Getting Confident with Colours by Zipeng ZhuZipeng Zhu
About this video
Join “Mr. Dazzle” Zipeng Zhu as he professes his passion for colours, and discover what that means for your own colourful journey ahead. You’ll learn how Zipeng ap- proaches colour and understand how you too can become a lover of colour, and how to consciously use colour in your designs.
Can everyone hear me okay? Yeah. Excellent. All right. So, before this, let's see, let me set up my phone. I have two things in my hand 'cause this is where my next slides are, so, I know where I'm going or I'm texting my mom. You never know.
I hope you like my outfit. I wore this just for you. I know. Don't worry. I'll strip one layer at a time, in a bit. I am very happy to be here. But before we start, I just want to say thank you for being here. I know I am competing against Stefan Sagmeister, Min Lew and Lisa out there, so, you know, I'm very happy to be here. Thank you for sticking with me. I promise I'll do you proud.
Before I start, I want to give a little warning and caution. My talks are very intense. There's 201 slides in this presentation. Only for you. Alright, let's keep going. More importantly, you're not gonna learn anything from this talk because previously I gave a talk, someone bitched about it, and now I was like, you know what? I'm just not gonna give you a disclaimer. Don't come at me. Or, you can, if you want to. More importantly, I have to give you a warning. A lot of my work contains many flashing graphics that might cause an epileptic seizure.
If you smell toast, I warned you already, please do not sue me. More importantly, let's keep going. Hello, I am very happy to be here. I have to give a little test for you before I start my talk, 'cause otherwise, what's the point? This is, where I run most of the time. Hello, very much. More importantly, it's my first time speaking in Canada. Thank you so much for having me. I just want to thank Design Thinkers, RGD, Abdul, Hilary, the crew, the team, and all the volunteers for making this happen. Please give them a round of applause. Lots of flaming hot kisses.
My name is, it means an exuberant child. You're gonna, hopefully, my outfit, has already delivered that. If you don't get it, hopefully by the end of this talk you'll get it. I am a September Libra. More importantly, I am a lot of these things, some are more obvious, some are less. I’m gay, it's definitely the more obvious one. I'm a lot of these things too. Somehow I had the pleasure and the honor to be able to have all of these titles, associated with me. I was able to create a lot of work in various mediums and platforms. But, none of those matter because I am a single person. I have to use my Tinder profile or Grindr, depending on who you are. So, gentlemen, I would love to have a lumberjack propose to me. Okay? Hopefully, by the end of this talk, you'll come talk to me.
More importantly, I want to make everyday a razzle dazzle musical. You’re gonna see lots of flashy things in front of you today. Hopefully, by the end of this talk, you'll also know what that razzle dazzle life is all about. Then you can find me here. I just realized right before I came on stage, I made a mistake. It's no longer Twitter, it's just this. We're not gonna talk about it. We're gonna keep going.
If you see there are two little handles on both sides, one from me and one from my studio. They're very different content, so, I strongly recommend you check them both out. The reason I'm here, it's because I am a color lover. Color makes me happy, and I'm gonna teach you how to get confident with using colors. Colors are difficult and scary. Before I say all the things, I just want to tell you, first of all, I am a recovering addict and I just hit my one year mark sober, which is amazing. In the program we often have to talk about our experience. In this case, I'm standing in front of you as an active color junkie.
I started to use color at a very young age, and a lot of people warned me about using colors. They said, you're gonna get hooked. They said, it's just a one way downhill from there. I was too young to know any fear, therefore, I went nuts on colors. This talk is a color story, it's a love story. Every story started somewhere, right? It started with the bang.
By that I meant like my parents had sex. And then here I am. Sorry if this offends you, this talk, then is really not for you. It's okay. You won't hurt my feelings. I was born in the south of China City called Ji in 1990, and I was a very loud baby. Three weeks premature. What does it feel like growing up in the south of China? Imagine, if you've been to Miami, I’m basically from the Miami of China. This is a photographic evidence of me as a baller, clearly. Lots of these are very influential to my childhood because I grew up with all of these bright, colorful moments. My first Lego set. Well, for people who just did the Lego workshop, this is a great example why it is nature versus nurture.
My first Lego set was a wedding in the clear castle. I decided to pose next to it. I think I really demonstrated what the power of nature is. More importantly as a gay child, right? You just have to, so here, for people who are not familiar with Sailor Moon, here we go. Just like Sailor Moon, I also transformed.
