Interview with Shuhan Sheng from United States

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Shuhan Sheng

In his current roles as Chief Designer and Product Director, Shuhan Sheng's lifelong passion lies in combining technology and design. His professional journey is a fruitful element of entrepreneurship, design and a profound passion for fostering innovation.

Interview with the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards Winner -
Shuhan Sheng

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.

I'm Shuhan Sheng and my lifelong passion has revolved around the fusion of technology and design. I co-founded a start-up that successfully secured substantial investment over a few years. Recognizing the importance of honing a more specialized skill set, I made the decision to relocate to the United States to pursue a degree in Interaction Design.

I hold the roles of Chief Designer and Product Director for two AI research teams in North America. My professional journey combines elements of entrepreneurship, design, and a profound passion for fostering innovation.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a creative?

Creativity, for me, is a form of expression and problem-solving. I've always been intrigued by the way design can influence human behavior and solve real-world issues. The decision to become a creative professional was almost instinctual, it was like answering a calling.

I saw gaps in the market, cultural nuances that were overlooked and I knew I had the creative vision to fill those gaps. The ability to create something from nothing and to see it impact lives positively is incredibly fulfilling.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

In my capacity as the chief designer and product director, I work closely with AI research teams based in North America. My primary responsibilities include overseeing the design and product development processes, ensuring that they align with our strategic goals and meet user needs effectively.

One of my most recent projects is Paperweaver, a digital memorial platform that blends traditional Chinese ancestral veneration culture with modern technology. The platform incorporates elements of open-world exploration, collection healing, and conservation. It's a project that's close to my heart, as it not only pays homage to a significant cultural tradition but also addresses environmental sustainability.

In essence, my work is a blend of creative vision, technological innovation, and cultural sensitivity. I aim to create products that are not just functional but also emotionally resonant and culturally meaningful.

4What does “creativity” mean to you?
To me, creativity is the alchemy of imagination, skill, and insight. It's the ability to see connections where others might not, to solve problems in novel ways and to bring something new into the world that enriches people's lives. Creativity isn't confined to a canvas or a codebase; it's a mindset that allows you to approach challenges with an open heart and a flexible mind. It's about breaking the mold, pushing boundaries and daring to dream big!
5To you, what makes a “creative” idea and/or design?

A creative idea or design is one that challenges the status quo and offers a fresh perspective. It's not just about aesthetics or functionality; it's about the emotional and psychological impact it has on the user. A truly creative design is intuitive yet surprising, simple yet profound. It addresses a need in a way that's not just effective but also delightful.

In essence, a creative idea is one that brings value, whether it's in the form of utility, beauty, or emotional resonance.

6Tell us about your creative and/or design process.

My creative process is a blend of research, brainstorming, and iterative design. It usually starts with identifying a problem or a need. From there, I dive into research which could involve anything from market analysis to user interviews. This helps me understand the context in which I'm operating.

Once I have a solid understanding, I move on to brainstorming. This is where the magic happens! I let my imagination run wild, sketching out ideas, creating mood boards, and discussing possibilities with my team.

After we've settled on a concept, the iterative design process begins. I create wireframes, prototypes, and eventually, high-fidelity designs. Throughout this process, user feedback is crucial and this is where I also continually refine the design based on real-world testing and data analytics.

Finally, the design is handed off to the development team for implementation but my job doesn't end there. I closely monitor user interactions and make adjustments as needed, ensuring that the final product not only meets but exceeds expectations.

In a nutshell, my creative process is a cyclical journey of understanding, imagining, creating, and refining. It's a dynamic, ever-evolving process that keeps me on my toes and fuels my passion for innovation.

7What's your favorite part of the creative process and why?

My favorite part of the creative process is the brainstorming phase. It's the moment when all possibilities are open and the sky's the limit. During this stage, I feel an incredible sense of freedom and excitement. Ideas flow like a river and the energy in the room is palpable.

It's a collaborative effort where everyone's input is valued and the most outlandish ideas can sometimes lead to the most ground-breaking solutions. This phase is the crucible where creativity is at its purest, and for me, it's exhilarating.

8Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.

