The Designers: COLLINS’ Jingqi Fan on trying to make a positive impact, moving to NYC and more
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For the sixteenth entry into the series, we spoke to Jingqi Fan – an Associate Designer at the New York office of US design company COLLINS.
EM Hi Jingqi, how are you?
JF Hi! I’ve been doing pretty good lately. And looking forward to my first spring in New York!
EM Can you tell us about what you were doing before you started your role at COLLINS?
JF Prior to graduating from Washington University in St. Louis last May, I was a graphic design intern at Apple. That was kind of the starting point in my career. I was able to meet so many incredible designers for the first time and see the breadth of possibilities in creativity at scale. At the same time, I also took on my first freelance project with Nikolas Type to help them build out their online presence. I was given a lot of creative freedom, so I had to be very strategic and detail-oriented to ensure that I created something that was both beautiful and functional. I don’t think those ideals should ever be separated.
After graduating, I received a generous grant from my alma mater. I used that funding to further build out and refine my senior thesis work so that it was ready to be put out into the world. I then briefly freelanced for the wonderful in-house brand team at Square before landing my role at COLLINS.
EM Prior to joining, what appealed to you about COLLINS as a place to work?
JF I was initially drawn by their work. And later, through my interviews, the talented and diverse group of people I could be working with. For me, COLLINS is one of the rare places with people who are producing work with incredible depth, both in terms of concepts as well as craft. Now that I’m here, I’ve learned that we’re always trying to push beyond easy aesthetic answers, while delving into brands to uncover meaningful stories to retell. There isn’t a house style around here, just people exploring what’s best for the organisations they’re designing with. And that’s what appealed to me the most.
I’ve learned that we’re always trying to push beyond easy aesthetic answers.
EM Does the experience differ between working in-house for companies like Apple and Square to working with a range of clients at COLLINS? And do you have a preference?
JF While I’ve only started working with one client at COLLINS so far, I find that the perspective in which we approach the work was the biggest difference. When I was working in-house, it felt like the team was both the client and the agency. The work could be incredibly fulfilling if you feel invested in the company, its mission, and its offerings. Regardless, there’s easy hours and generous benefits.
At an agency, I find that there’s more of a commitment to go above and beyond in delivering phenomenal work. Especially when showing concepts to clients, I noticed that we would dedicate much more energy to pitching those ideas. You will get to tackle a wider range of challenges and projects from companies of different sizes, but the hours could be longer and deadlines tighter. I do find myself stepping outside of my comfort zone more often here and constantly learning. I’d say I’m right where I want to be right now.
EM What do you enjoy about New York as a city to work and live in?
JF I had visited New York briefly a few times before, but moving here during a pandemic has been a very different experience. The city grew quieter than what I had remembered – yet its energy is still very much there. I’ve been trying to meet more people and explore the many different neighbourhoods as much as I can. There’s such a rich arts and culture scene here that I find myself becoming more and more motivated and inspired to create and discover new things.
EM Do you have a usual Monday morning routine?
JF I’m not exactly a morning person, but when I do wake up earlier, I like to go down the street to grab a coffee and some snacks before getting back to my desk to start the day.
EM What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?
JF I think I’m lucky. My career has been relatively smooth-sailing, despite some hiccups last year. Graduating into a pandemic though? That’s been tough on me mentally – like it’s been for many of us.
During my worst moments, I would start catastrophising about the unknown. I had to really work on adjusting my attitude, focusing on the present instead of worrying about future circumstances that are out of my control. Having gone through those negative episodes and emotions, however, have made me that much more grateful for what I now have and what I’m able to do at this moment.
EM Did you have to start out at COLLINS working from home? How was that?
JF Yes I did! This was actually the second time I’ve started a new job remotely. First days are always nerve-wracking but this particular time, my internet went down just when I’m about to meet the whole design team online. You can imagine the rest.
EM Which of your projects do you feel most proud of so far?
JF I would say 2°C EARTH. It’s my most recent as well as the most complex project I’ve done. My goal has always been for this work to be both an educational piece on the state of global warming as well as a rallying cry for climate action. There’s been about 50k visits to the project so far. I’d like to think that it has touched at least a few peoples hearts while inspiring others to take action. And that’s what I’m most proud of – the fact that I have something out in the world trying to make a positive impact, no matter how small it may be.
EM Who or what would you say are the biggest influences on your work?
JF It comes from many things. It’s more of the ‘what’ than ‘who.’ I pay a lot of attention to my surroundings – its ambience, shapes, and colour. I see fleeting moments on the street, the occasional serenity of the everyday, and I think about design. Short films and set design have also been a big influence. The former for its cinematography and narrative, the latter for its use of form and light, and both for the way it elevates reality and captures the unexpected.
EM What does your setup look like?
JF Here’s my digital and physical workspaces. I’m still settling into my new place, so the desk setup is simple for now.
I pay a lot of attention to my surroundings.
EM What do you find makes for a nice working environment?
JF Pre-pandemic, I loved libraries and coffee shops – places where I can work next to people who are also working. Right now, somewhere quiet with good lighting would be wonderful. Bonus if there’s a nice view!
EM How do you cope with days where you don’t feel creative?
JF On those days, you’d probably find me overthinking one idea or starting to make up random things when I just don’t have enough understanding of the topics I’m working with. Once I take some time to look to a broader area or dig deeper into the subject matter at hand, I could then start to draw from wider pools of information. That usually helps me make new cross-connections between all the ideas I already have and new cues I picked up along the way. Sometimes, I would also just take a walk outside, do some errands, or talk it out with a friend. Since what I do all day is so visual, I find it important to have someone in my life who doesn’t care about any of that – where we can just sit and listen to each other.
EM What are you looking forward to over the next few months?
JF I’m mostly looking forward to things I could do around the city: seeing new exhibitions in museums and galleries, picking up my camera to shoot around the neighbourhoods, eating out and trying cool spots and new flavours. More generally, reunions, hugs, and spontaneity. I’m also very excited to see the first project I’m working on at COLLINS evolve over the next few months!