Harry Bennett
0 min read

Rozi Zhu on creative and client needs, coding and the distinction between artist and designer

Rozi Zhu is a creative force to be reckoned with. Based in New York City, the multidisciplinary designer has an impressive track record of working with some of the most revered creative studios in the world, notably internationally-operating agency BUCK. With a passion for creative coding and physical computing, Zhu specialises in creating, shaping and exploring experimental visuals and interactive designs, pushing the boundaries of design and asking us to question how we even define the latter. This exceptional talent hasn’t gone unnoticed by the industry, with Zhu garnering a healthy supply of awards across her career so far, having been awarded the Creativepool Annual Awards Silver in Branding, the Tokyo TDC Annual Awards Excellence, and the New York TDC68 Typographic Excellence in 2022 alone. Moreover, 2023 saw her work being nominated for the prestigious Tokyo TDC Annual Awards Prize, following her recognition on 2022’s One Screen Shortlist.

HB Hey Rozi, it’s lovely to chat; how’re you doing?

RZ I’m doing well, thank you for having me!

HB First off, to those who may not have heard of you, how would you introduce yourself? Your creative practice is so eclectic it might be hard to define!

RZ Hi, my name is Rozi Zhu and I’m a multidisciplinary designer based in New York City. I have a background in graphic design, but my strong curiosity in creative technology has led me to create experimental visuals and interactive designs.

It’s more like a collaborative effort between me and the material.

HB What does your design process look like? If a new project or creative challenge comes along, what do you do?

RZ It really depends on what kind of project it is. For my own project, the design process usually begins with a rough concept in my mind. From there, I dive into researching and prototyping to further develop the idea. As I discover new information, my understanding of the material grows, which leads to the next step. I find this exploratory process to be essential in creating designs that are both innovative and effective.

HB In your typographic work, you seem to focus on unconventional materials and forms – what draws you to texture in type, and how do you approach this experimental arm of your practice?

RZ Instead of using the word ‘texture,’ I prefer the term ‘property.’ While every material has a distinct texture, they are not always interesting. For example, we can see logo signs made of wood, plastic, metal, everywhere on the streets, but that’s not interesting enough for me.

What draws me to unconventional materials like ferrofluid is its fascinating magnetic properties. During each step of the experimental process, I can control the variables and try different methods to eventually achieve the desired outcome. It’s more like a collaborative effort between me and the material. We first spend a lot of time getting to know each other, and as I gain a deeper understanding of the material, it also helps me create the typeface in the most efficient way possible. 

I enjoy seeing things that are rough, imperfect, and even flawed.

HB How does working on odd typographic letterforms compare to working with big brands like Meta and Dior? Are there lessons from each aspect of your practice that have helped inform the other?

RZ When working with big brands like Meta and Dior, I need to consider the client’s needs and to create a design that achieves the desired effect, taking into account aspects such as the size of the space, the target users, and the brand’s aesthetics. 

On the other hand, working on experimental typography is more like being an artist. I can follow my own interests and aesthetic preferences. I enjoy seeing things that are rough, imperfect, and even flawed, like the stains on a piece of glass. Personally, I feel it brings vitality to the piece. It is also important for me to enjoy the process and experience of the work, which is just as important as the result. 

I draw inspiration from my experimental work when approaching big branding projects, and I take the techniques I learn from those client projects and apply them back to my experimental work.

HB How do you balance the needs of clients with your own creative vision?

RZ As a designer, it’s important to strike a balance between meeting the client’s needs and expressing my own creative vision. When working on a client project, the primary goal of the design is to be functional and effectively meet the requirements, rather than simply fulfilling my own creative desires. While I do my best to incorporate my own style and creativity into the project, ultimately, the client’s needs take priority.

HB Can you discuss any particular challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your creative career?

RZ One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning coding during my time in grad school. I had no prior experience and found it to be a completely unfamiliar territory. Looking back, I now realise that the challenge was actually an opportunity. It taught me the importance of exploring new possibilities and embracing diversity in design. While it was difficult at first, pushing myself to learn something outside of my comfort zone has made me more adaptable as a designer. So, my takeaway is to never be afraid of trying something new.

Rozi Zhu on creative and client needs, coding and the distinction between artist and designer

It’s crucial to embrace your own uniqueness.

HB With that in mind, what advice would you want to give your younger self or folk just starting out in the creative industry?

RZ I would say to look inward. While it’s natural to seek inspiration from others, it’s only by tapping into your own personality, experiences, and preferences that you can truly create something unique. I believe that every creative work is intimately connected to the designer’s individuality, which is why it’s crucial to embrace your own uniqueness and let it guide your creative decisions.

Rozi Zhu on creative and client needs, coding and the distinction between artist and designer

HB Finally, what questions do you think aren’t asked enough of creatives?

RZ One area where I think there could be more discussion among creatives is around the use of AI technology in design. Specifically, I think it’s important to ask questions about how designers can best leverage AI to enhance their creative process, and how we can ensure that AI is being used in an ethical and responsible way. By asking more questions about these issues, we can better understand the opportunities and challenges that come with using AI in design, and ensure that we are prepared to adapt and evolve as the industry continues to change.

Graphic Design

Rozi Zhu