At that time my name was Phil. Phil was this emo kid, that just had so much emotion inside of him. I know I'm coming to you as a very confident person. At that time, Phil was sad. Phil had a lot of emotions that he had to let out. I know I'm referring to myself as a third person because at that time, Phil took all of his sadness, went to this crazy country that's right below. It was nuts. Phil had an agenda. Phil was the color spy. What does that mean? I really thought, before I moved to America, my mom just said to me, do not try to stand out, try to blend in. I was like, okay. Noted. I thought, okay, I watched Gossip Girl my whole childhood. Everything I learned is by looking up to Blair. But then, meanwhile, secretly having a crush on Chuck.
I thought the idea of a college student is to become a bro. And it was okay. But, more importantly, I was a spy, in the sense, that, I have all of these colors hidden in my wardrobe. Because I can't tell people, I moved to a city like New York, that's known for being black and gray and sad. I can't tell people that I'm a happy, colorful person. That's not okay. That was reflecting into the work that I was doing at the time. Don't get me wrong, I’m very proud of the work that I did at school. But, at the end of the day, that's not who I really was.
Therefore, I took one semester of an animation class and this is what it let me do. That's the moment I decided to murder Phil and then become Z punk. That's why I refer to Phil in the third person, 'cause he's no longer with us. That being said, I'm gonna show you crazy animation that I put into this slide because I did this in my class. I did it in Paula's class when I was in college and this might murder. Eyes get ready. I hope none of you smell toast. Thank you for still being with us.
After that I started at a few places. One of them was a pentagram with the lovely Paula Scher. Very honored to be in the presence of a God. I learned a lot, to know how to be demanding, when trying to protect the legacy of the work that you want to do with your clients. Then I started at this place, which I also have the honor to give this talk, right before my former boss, Stefan Sagmeister, to be a good opening act for him. We are known for a few things. This is probably one of those things that made my family really nervous.
One of my cousins was trying to stir some s**t, sent this photo to my mom, said, did you know this is what your son is doing in America? My mom, said, yeah, and I love it. That's why I’m my mom's child. At that time I got to work on a lot of projects, for example, the Jewish museum identity, lots of posters, dozens of identities for museums, you name it. With all of that knowledge, I basically decided to take everything that I learned, own up to my true color and start my own studio.
My studio is called Dazzle. This is my big D right there. Well, you know what they say, I don't know what they say. When I started my studio, I basically decided to really celebrate and find out the true meaning of dazzle, because, it's a word that I learned recently and I didn't really know what the meaning of that word was, at that time. I just really tried to understand, how can I bring everything that I know into this word that I was not familiar with? Once we did this exercise, we made about 63 D images. I thought, okay, maybe I am able to take on this word dazzle because now I see the flexibility of this word and I can really use that to represent the studio that I started.
And you know, a callback, we love a callback and color is tough and sometimes could be daunting. I recommend that you start simple by that. I actually have a very simple instruction for you. It's called dots. What does dots mean? Dots means don't overthink s**t. Very simple. You can repeat after me. Don't overthink s**t. No, I'm not gonna do that. But, I do have a dropping big poop on stage. Please do not take photos of these slides. Very embarrassing.
My first client was, I had the pleasure and honor to design a poster for Coca-Cola and out of all the companies that's known for one color, this is it. I cannot describe the feeling when I got the project, and, honestly that was the first time my parents understood what I do for a living. They're like, we don't know what graphic design is, but, you know, we can probably understand what Coca-Cola is. With that, I was able to help many brands and many companies to utilize the color that they have with their brand and then to use them for various types of projects.
For example, this is a pronoun plate that I created as a part of the pronoun project for Lyft. Very happy gay person there. I had the pleasure to help our dear friend Mickel type in Los Angeles to create this variable font motion specimen for Adidas. Sometimes I like to, remind you that you should treat yourself just like the clients that you actually like. Because I think as creatives and designers, it's really easy for us to beat ourself down and then sort of create this barrier between us, be able to take care of yourself. For example, making work for yourself often, for me at least, is to really reward back to me. I created this when I turned 26.
