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Recently, we had the opportunity speak with Ran Zhen on the subject of climbing the ladder and becoming a senior designer in the (type) design industry as a woman. A multidisciplinary senior designer at Pentagram, New York, Ran has built up a ton of expertise in this area, so we’re super excited to share this conversation with you today.
During her five year tenure at Pentagram, Ran has worked on a wide range of projects spanning from tech brands such as Google and Waze, to various cultural institutions. In 2021, she designed the logo for the NYDIG Bitcoin company and had a credit on a tea box design for the movie Swan Song. She graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art in MFA Graphic Design in 2016, where she was awarded the MICA Grad Show 2016 prize for the project: LOOK/HEAR, an interactive sound-based typeface design project which proved as captivating as it was innovative. Ran has since won a wide range of awards and built up a stunning portfolio of varied work.
At the beginning of this year, Ran finished her new display typeface, Remix, which we will be getting a glimpse of today – it’s a stencil typeface that mixes the negative space of an italic font with the positive forms of a classic serif, and we’re obsessed. Whilst everybody’s journey is different, we hope that this interview gives you some insight into what it takes succeed in becoming a senior designer, as well as some ideas about what we can do collectively to raise women up in the type industry.
Can you describe your journey to getting where you are now. How did you break into the industry and build your way up?
I love art and visual design; when I was young, I was always imagining and drawing creatures, so I have studied art since I was in high school. And then I studied visual communication design at Central Academy of Fine Arts, China’s most prestigious and renowned art academy. After graduation, I started my journey in the USA, to become more professional in the design field. I like to study and be a master of new visual approaches, from hand drawing skills like watercolour and oil painting to computer design software in 2D, 3D and animation – it gives me the freedom to create things the way I like.
During the work experience at Pentagram, I started to really look into creating timeless and unique graphics, typography, and display typeface design, and also building a consistent visual system for branding design. For example, for the Waze project, a subsidiary of Google that provides satellite navigation software, I created a very useful grid system to draw the cutie creatures that displayed in the app as the driver’s mood avatar. Every time I take an Uber, I can see the driver using the app. I’m very proud of the app icon and those avatars showing in the real world.
Do you feel women face challenges climbing the ladder in the type & broader design industry? Do you think there is a need for greater representation of women in senior design roles?
I think there’s a challenge when presenting works and communicating in a woman’s body. But I also think if there is good design and good artwork, then whoever made it – woman, man or a child – people will enjoy the visual work based on the creative thinking and visual results. I will just do my best to focus on creating good works.
But yes, more needs to be done to let people know women are talented and working hard in the design area. I think we should organise more lectures, exhibitions and news articles about women in design, and create more opportunities to expose the woman’s works to the world.
What tips would you give to young women about working towards becoming a senior designer?
Keep learning, keep exercising, keep working on more projects and finding opportunities to present your work. Great work will be seen one day, but before that, we need to develop ourselves. Be aware of new design trends, new design tools, and learn to see and understand what makes good concepts not only in graphic design, but also in architecture, movies, art, or other areas – a senior designer needs to be able to lead the visual direction of a team, and make critical decisions on the final visual outcome.
And lastly, what do you love most about your work? How would you encourage women to nurture their creative practice and find what makes them happy in their work?
I love creativity, I’d like to be a person who can do a great design and present it to the world, and so
I encourage all the women designers to be strong and confident about designing and presenting. No matter if there is a client or not, no matter if there is pay or not. If you think your project is worth doing, just do it. You may not be happy about the processing and result immediately, but all the past experience is the tool for the future good works and success.
Thank you, Ran!