Jen Yuan is an entrepreneur, front-end web developer, designer, and co-founder of Qual Agency. First and foremost an artist within the tech and fashion field, Jen manages his own creative projects as a consultant and also as lead of design collective, Qual Agency, which specializes in developing ecommerce sites for companies in the art, music, and fashion realm.
For all Jen’s many accolades and accomplishments, he remains one of the most accessible, grounded, and talented creatives you’ll meet. We sat down with the dynamic Jen Yuan to learn more about how he got his start, what inspires him, and what’s next.
Lehach Filippa: First things first and full disclaimer for our readers, we’re fans of your work in particular our website which you helped design and fully developed. It was pretty cool for us to start with a concept and have you turn it into something tangible and interactive. Can you describe what this is like for you, that moment when you first take a site from staging to live? Is there still a bit of excitement there – even after years worth of projects – when you share a new site with a limitless online community?
Jen Yuan: Pushing a site live is definitely the most vital moment of a project, it’s exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. In most cases, there is a huge marketing effort behind it, any small mistake can be put into a magnifying glass. I spend days before the launch date to go through the site in detail, seeing everything come together as a whole after months of work gives me a great sense of fulfillment.
LF: That’s awesome to hear and sometimes rare to find people that remain dedicated to their craft and passionate about their work. Let’s actually back up a bit, even before you got your start as a developer, can you describe what you were like as a child? Where did you grow up?
JY: I grew up in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. A harbour city, with a heavy industrial vibe. It has been an ongoing effort to develop multivariates in the city planning. From merging nature into the architecture, enhancements on public spaces, to new tourism and education initiatives.
These changes definitely had a profound impact on me. When I was a kid, I was very attracted to technology and futurism. I remember seeing the new street light design they were rolling out back when I was in elementary school, it got me really excited and I spent the next few months sketching out a tons of futuristic city designs – solar powered street lights, floating cars, 2000 story high buildings. I, Robot was one of my favorite movies growing up; I’m hoping one day I can have a robot butler so I don’t ever have to get out of bed.
LF: Agreed, robot butlers would be pretty amazing! Seems that coding was a natural progression for you, so did you always know that you wanted to code and work in design and development? What steps led you to where you are today?
JY: I’ve always been interested in creating things. I started sketching ever since I was able to hold a pencil. If you flip through my old textbooks, it’s all doodles. I would get in trouble all the time for this.
I picked up design in high school. We were allowed a laptop in class, so naturally my attention was diverged. Combined with my interest in technology, I started messing around with Photoshop, Illustrator, and creating logos, poster designs for various brands and became the go-to designer for all my friends.
People closer to me know how I picked up coding – it was a complete accident. I began to post my work online and attracted some clients, freelancing in high school made me a complete baller, it was a great time.
LF: When did you make the move to the US and how do you think that has changed the shape and/or trajectory of your career? Any advice you would give to international tech creatives exploring jobs in the US?
JY: I moved to NYC in the summer of 2017. It has been exciting and educating to meet other talented creatives in my field, it helped fuel a lot of my ideas and passion.
My advice for anyone who is looking to explore opportunities in the US, is to collect and track everything that you’ve done within your chosen field or craft. Every piece of evidence helps to attain an artist visa.
LF: How do you think your experiences thus far have informed and shaped you as a developer and designer?
JY: As a designer, you get to be in touch with various industries. Each has their own creative needs and business objectives. For example, what is the information we’re trying to convey for this poster? Is the color on-brand? Are viewers able to see the title from far away? How do we engage viewers on a deeper level?
As a developer, you get to see lot from behind the scenes. I always ask myself when thinking about how the site needs to function: How is the business structure formed? How do we want to present it externally? How does the brand produce their products? How does the company source its creative assets?
Being both a designer and developer enables me to see things from multiple angles, left to right (cross industries) and top to down (company hierarchies). This varied perspective allows me to make more informed design decisions and to strategically plan out a project.
The longer I’ve been on this learning curve, the more I’m able to apply techniques and knowledge across disciplines to push my projects harder, better, faster, and stronger.
LF: Tell us a little bit about your design philosophy. Are there certain traits you look for in a project or in a potential client?
JY: I think that web design is a craft that merges visual aesthetics, user experience, and creativity into one, then housing them all under the roof of the company's business goals.
I love working with clients who are informed. Clients who work with a purpose helps move a project forward with speed and accuracy. At the same time, it enables me to come up with more creative experiences for their users. It also keeps me calm pretty effectively.
LF: You are also a co-founder of your own company. Can you share how Qual Agency began? We hear that it started organically and was born out of connections through your Tumblr blog of 2012, is that right?
JY: Yes, I owned a Tumblr blog back in high school; I spent a lot of effort growing it and eventually had enough public eyes to promote artists, and I had a lot of intention to do so. Allen who just started his photography career reached out to me for promotion. We kicked it off online and had many conversations on design. I never met him until I moved to The States for college in 2014. I traveled to Syracuse, New York often and there met Simon and Elia. They had Qual Squad, a rap group, which would later turn into Qual Agency when we realized that we had more potential doing design.
LF: We know that you’re big on inviting in collaboration with other creatives and sometimes partner with teams for bigger or multi layered projects. Can you share with us what you look for when building teams for Qual Agency? Have there been any barriers or challenges to managing projects when team members are international or located in different areas? And if so, how have you addressed them?
JY: The nature of the creative industry is to collaborate. When producing a website, there are many components to consider and skill sets for each. For example, we need to find the right photographer, videographer, illustrator, copywriter to source content, the right UX and UI designer to innovate, the right developer for robust coding, and the right marketer to give the final push. All of this has to be on-brand and in sync to deliver brand consistency for the client and hence visitors of the site.
It’s challenging to work on multi layered projects, especially with tight deadlines. Sometimes the team, myself included, will take on multiple roles to keep things moving at an accelerated pace.
When working with a team, I always try to learn as much as possible; from the way they project manage, down to the letter spacing on design, there should always be a reasoning behind the decision. And being able to see things from a different perspective, from a colleague’s eyes, allows me to grow and also benefits the project overall, giving it much more dimension and depth.
LF: What’s next for you in your career development? Are there certain challenges you want to take on, design sensibilities to explore, etc.?
JY: I want to get in touch with public companies in the small-cap bio-pharmaceutical space, there is a lot of design work that needs to be done. Most companies are great at what they do, but struggle to translate their purpose in a visual way to bridge the gap between company mission and the public or end consumer. I want to be part of that change.
I’m also very interested in taking a closer look at how all elements of the production process – development and design to photography, art, copy – build upon one another to tell a story about the brand or the people within the company. I plan to make it a goal of mine over the next year to streamline that process. Clear communication goes a long way to the success of a company or adoption of a product.
LF: If there were a piece of advice that you could give your younger self what would it be?
JY: Be open minded and stop procrastinating.
The learn more about Jen Yuan and explore current projects, you can visit his website jenyuan.com.