My name is zz. I'm always the last person on every single list. Therefore, to prevent that from happening, I started to make these animations to use that is really to my own advantage. No matter how you start a list, I will be the first one, ’cause I hate waiting. With that, I put it just out there on the internet. I got this call from the wonderful company, Drunk Elephant. This is a little commercial that we did for them with Spencer Higgins, Mama, mama. Sometimes I think, if you don't know where to start, maybe let's start with the color that makes you happy. For me, I want to understand, what's the meaning of happiness. Then, because I like all colors and I was wondering, I am gay and I am a graphic designer, maybe I can do something about that.
Especially when the word, gay, literally means happy. I feel like I should really take on this agenda to spread more joy to the rest of the world. I started to make a lot of gay s**t. Honestly, that's just the end of the story. There's so many of them, just get ready. They're gonna keep on coming. Sometimes they go all over the city in New York, sometimes they went onto a perfume bottle. Sometimes it becomes an NFT that no one bought. Oh, that's not true. Someone bought it, but for a very low price. Sometimes it becomes a post, sort of in memory of how I feel. Sometimes it becomes a response to the message that I get on Grindr all the time. Sometimes it's simply because I hate Mondays.
Whoever invented that should drop dead. Sorry, that's very extreme because for me every day is gay day. t's an interesting thing. I don't know when the Toronto pride is. In the US, it’s in June, and, sometimes I feel like the people expect all the LGBTQIA plus people, just drop that after June. But that's not true. We exist all year long. Hopefully you can celebrate us, celebrate our pride all the time.
Sometimes I'll make them into a face filter. Sometimes it's in response to a political bill that was issued in Florida, f**k around the sentence. I got called by the wonderful Jonathan Venice and was able to help them to create this wonderful packaging for JVN hair. Sometimes you get to design one of your favorite candy. It's crazy. Sometimes I don't know how I got here, honestly speaking, I don't know why I'm talking to you right now, showing you these things that I've done because I can’t really believe them either. Like this pair of sneakers that I am currently wearing, with Allbirds that we love now, we finally have one shoe that's not only beautiful but comfortable.
Sometimes I get asked to create limited packaging for different projects. For example, this one was for Harry's. We did the pride box for them, never been prouder. I was able to use all of my skill sets from typography to pattern, to making merch, to making everything together cohesively as a project object. I also wanted to tell you that I know clients are difficult. I know sometimes design is hard, but at the end of the day, it’s only design. That's okay. I think one of the reasons that I have a career is because I take what I do, not that seriously in the sense that I am a very lazy person, believe it or not. Even though we have 200 slides to go through, I am super lazy.
Sometimes I make bad decisions in life that I regret. I just lie on my couch, watch anime all day and then do nothing. Or sometimes, I think this might be the best thing I've ever made because that's truly accurate. If your favorite typeface is Helvetica, we might need to have a talk after this. Sometimes, as a single person, I just felt like typography hasn't really failed me yet, but, men, not so great. Lastly, I saw this on the internet once. I'll say, oh, I can relate to that. But sometimes I also want you to think that color, it's not just flat, it's not just a Pantone trip.
Sometimes color is the thing that you can take to the next dimension, to add more depth to it. By that I mean, I learned some very basic terrible three D tools that allow me to create all of these things. Sometimes this work led me to very interesting client projects. For example, Adobe called me up, asked me to create something for their 36 days of type and then to kick off. I was four months into learning three D at the time. Whatever experiment or whatever things that you think that you are embarrassed to show people, just put it out there. Who cares. It's just design.
A few months later I got this call by Rich Tu from MTV at the time, asked me to contribute into this amazing project for the VMAs. As a gay kid growing up watching the countdown every single day, it was something that I really look forward to. I was able to flex my very terrible three D skills and create a bunch of crazy fun images with Rosie Drew and Suki Su, my two former interns. These took over the subway station in Barclay in New York City. All of that was great.
I thought my life was going so smooth. I fell in love with a guy, my first boyfriend. We broke up. Sad. F**k. Then I got a call from my immigration lawyer, told me that my green card got rejected. F**k. Then 2020. I know. This is basically how I felt. But deep down, it's actually this, somehow, I survived, because at that time, even though there's this horrible thing that happened, I was able to run away upstate with my lovely friend Gail Anderson, hide out in her beautiful cabin house while I was going through a breakup, my first ever breakup, when the world is literally dying. My heart was dying at the same time.
I had two therapists at the time just to make sure I was okay. At that time, I was trying to cope just like everyone else. I am one of those weird people that I find a lot of real correlations in many little things. That's the time that I really tried to decide to bring more happiness to other people because I had a moment with myself. I could become this angry, bitter, sour, salty person and just make, sad posts on the internet all the time. Or I can use the thing that I make to make myself happier.
If that brings a tiny little smile on one person, that'll be enough for me. Therefore, I started to create a lot of things. All of these things, sometimes are funny, sometimes are silly. I think it's hilarious. Previously the most important word was avocado. It became,
something else. I keep making this work. Sometimes these works made it into Times Square, the most iconic location in the city that I live in. Just as Paula said yesterday, I didn't get to see this, like my dream has finally come true, to have my work on every single billboard you can imagine. Never saw it, don't know what that feels like.
Sometimes I make the animation the same. Went all over. Then my wonderful friend Gail was able to go. I don't know how to drive, so I didn't partake. She drove down to New York, took these videos and sent them to me afterwards. It was amazing to see some of the things that I did, just for fun. While this is not exactly fun per se, but you know, to end up in this large scale, in this most iconic place ever. At the same time, as a Chinese person, this was happening. There is fear spreading everywhere about my people, my community. It is really difficult to be going through this, while you're dealing with a breakup. while the world is dying. Experiencing all of this tough s**t, all, at the same time.
I had questions, at that time, questions for tomorrow, what's the color of bigotry, racism or hate? The truth is, there's no f*****g color for that. It's invisible until it happens right in front of you. It's invisible until six people are murdered in Atlanta, Georgia. At that time I was so shocked and, saddened by the news and I got a call from Times Square. They said, Hey, we want to put out APSA, would you help us? I got that project probably 11 o'clock in the morning and I finished it that afternoon. We sent it off and next day it was on every single surface you can imagine in Times Square. For the longest time, I had a really difficult time talking about this project because it came from such a difficult place.
I was expressing this frustration to my friend because, it's something, as a graphic designer, it's so easy to feel that I am a useless piece of s**t because all I do is sit behind the computer and push some pixels, design some posts, and then, call it for the day. The first time I made something, I truly felt it was for the people and for a cause I care about and for the community that I would love to be building. My friend said, well, if you don't show people this, who else is gonna do that for you? Therefore, I am here, I have the honor and the pleasure to show you some of these projects that even though it's very tough for, I think, lots of us in the community to talk about, it's important to show this so we can hopefully one day fight it. From that, I was able to take on many heritage related projects to really celebrate where I come from and the culture that I have.
This is an editorial that we made for Airbnb magazine. It's talking about a restaurant, dim sum scene in Hong Kong. I don't know if there's any Cantonese people here. If you ever have, thank you. If you have dim sum, you're gonna see this mark in all of the banquet halls, because, that means double joy which means the happy marriage. I saw that. I was like, maybe there's something I can do about that. That was my contribution, to use the ability, that I speak, both in English and Chinese and combine the two skills together.
Sometimes we got asked by LA Times to create the lunar New Year cover for the weekend and in collaboration with my previous intern, we created various amazing covers. This is my friend Morgan, very happy. She lives in LA, so I was like, Morgan snatch me a copy. And she did. Took a beautiful photo next to it, matched it too. This is when you know you have a good friend because she would go out all this way for you.
I also had the pleasure to create an outdoor mural for You Are Not Alone, and You Are Not Alone is an organization to help people who struggle with mental health. This was a very difficult project because I, as you can see, am mostly a digital designer. To do this in a 16 feet times, eight feet tall wall. It's a very daunting task. Thank God I have the amazing help from the Rosie Drew, Joel, and my mother. She’s the person who's filming this at the moment. It's really cool because it gives my mom, instead of taking your kids to workday, it's like taking your parents to workday. My mom gets to see something that I do and to understand a little bit more. That was amazing.
Sometimes I also think it's important simply just to put your work out there. I made some of these patterns just out of the blue one weekend, when I was honestly just bored and I decided to put this out. I'm just gonna put my phone aside. My phone's buzzing, so no one's gonna annoy me in the middle of my talk.
With that, I started to get calls from different art directors. This one was from the New Yorker, my first ever printed editorial piece. Then to the cover of San Francisco Magazine, into this Novo Beer, where we created a whole animated pattern system, to be able to allow for it to be flexible to all of the flavors and all of the wonderful moments that Novo was able to present to the people and to see how well the beer can is made. And then, also to see people enjoying it.
