Interview - Patty Yuan


Patty Yuan
Product Designer

Contact: San Francisco, USA


Tell us a bit about yourself...When did you discover 3D? What programs/plugins do you use? 

I believe it was my 2nd semester as an Industrial Design major that I started learning a 3D program. We used IronCad, a program that professionals in the real world do not use, so I felt it was a waste of time. Then I took AutoCad for a semester as part of a drafting class. It wasn't until later in senior year that I learned Alias Studio Tools.

How did you start your business?
I am Owner of Tinted Mint, an online retail shop that sells eco-friendly products for crafts, DIY and packaging.
After returning from Switzerland, it was difficult finding a job amidst the bad economy. I am not the type of person to just sit around idle, so I took the opportunity to start my own thing. It was difficult figuring out what I can do with little money. Progress was slow, from brainstorming ideas, to reading about patents and trademarks and a Small Business for Dummies book, to learning about ecommerce and how to customize my own website. It is important for me to  build a brand. That means thinking ahead, knowing what my future goal is, and taking baby steps to get there. 
Is product design that rewarding to make it your current career?
Absolutely! It took quite a while to figure it out. I always liked the arts and design. As a young girl, I wanted to do Fashion Design. Then in high school, I discovered Architecture. Not until my cousin Alvin got into Art Center for Product Design that I discovered there is such a major. By then, I think I was 21-22 already, still attending part-time at San Francisco City College, taking my GEDs, not having a solid goal of what to do next. I finally transferred to Cal State Long Beach and later graduated with a BS in Industrial Design. 
I love it. Companies are more aware than ever that a product's design, both the aesthetics and user-friendliness, is essential to its sales. As Product Designer, I get to develop the next generation of products and create new trends.
Give us an insight on your design project at Hugo Boss in Switzerland. Do you see differences between the European way, the American and the Asian way of designing?

At Hugo Boss, I worked within a group of six to propose a collection concept for the HUGO brand under its Creative Director Eyan Allen. Our team consisted of womens Fashion Designer (Rens de Waal), mens Fashion Designer (Russell Hindmarch), Graphic Designer (Sandy Gessner), Fashion/Textiles Designer (Louise Gurmin), myself the Product Designer and Project Manager (Steffi Duesterhoeft). Project brief was Structural Prints Meets Minimalism, an exploration of graphics and applying them toward new shapes and products. We designed and prototyped Lucidity, a small collection of clothing, shoes, bags and accessories. My focus was on shoes, bags and packaging. 
Working in a global company, we had many resources, including a wealth of talent to help us prototype our pieces. However, we always remained hands-on including creating original artwork for the prints on the women's dresses, create complete patterns for the clothing, paper prototypes of the shoes and accessories, choosing materials, tech packages, organizing and directing a photo shoot and designing an exhibition to display our collection at both the Germany and Switzerland headquarters.

