willy wong is a graphic designer and the current chief creative officer at NYC & company, the city of new york’s official marketing, tourism and partnership organization.





willy wong will be one of the speakers at this year’s ‘what design can do’ in amsterdam, may 8-9. more information on all speakers and ticket registration can be found here: www.whatdesigncando.nl




DB: please could you tell us about your background and the evolution of your work?
WW: like many of my peers, I had a pretty ad-hoc experience with design. I’ve gone from product to digital to print to brand, mixing along the way. I was always the go to guy in school for designing events, coming up with the theme, staging, invites, flyers, tshirts, etc. I was never short of ideas and I also got things done. I attribute a lot of my design thinking skills to my liberal arts education, where I essentially learned how to learn very quickly and intensely. classes in film and animation, engineering, studio art and classical chinese philosophy had the biggest impact on my approach to design. as I started my career, I tried out all sorts of professions but always found myself relying on design skills in some capacity. I created convincing charts and presentations as an analyst in finance, framed and reframed systems and problems as a management consultant, prototyped and coded web platforms as a software engineer. with graduate school, I formally declared myself as a ‘graphic designer’ and focused on making work for myself and with other creative folk. I still do intimate collaborations with architects, artists, and editors, but I find the challenge of working on bigger, more complex teams and making broader public impact most rewarding as the territory and purpose for my design practice. now, I’ve come to understand design as a set of diverse activities and outcomes that externalize a point of view about our world, translate concepts into reality, interpret intent into experiences and turn mundane into awesome.






nycgo.com website




DB: how would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
WW: 50% obvious, 50% vigorous, 50% whimsical.



DB: what would you say is your strongest skill and how did you come to hone that skill over your career?
WW: I make/see associations, patterns, correlations, and threads fairly intuitively. I tend to look for organizing principles in situations and bridge ideas freely and expansively. perhaps shifting between multiple academic disciplines and professions forced me to adapt often, always collaborate, improvise through ambiguity, ask lots of questions, focus on root metaphors and core strengths, and connect dots that may not be so apparent.




visitor guides and other free printed goods (NYC identity designed with wolff olins)







DB: what type of work do you enjoy the most – which project have you enjoyed the most so far?
WW: integrative projects that are simultaneously practical and experimental, participatory and visionary, big and small. design by committee is usually deadly, but I’ve enjoyed collaborating with a broad spectrum of designers from across all disciplines and roles on the design of nycxdesign, the city of new york’s official design week.



DB: what are your thoughts on specialization vs generalization?
WW: I like to think I’m a specialist at being a generalist. I like to vacillate between depth and breadth.















DB: do you draw very much and do you think it’s important for a graphic designer to be able to draw?
WW: I try to! in notebooks, on my phone, or just scraps of paper, I sketch as a way to quickly nail down ideas before I forget them. I also thumbnail or build rough models to brainstorm and think physically through a project. even my art direction of campaigns and experiences benefit from quick gestural drawing to communicate intent and express emotion. just as athletes must trust in their body to react or respond in ways that they can’t always mentally think to do, designers must draw on mind and hand to push the creativity of their concepts. while I think drawing is an important skill to train and maintain, we all have our paths and methodologies, be it drawing, writing, coding, etc.



DB: how do you think online design resources have influenced the design being produced today?
WW: the internet has made the intent, process and outcomes of our work more readily available, expanded our access to references, revealed more story and context, and allowed us to more quickly connect with each other to locate help or offer expertise. more than ever before, everyone with internet access can find near anything, nearly instantaneously. that means we should hold each other more accountable for producing stronger work that delivers on all fronts and strive to add something new and meaningful if possible.

















DB: what is something that you are currently fascinated by?
WW: lately, I’ve been obsessed with nautical charts. I started sailing the last few summers and it’s a thrill to learn a whole new vocabulary and language. I’m hoping that, as a graphic designer who can sail I’ll be that much more useful if we find ourselves in a bind due to global climate change or a zombie apocalypse.



DB: do you have any superstitious beliefs or rules that you live by?
WW: numerology is huge for anyone who grew up in a cultural chinese household. the number 8 or combos of are always auspicious. I avoid 4s. I’m not sure if this one is a chinese thing, but, if I glance at a clock and it reads 11:11 AM/PM, I will quickly make a wish. it’s like catching a shooting star at night, but indoors, and I get two guaranteed chances a day. I also have lucid dreams here and there. if I’m lucky enough to actually wake up and remember as such, I will spend the entire day hyperaware of everything around me.







nycgo tourist information center





NYCxDESIGN – new york city’s official citywide celebration of design





DB: what do you want to do in 2014 that you have never done before?
WW: I’m designing an indoor rowing gym right now. I never did crew in college so I’d like to get out on the water and try it out this year.