My creative style is best described as ‘culturally nuanced innovation’. I strive to create designs that are not only technologically advanced but deeply rooted in cultural context. The main characteristics of my style include:

Simplicity: I believe that the best designs are those that make complex tasks feel simple and intuitive.

Emotional Resonance: I aim to create experiences that touch people emotionally whether it's through color, texture or the overall ambiance.

Cultural Sensitivity: Having a deep understanding of different cultures allows me to create designs that resonate on a more profound level.

Sustainability: In today's world, it's crucial to think about the environmental impact of our designs which is why sustainability is always at the forefront of my creative process.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?

Absolutely, my cultural heritage plays a significant role in shaping my creative process. Coming from a background that values tradition and history, I've always been fascinated by the ways in which old and new can coexist harmoniously. This is evident in my project Paperweaver where I've fused traditional Chinese ancestral veneration with modern technology.

My cultural heritage provides me with a unique lens through which to view the world. It enriches my creative process by adding layers of meaning and depth that might not be immediately obvious but are deeply felt. It's like an undercurrent that runs through all of my work, grounding it in something ancient and profoundly human.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

Thank you! Winning the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards is an incredible honor and a testament to the hard work, innovation, and passion that our team has poured into Paperweaver.

For us, this award is not just a statuette to put on a shelf; it's a validation of our commitment to blending cultural heritage with modern technology in a meaningful way. It boosts our morale and gives us the impetus to continue pushing the boundaries of what's possible in the realm of digital experiences.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Certainly! Paperweaver is a digital memorial platform that aims to modernize the traditional practice of ancestor veneration, making it more accessible and environmentally sustainable. The platform allows users to engage in virtual rituals that have real-world impacts, such as contributing to charitable causes. The interface is designed in a traditional Chinese ink painting style, offering a serene and respectful environment for these rituals.

I chose to enter this project into the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards because it embodies the kind of creative innovation that the awards celebrate. It's a project that respects tradition while embracing the future and it addresses a cultural need in a way that's both beautiful and meaningful.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

The biggest challenge was striking the right balance between tradition and modernity. We wanted to create a platform that would resonate with younger generations without alienating those who are more traditionally minded. This required a deep understanding of the cultural nuances involved in ancestor veneration, as well as a keen eye for design that could bridge the old and the new.

Another challenge was the technical aspect of creating a seamless, intuitive user experience that could handle the complexities of the rituals involved. We had to ensure that the platform was not just visually appealing but also functionally robust and easy to navigate.

In essence, the challenge lay in creating a platform that was culturally sensitive, technologically advanced, and emotionally resonant. And I believe that's what we've achieved with Paperweaver.

13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

Winning the MUSE Creative Award has been a significant milestone in my career. It has not only elevated the profile of our project but also opened doors to new opportunities and collaborations. The recognition has instilled a sense of credibility and trust among our stakeholders and users, making it easier to secure future investments and partnerships.

Personally, it has given me a renewed sense of purpose and validation that the path I've chosen—blending technology with cultural heritage is not only viable but also impactful.

14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

Innovation: The pace at which technology and design evolve in our industry is exhilarating. There's always something new to learn, boundaries to push, or problems to solve in a novel way.

Diversity of Thought: Our industry brings together people from various backgrounds, disciplines, and cultures. This diversity fosters a rich environment for creative problem-solving and innovation.

Impact: The work we do has the potential to affect millions of lives in meaningful ways, whether it's through user-friendly interfaces, ground-breaking technologies, or culturally sensitive platforms like Paperweaver.

15What makes your country specifically, unique in the creative industry?

My country has a rich tapestry of history, culture, and tradition that provides a unique backdrop for creative endeavors. The emphasis on harmony, balance, and the interplay of opposites in our cultural philosophy offers a different approach to design thinking. It's not just about solving a problem but about creating a harmonious experience that resonates on multiple levels—functional, emotional, and spiritual.

Moreover, the blend of ancient wisdom and modern innovation creates a fertile ground for projects that are both technologically advanced and culturally meaningful. This unique juxtaposition sets us apart in the creative industry, allowing us to offer solutions that are deeply rooted yet forward-looking.

16Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?

In the next 5-10 years, I see the creative industry becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and integrated with emerging technologies like AI, AR/VR, and blockchain. Sustainability will also become a central focus, pushing designers and creators to think more holistically about the environmental impact of their work. Additionally, as the world becomes more interconnected, there will be a greater emphasis on cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in design.