When comparing design in America, Europe and Asia, I think the most apparent difference is aesthetics. I have not had the opportunity to work in Asia, but these are my observations based on my extensive travels and what I see as a consumer. Design in America is more conservative than in Europe and Asia. I think of it this way. American companies, especially big box retailers, try to appeal to the masses so design is watered down to not offend anyone. European and Asian companies appeal to more niche markets so they can be bold and make a statement with their design language. These markets are more forward thinking. Just look at tech gadgets overseas. They are always a season in advance, and sometimes the cool stuff doesn't make into the States. In America, a blender's color can change from black or silver to burgundy and it will be considered revolutionary for a while, whereas in Europe and Asia, that is just the norm. When I travel to Paris and Tokyo, I see so many cool things and think, “Why can't we have such a nice vacuum cleaner in the U.S.?” or “Why can't I find nice shoes like these back home?” 
I see small labels in America becoming more popular because of the story behind the brand. In Japan, a brand's story is critical to consumer loyalty. They value authenticity, whether it's a military bag or hand-dyed denim. In China, the branding is most appealing if it conveys an auspicious meaning and foreign luxury is hot, from the newest Louis Vuitton bag to the next generation cell phone.
I think design process varies more depending on whether you work for a small company or large corporation. In a small studio, you need to be both a good designer and CAD artist. Here, you go through the entire design process, whatever works for you and your team. At the corporate level, jobs are more specialized. You can just be responsible for doing tech packages all day or only work on Alias models.
Design students think it's all about the design and process, but communication is important as well, whether it is with overseas vendors or other departments. One thing I had to adjust to when working in Switzerland was the way I communicated. In the U.S. I am direct and casual. In Europe, being direct can come across as having an authoritative tone and can be offensive. In Japan and China, the difference between Manager and employee level means using the correct level of formality when speaking.
Having said all this, there are two things that apply wherever you are, whoever you work for. One is team work. You must respect and work well with others. Second is no matter how good your design is, you are at the mercy of the Marketing team. It is very rare that a company will value the opinion of  Designers over Marketing. Very often, Marketing will only look at the success of what products are currently selling well and will be hesitant to make major changes. 
What are the main differences between studying about product design versus being an entrepreneur in this field?
There are actually many similarities, not differences. Product Design students are trained to understand the customer and the respective market. What habits do they have? Where do they shop? What brands appeal to them? What is the price point? They have to understand the brand are they designing for. Porsche Design would come out with a different pen than Cross.
As an entrepreneur, this training comes in handy. I made a mood board to show my target customer, evaluate similar products on the market and see how Tinted Mint products fit in terms of style and pricing. I determined my brand story and logo. I do decent photography with the help of Photoshop. Best part is I design my own products, make prototypes, create a tech package and source a manufacturer. There are so many things I can do myself and not have to hire or depend on someone else, especially handy when budget is low.
How does your style compare to the best you’ve seen? 
Oh gosh, I am mediocre compared to others out there. There is such a wealth of design talent. 
How do you start a project? How long does it usually take?
Process and time depends on what the project is and your client or industry. If it is new colorways for the next season, then I have to first know what colors were used in the past for this product. Then I reference the trends and see what color combinations work on products outside of my industry. Renderings of the products in the proposed colorways make it easier for everyone on the team to evaluate before finalizing and proceeding to lab dips (for textiles) or paint swatches (for products). Often, Marketing already determines the color direction so it is just fine tuning on my part. This may take about 2-3 months, from color direction to lab dips to final approval for production. But this would be working on a few product collections at the same time and includes lead times from the factories.
Going back to the HUGO Lucidity collection as another example, this was a complete design process, minus production. First step was for our team to understand the nuances between HUGO and the other four brands. We created mood boards to demonstrate our understanding and met with the respective brand departments for feedback. Our mood board expressing what we see the next HUGO look and customer to be became an important reference point throughout the rest of the design process. It answered these questions: What statement will we make with our collection? What is the attitude of the future HUGO customer?
With these mood boards in mind, each of us proposed design roughs through sketches and paper prototypes. I found tessellations, a form of origami, to be fascinating as repetitions are one of our main design statements. As I mentioned before, team work is crucial. Everyone had their areas of expertise and priorities, but in order to create a cohesive collection, we constantly communicated in design reviews amongst ourselves and with our Creative Director. I constantly referenced the most up to date garment sketches of my fellow team members to ensure a uniform design language. 
Understanding production is an important part of design. We visited sampling and production facilities and looked through fabric swatches and trims. We worked very well together, using each others' strengths to our advantage. For instance I helped create technical illustrations of the men's and women's apparel even though my main concentration was shoes and bags. We learned to put together tech packages according to the company's standards. For shoes, I drew seam lines on a vacuum-formed last, learned to spec sewing styles in Italian for our shoe facility in Italy and stapled leather swatches to the shoe illustration.
There will always be situations where things don't go as planned, and as any professional, we have to learn to deal with it as effectively as we can. We had beautiful prints for the women's garments, but could not print on wool for our winter collection so we used silks instead. All factories in Italy take August off so we lost one month of development time for shoes and bags. It took us almost the entire six months from mood boards to final prototypes.
What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
Ultimately, I would like to see Tinted Mint expand to include baby/kids apparel and home lifestyle products. When? That would depend on money and resources.
We know the “ups”, but tell us about the “downs” in your product designer career.  Was it an easy ride?
Overall, I am pretty happy with my experience. But as you pointed out, there are ups and downs. I interned as Color Designer at Nissan before graduating. The Color Manager found me through Coroflot so it was a very pleasant surprise. 
After graduating it took 5 months to find my first job. I was so anxious in finding something right away. I e-mailed so many places and only got a few responses, couple which were non paid internships in New York. Okay, so my tactic was different from most Product Designers. I flipped through pages of WallPaper magazine and looked up mostly fashion houses. Those few months felt like forever. That was my first down time. 

Then I got an offer to go to Hugo Boss in Switzerland for 6 months or take a full-time job with Gregory Mountain Products with opportunities to travel to Tokyo. It was a hard decision, but I decided to work at Gregory. After being there for 1.5 years, I left to work at Hugo Boss for 6 months. It fulfilled my dream to experience working abroad and it looks great on my resume, but I also ended up losing a lot in my personal life. So in that respect, I consider that a down time as well.
After being back for a year, it is still difficult finding another job in this economic climate. It's great starting my own business, but it can be difficult without stable income.
What’s the one project that you received the most praise for?
Camper Lotus is a two-wheel commuter vehicle I designed for my senior thesis. It received the Red Dot Concept Award 2006 in the mobility category and was published in their yearbook. Some blogs also posted stories on it.
How difficult it is to find a new client? 
Actually, most of my time this year was spent on getting Tinted Mint off the ground so I haven't been proactive about looking for new clients. I am doing some design consulting and  worked predominantly with one client this year. They found me through Coroflot. I received a few job inquiries from people who found me on Coroflot, so I highly recommend students and professionals to get on their site. I will be working with a new client who I met earlier this year through a business contact.  
If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
Ooh, this is a difficult question to answer because there is definitely more than one person I admire. If I really need to just mention one, I would say Patricia Urquiola. I love textiles and colors myself and I really appreciate what she creates with them. Her work is amazing and she gets to work for such well known companies like Moroso. I am so jealous! I would like to ask questions from what her schedule is like to how she handles contracts.
What’s your favorite product?
There are too many, no absolute one favorite. 
Favorite hardshell jacket: my Arcteryx Alpha LT, windproof and waterproof, clean design, slim and flattering fit.
Favorite travel bag: Gregory Sabbatical, mine is custom, perfect carry-on 


What would you like to add to your portfolio?
A line of custom products for Tinted Mint and my baby label. These are first and foremost to realize my business goal. Adding them to my portfolio would be an afterthought.
If you had unlimited resources what path would you take? 
A successful entrepreneur. I can pursue my goal of building my Tinted Mint brand further to include products for crafts, lifestyle and home accessories, and baby/kids apparel and accessories. They would all be designed around modularity and DIY and of course, remain eco-friendly. I can collaborate with independent artists to create unique prints, hire skilled pattern-makers and knitters to realize prototypes, marketing to effectively get the brand name out to the right markets, and good sales reps. Only then can I effectively use my time to create and develop new products.
If your child wants to be a 3D artist what would you tell him/her? 
Whatever it is you want to do, make sure you do it well. Then you can be happy with what you do and make money. Otherwise, it can only be a hobby.