Meet the 2019 Beatrice Warde Scholarship recipient: Blossom Liu
Every year, Monotype and the Type Director's Club (TDC) award the Beatrice Warde Scholarship to a young woman entering the design industry. This prestigious scholarship honors and celebrates the “first lady of typography,” Beatrice Warde, a champion of type education throughout her career with Monotype and the first female member of the TDC.
The Beatrice Warde Scholarship is based solely on merit and is awarded to one female student whose work demonstrates exceptional talent, sophistication and skill in the use of modern typography.
This year's selection panel included Gail Anderson of Anderson Newton Design, Deborah Gonet of Monotype, Shelley Greundler of Type Camp, Rathna Ramanathan of the Royal College of Art, Mariko Takagi of Hong Kong Baptist University and Helena Lekka and TDC Medalist Fiona Ross of Reading University in the United Kingdom.
This year’s scholarship goes to Blossom Liu from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Here, the Portland-born designer shares her belief in design’s power to do good, and how type can be key to creating connections through creativity.
What made you decide to study design—were you always interested in creativity?
It was never a defining moment, or some sort of origin story or hero’s journey type of thing. I was always drawing, always creating, always making. Choosing design as a field of study and as a career path felt very natural; it happened organically. It was wonderful to have a supportive environment that not only cultivated but encouraged my interest in creative expression. I’m very grateful to be from a city that accentuates its culture of art—and freedom to a degree. It’s eclectic and authentic, which makes for a delicious pairing.
How would you describe your design style?
I am very interested in designing for people, not just designers. I like to be inclusive in my work. I believe (code for: have been taught this) that strong, singular gestures are very powerful and effective. Defining a distinct style is a tricky question, because while underlying design/personal principles stay the same, the visual language fluctuates, as it serves to solve design problems. (But I do like bold colors and well curated imagery.)
You say you use for design ‘for good, not evil’, what does that mean to you?
Design can take on many roles, meaning designers can take on many roles. I am invested in creating work that serves a purpose in the world, in this current moment and climate. I believe it is my duty as a designer to dedicate my voice and platform as a catalyst for conversation, representation, and solidarity. I am deeply passionate about using my design skills to create positive change and social impact. Designers hold so much power in the ability to make a difference.
Do you think we use design and creativity enough to make a positive change in the world?
I think we are making progress, so it’s at least on an incline in the right direction. As more and more designers dedicate themselves to impactful work, the trajectory seems more clear. I think it comes much earlier than the design stage, with a lot of reading, researching, and criticism. Certain issues gain clarity and become tangible activation points for change, as opposed to abstract concepts, such as “being empowering” or “being eco-friendly.” With a world of designers dedicated to a common cause, and dedicated to really solving it, not just band-aid solutions, I believe all things are possible!
Can you share some of the real world problems you’re particularly interested in tackling?
It feels less impactful to simply rattle off a list, but I am dedicated to being an ally in the fight for equality in underserved and underrepresented communities. It takes a lot of relearning and research, but the injustices in the world trump the laborious process. I have certain privileges that I am grateful for and other areas where I, and people like me, are underrepresented. Race, national origin/citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, ability, the list (which I wasn’t going to rattle off) goes on. It is important for me to look at things through this macro lens, so I can get down to the details of each problem. If inclusion and equality is the root of the tree, I have specific leaves on each branch that seem particularly glaring to me, especially in our climate now.
What role do you think type can play in these kinds of projects?
Type is the key to communicating the nuances of language. An image is worth a thousand words, but what typeface are those words in? Designing type and utilizing type in any of the projects is the key to creating connections. I believe the role of type is much more significant than one might think. I am fascinated by the idea of the invisible designer—do it right, and no one will notice, do it wrong, and everyone will.
You’ve mentioned that representation is important to you. Is that a challenge the design industry is tackling at the moment?
For me, the most important thing is intersectionality. It also feels less impactful to simply rattle off statistics, but the design industry has quite a ways to go. The percentage of design students who are womxn is hugely and grossly disproportional to the percentage of creative agencies that are owned by wxmen. And womxn of color, even more so. We can only succeed if we are building each other up. I mentioned relearning earlier, and that is important in the design world as well. Who are the people that we look up to—and why? Who wrote the books on design, who created the organizations, and is that still what we accept today? We must challenge the canon of graphic design, the status quo. The whole reason the Beatrice Warde Scholarship was created in the first place was surrounding the question of who the first female member of the TDC was, and how that was significant. It’s great to see this paradigm shift, and I hope to be amongst a generation of young designers who move the needle even further.
Have you got any dream projects that you’d love to take on, if there were no limits?
I embrace any project with very eager and open arms (as long as it’s not evil). However, working with nonprofits and social impact organizations is where my passions are. I love taking on any challenge that requires well thought out designs that must fit a constrain. Art galleries could have copious amount to spend on catalogues—non profits do not. How much can you do with such little? How do you design for people, not for designers?
Another project that I’ve always thought about is a presidential or political campaign of some sort. What a very cool, very high stakes endeavor to take on! Of course, it would have to be accompanied with proper training, researching, learning about much more than design—policy, psychology, empathy, etc. It would definitely be a challenge, but very rewarding. (See comment earlier about the invisible designer).
To learn more about the Beatrice Warde scholarship, visit the TDC website (and check back later this year to apply for next year's award).