Another trend I foresee is the democratization of creative tools. Advanced design software and platforms will become more accessible, allowing a broader range of people to contribute to the creative process. This will lead to a more diverse and inclusive industry, enriched by a multitude of perspectives.

17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Creative Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Never Stop Learning: The creative industry is ever-evolving, and the only way to stay relevant is to continuously update your skills and knowledge.

Build A Portfolio: Your portfolio is your calling card. Make sure it not only showcases your best work but also reflects your unique style and vision.

Network: Building strong relationships within the industry can open doors that you didn't even know existed. Attend industry events, webinars, and engage on social media platforms where professionals in your field congregate.

Be Authentic: Authenticity resonates. Whether you're designing a project or presenting it to a panel of judges, make sure it reflects who you are and what you stand for.

18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?

Books:: Titles like "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug for UX design, or "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman offer invaluable insights.

Podcasts and Webinars: Shows like "The Futur" or "Design Matters" provide industry insights and interviews with leading professionals.

Design Software: Get hands-on experience with industry-standard software like Adobe Creative Suite, Sketch, or Figma.

Peer Reviews and Mentorship: Sometimes, the best resource is a second pair of eyes or the guidance of someone who has been in the industry longer than you have.

Industry Events: Conferences, workshops, and seminars are great places to learn new skills, meet industry professionals, and stay updated on the latest trends and technologies.

19Tell us something you have never told anyone else.

Well, this is a bit personal but I've never shared that during my early years in the start-up world, I faced a moment of profound self-doubt. I questioned whether I had what it took to succeed in this competitive industry.

It was a humbling experience but it also fueled my determination to push harder, learn more, and prove to myself that I could overcome the challenges. That moment of vulnerability became a cornerstone in my professional journey, reminding me that it's okay to have doubts as long as they propel you forward, not hold you back.

20Who has inspired you in your life and why?

I've been profoundly inspired by my parents, both of whom are engineers with no background in the creative fields. Despite this, their unique approach to problem-solving and their unwavering support for my career choices have been invaluable. They've taught me to look at challenges from multiple angles, to dissect problems into manageable parts, and to always seek innovative solutions.

This engineering mindset has greatly influenced my work as a designer, allowing me to approach creative challenges with a structured yet flexible methodology. Their support and teachings have been instrumental in shaping my career, and their influence is evident in projects like Paperweaver where I aim to blend functionality and aesthetics in a harmonious way.

21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

My key to success is a blend of relentless curiosity, resilience, and a deep-rooted sense of purpose. I believe that if you're passionate about what you do and are willing to put in the hard work, success will follow. But it's also crucial to remain adaptable and open to learning, as the landscape of our industry is ever-changing.

As for parting words of wisdom, never underestimate the power of empathy in design. Understanding your users, your audience, or even your team members can make the difference between a good project and a great one. Empathy allows you to create solutions that resonate on a deeper level, making your work not just functional but also meaningful.

22Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?

I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my friends, mentors, and everyone who has been a part of my creative journey. Winning this award is a collective achievement, and I couldn't have done it without their support and collaboration.

I'd also like to thank the MUSE Creative Awards for providing a platform that celebrates innovation and creativity across industries. It's initiatives like these that inspire us to strive for excellence and make meaningful contributions to the world.

Lastly, to anyone reading this interview, remember that creativity is not a solitary endeavor. It thrives in collaboration, feeds on diverse perspectives, and blossoms in an environment of mutual respect and understanding. So, keep learning, keep growing, and most importantly, keep creating. Thank you!

Winning Entry

Paperweaver | 2023

Paperweaver | Shuhan Sheng
Paperweaver is a digital memorial platform that fuses traditional ancestor veneration culture with modern technology ...
(Read more at MUSE Creative Awards)

Shuhan Sheng

In his current roles as Chief Designer and Product Director, Shuhan Sheng's lifelong passion lies in combining technology and design. His professional journey is a fruitful element of entrepreneurship, design and a profound passion for fostering innovation.

Read more about this interview with Shuchen Wang from the United States, the Silver Winner of the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards.