Ziyun Liang of The New York Times on how to stay fresh and innovative as a product designer

Ziyun Liang of The New York Times on how to stay fresh and innovative as a product designer

Ziyun Liang of The New York Times on how to stay fresh and innovative as a product designer

For Liang, design brings people joy and makes the world a better place. She is incredibly concept oriented, making it easy for her to innovate and get new ideas. She also has the credentials to support her creativity, with a BA in fine arts and studio art, as well as an MS in design and visual communication.

She has brought her creative genius to some of the biggest names in the industry: Discover, Masterclass and even Apple. She also played a key role in designing the famous characters and videos for The Polos, which is now streamed on Discovery Kids, Sky TV, Nat Geo Kids, Youku China and many more leading platforms.

Her work at the NYT is highly rewarding, but Liang couldn’t help but be seduced by the booming NFT industry. As luck would have it, she had random contact with Audrey Ou, founder of TRLab. TRLab is a unique NFT company that puts visual art in the foreground. The other thing that sets them apart is that they drop NFT projects that are long-term investments, and roll out unique experiences for all project phases.

For Liang, the most exciting part of these projects is the value for the purchased product to evolve and the interaction of the community that propels it. She loves watching participants get involved and wants to put together an experience that is both fun and unique. We sat down with her to learn more about her process and see what advice she could give to other young emerging designers.

Machine learning - digital reasoning

Machine learning – digital reasoning

How did you first discover your passion for product design?

Finding my way into product design was anything but a linear path. Since pretty much my entire family worked in technology or engineering, I often felt like the black sheep, always being drawn to find more creative work. For that reason, I decided to take a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and immerse myself in the art world. However, I was just awful.

I struggled to understand why I needed to create sculptures and paintings in free form and was unable to explain my artistic vision to my colleagues and professors. The only project that stood out to me was a travel book I designed, which won first place in a school design competition—the only award I received during my college days. In hindsight, that should have been a lightbulb moment for me.

What I’ve come to understand, however, is that design is about making a clear connection with other people and that I thrive best when I have a clear purpose to create. With that self-awareness, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in communications design at Pratt Institution. I enjoyed my time with Pratt and learned so much.

Education – Masterclass Newsroom

Education – Masterclass Newsroom

After graduation, I got my first job at a startup called Marcopolo Learning. It was a great first job because I was involved in everything: game design, product design, UX/UI, business pitch decks, production files and more. I came into contact with a wide range of disciplines and worked with a diverse group of people.

After two years I decided to enter the world of agencies to keep improving my creativity by taking on new challenges. Madwell exposed me to many advertising and product design projects, which is when I started recognizing my love for digital design. That was the motivation behind my move to Kettle, a purely digitally driven agency, where I had the opportunity to develop products for the best digital platforms.

The transition from agency work to client work was very natural for me. At the NYT, it’s incredibly rewarding to solve problems and work on a product that touches millions of people. It has further strengthened my love for digital product design.

I like to discover new things and understand how things work. As a product designer, I get the chance to look behind the curtain of different industries and help solve problems, increasing my overall understanding of the world.

What kind of products did you design and which one was your favorite to work on?

I’ve designed a huge range of products – everything from digital games to services to online experiences for core products in industries such as skin care, real estate, machine learning, fashion, education and W3.

I’ve loved every project I’ve worked on because each project has been a unique experience, allowing me to work in a new industry. That said, I think the most exciting project to date has been Your Daytime Fireworks. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, collaborating with world-renowned artist Cai Guoqiang to launch a groundbreaking, first-ever virtual fireworks show in the crypto world.

The experience allowed me to create something completely new, powered by blockchain technology, that wasn’t really a game or a simple eCommerce product. This event-based model could easily be applied to many more projects, as it requires less effort from the user to participate than a game, but also offers more fun and surprises than standard e-commerce.

Skincare – KORRES

Skincare – KORRES

With your digital ad design work at The New York Times, you’ll walk a fine line in preserving your brand with a publication that’s been around for more than 170 years, while also standing out for being unique and creative. How do you find that balance?

