer" further solidified her reputation as a digital user design expert and a pioneer bridging the fields of traditional art and modern design.

"A Nightmare That Never Ends": A Profound Reflection of Artistry

Shi's award-winning risograph series, "A Nightmare That Never Ends," is not just a testament to her unparalleled technical prowess but also a deep dive into her personal journey and artistic vision. This series vividly embodies her personal experiences, artistry, and innate ability to resonate deeply with her audience. Each meticulously crafted frame and carefully chosen shade unravels a narrative, shedding light on the intricate layers of the immigrant experience.

Leveraging her experience as a queer immigrant of color, Shi aimed the artwork to dive into themes of displacement, the quest for identity, and the internal tug-of-war between the longing for one's homeland and the challenges of assimilating into a new environment. What might initially seem like a dream of new beginnings often leads into a haunting nightmare as the weight of cultural differences and the yearning for home become overwhelming.

"Through my work, I aim to create environments that capture common experiences within certain communities rather than merely convey messages, " Shi states. "This series presents my commentary on the dualities many face, navigating the space between belonging and alienation."

With her risograph series, Shi blended abstraction, symbolism, consciousness flow, and abstract comic language to delve into the emotional journey of leaving one's homeland, demonstrating the struggle between embracing a new environment and being attached to one's roots. The printmaker describes the series as "a picture of rebirth into a world that is inevitably marred by conflict and identity crises." Her emotional authenticity and mastery of the risograph technique set the series apart, making it original and deeply meaningful.

The recognitions, from the American Graphic Design Award to the INDIGO Design Award, attest to the series' brilliance. In addition to "A Nightmare That Never Ends," the artist has also crafted other notable works, breathing life into heritage stories with 'The Homeland,' exploring monumental themes with 'Monument,' and capturing fleeting moments in prints like 'Fading At 1/1000' and 'Sunshower.'

Mainstream Acceptance of Risograph

Shi's indelible mark on the art world is not just through her mastery of the risograph but also through her relentless efforts to champion it in mainstream art circles. Her journey with risograph is a testament to her vision and determination.

Risograph remained on the fringes for years, celebrated within small exhibitions and niche communities. However, Shi saw potential beyond its 'alternative' label. Through innovative techniques, collaborations, and curated exhibitions, she showcased the versatility and depth of risograph, drawing attention from mainstream galleries and art enthusiasts alike.

By meticulously weaving design principles, especially those concerning color, and composition, Shi has managed to transcend the boundaries of risograph from mere design and illustration to the esteemed realm of fine arts. She also collaborated with renowned artists and integrated risograph into mixed-media projects, demonstrating that the risograph could stand shoulder to shoulder with more established art forms.

Despite her significant strides, Shi remains humble. She acknowledges that future workshops and seminars can be launched to educate budding artists about the potential of risograph. Through these initiatives, not only the skills of many can be honed, but can also build a community that collectively pushes the boundaries of what risograph could achieve.

The Artist's Insight and Vision for the Future

Shi manifests her vision for the future through a new series that examines the intricate relationship between memory, intimacy, personal history, and the interplay of past and present. This endeavor promises to explore new mediums, as she plans to experiment with silkscreening and integrate diverse elements like glass, mirrors, and clay.

This move attests to Shi's continuous drive to evolve, experiment, and push boundaries. As she underlines her dynamic artistry, she also signals exciting times ahead for the art community.

She mentions, "My goal is to leave behind works that resonate with today's audience and stand the test of time, communicating stories and emotions for generations to come."

From a simple, curious girl back in Shanghai to becoming Spotify's design expert to having her works grace the hallowed halls of fine arts galleries, Zhenyuan Shi's impact is profound and multifaceted, encouraging many aspiring artists to dream and not be afraid to express their true selves.