All of that just came out of this one weekend that I put my work out there and I was able to create murals that my lovely mother got to see when she was in China, 'cause I didn't get to go see them as, I was trapped in America at the time. It was nice 'cause my mom was standing in the museum like a creep, using her iPad to take photos of every single person that passed by. She sent me 300 very bad photos. I was like, thank you mom, I love you very much. I really appreciated it.
Then I also had the wonderful joy and pleasure to help at and to celebrate Pride. This was in Chicago on Michigan Avenue, one of the flagship stores that got to see my work take over every single part of the store, both on printed and digital screens. It's amazing. You gotta do a photo op. I have a big heart. I'm a big person with an even bigger heart, I promise. Gentlemen, please call me. Sometimes I also think it's important to put yourself out there, not just the work.
I had this dream to design a music festival because I felt like my work, it's very crazy, is very fun. I love type, I love color, I love everything. Every single time I get on stage, I tell people I would love to do a music festival. Every time people ask, what's my dream project? A music festival. Guess what? I did a music festival. This is the Governor’s Ball in New York City and we had the pleasure to create the 2023 identity. We will be doing the 2024 identity. If you are coming down to New York in the summer, we will go nuts. I mean this is, just the beginning of everything. It's crazy because it's one of those opportunities that we fought really hard for. But then once it came to us, it became so seamless, because I've been dreaming about this for years. I knew exactly what to do. Just like Min Lew presented earlier, my studio Dazzle, also, only presents one direction.
This is just one of those projects, lovely stickers by Joel. It's just so seamless, so easy, so straightforward and people seem to have a good time, fun story. I was so ready to go to the Governor’s Ball and then I got into a bike accident, literally three days before the festival. I was in the ER with my broken wrist and the left side of my body broken. Then, looking to see if there's any wheelchair that I can rent so that I can get to the music festival. Sadly, I decided to stay home just to protect my body, but it was nice to see people have a good time there. It's really fun. Hopefully, I won't get into any trouble next time when I go to the festival in 2024.
I just showed you a lot of personal work that, hopefully, was able to inspire you to go home to make something. More importantly, I think, is that this thing that we do, is to have fun doing it, right? I'm sure all of us used to stay up all night trying to figure out, what’s this poster? What's this record cover? What is this thing that we're gonna make all night, all day 24 7, 365 a year, right? And then that hobby became our occupation. Somehow the timeline, the budget, the clients, the deliverables had became the words that we hate the most. Our hobby has become this dread of our life.
What I want to do is to remind you what got you here in the first place, 'cause sometimes it's tough too. I have b****y clients write me very nasty emails. I get them all the time, but every time I get them, I just hold my intern’s hand, with consent, obviously take a deep breath, curse them, and then write a very polite email afterwards. I want to show you, in the last part, a little reel that our studio has put together for you. Please enjoy.
Lastly, this is a photo of me and my dad. I have two minutes left. I'm gonna give you a small anecdote of how I got here, my relationship with my father. I did not know this until recently that my dad actually used to be a graphic designer as well. When I was growing up, every single art book in my household was locked behind a cabinet. I did not know why. I just knew that, that's the forbidden section, that I'm not allowed to touch. It was okay to learn anything, except for art and creativity. Later on, I found out that my dad was not only a graphic designer, but, a professionally trained painter, amazing expressionist painting, who had a very difficult career as a painter. Then he pivoted into design and had an even more difficult career as a graphic designer.
So, he pivoted into something else and he was literally traumatized by this industry, in China, sometimes irony is a b***h. Somehow his son, that he used every single power, trying to do to avoid, decided to become a graphic designer. Last year, sadly, my dad passed away and he didn't get to witness me speaking on the biggest stage I was ever able to see. He wasn't able to be here to see me speaking overseas for the first time. I just wanted to have this moment to tell my dad I'm doing great. This is all working out fine. And just remember, we are here to make you look cute. Thank you. You can buy my merch at Dazzle da Supply, whatever I'm wearing, you can get them.
Zipeng is a Chinese-born artist, designer, art director, illustrator and animator based in New York City who wants to make every day a razzle-dazzle musical. His clients include Apple, Adidas, Adobe, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, X, Net-flix, The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, MTV and Samsung. He was one of the ADC's Young Guns 13 winners and has been recognized as Print’s New Visual Artist. His work has been exhibited all over the world at major museums and institutions. He runs his creative practice, Dazzle Studio, and gift shop, Dazzle Supply.