Understanding advertisers and user insights is critical. Our platform serves readers and helps them better understand the world – and brands are part of this world. Advertisers go on a journey to make their own mark. To get to the heart of why certain advertisers want to be positioned with a specific product, we need to think about what they have in common – in terms of goals – what characteristics bind and complement each other, and what overall value they can provide to our readers. Getting these answers clear often sparks new ideas because they are tailored to the unique needs and issues of the specific product or brand.

Second, it’s very helpful to distance yourself from what I’m doing. I regularly participate in other design provocation sprints and am in constant dialogue with other team leaders about the vision for projects outside of advertising. Unexpected connections are often discovered. When I take in new information, ideas flow naturally, either adding new perspectives to existing solutions or creating completely new solutions.

Finally, I always try to think big. By thinking beyond my role and collecting data and insights from different functions, I want to shape my vision in a way that appeals to others. I am not limited by my position and the resources I currently have. Having a strong direction and purpose helps push others to support and bring my ideas to life.

I have an innate passion for experiencing new things. I am the type of person who is highly motivated by challenges – I get a lot of satisfaction from connecting the dots and solving problems.

Can you share some of your exciting visions for the future of advertising on The New York Times website?

New York Times Advertising’s mission is to help brands make their mark on the world by connecting them with the right audience and message. Much of our vision work focuses on meaningfully connecting advertisers and audiences by considering different user modes, ensuring ads are intentional and in harmony with surrounding content, and developing new, high-performance formats. The entire experience is designed to add fun and value to our readers.

You recently brought your design skills into the world of NFTs. Can you share your experience and why this new industry appeals to you?

I have an innate passion for experiencing new things. In general, with every new industry I have found that there are both challenges and freedoms. I am the type of person who is highly motivated by challenges – I get a lot of satisfaction from connecting the dots and solving problems. Because the world of NFTs is so new, there is so much freedom to take risks, have fun and make your own way.

To me, the three most intriguing aspects of NFTs and how they are shaping the W3 world are Blockchain technology, which has created tons of new experiences and ideas that never existed before – gas costing, burning, beating, geo and time zone agnostic, co -creation, etc. It opened my mind to things I had never thought of before.

Fashion – Babe from Hatch

Fashion – Babe from Hatch

W3 – [TRLab](https://trlab.com/) x AI2041 NFT

W3 – TRLab x AI2041 NFT

For example, the NFT drop mechanism. To mitigate gas wars, control bots foster time zone agnosticism, provide a smooth coin experience, adapt to crypto market fluctuation, and ensure fairness and inclusivity. NFT drop mechanisms can quickly become very complex.

The Your Daytime Fireworks digital experience consisted of six phases: Announcement, Golden Ticket, Gap, Sales (4 tiers), Daytime Firework, Special Edition, and Firework Forever. While having so many stages is complex in itself, each stage has also been carefully designed and built to add emotional and effort value to the final NFTs awarded at the end.

NFT projects sell an investment in everyday life. What we buy online is a one-time deal, such as digital games or even streaming subscriptions. However, in the NFT world, buying a product is just the beginning of the journey. A successful NFT project must have a strategy to continuously generate benefits for the final product to increase its value – such as low royalties that boost secondary market trading volume, grant long-term NFT holders additional discounts on future drops, or exclusive partnerships with other platforms for NFT holders.

I believe that NFT assets will become the economic foundation of the W3 world. Community is everything in the Web2 world; community is treated as an independent aspect. However, in Web3, community is everything. NFT projects are all about co-creation and individuality. In Your Daytime Fireworks, participants chose the date to set off their fireworks based on their personal weather and location, resulting in unique NFTs. Community is an indispensable part of generating an NFT product.

Homepage designs for different phases of Your Daytime Fireworks

Homepage designs for different phases of Your Daytime Fireworks

Looking to the future of NFTs, what advice would you give other designers who want to get involved?

Join early! This is an exciting opportunity to define and shape experiences by constantly considering the big picture. We must consider how we can harmoniously serve communities while achieving our business goals.

Between her innovation for advertising at The New York Times and her recently discovered enormous creative potential with NFTs, Liang is sure to surprise users in fun ways. She proves that it is not necessary to sacrifice the joy of design to make a profit.

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