Interview with Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang from the United States

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Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang | MUSE Design Awards

Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang

Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang lead the Relief AI design team, with a background in Landscape Architectural Design from the University of Pennsylvania and a focus on user-centric design. With eight years spanning architecture, landscape, urban design, product design, and digital media, they bring a diverse and extensive skill set.

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

We are Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang, the core of the Relief AI design team. Our background spans a Master of Landscape Architectural Design from the University of Pennsylvania and a transition to user-centered design. With over eight years of experience in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, product design, and digital media, we've developed a diverse skill set.

Our team excels in blending technology with design, focusing on creating solutions that are aesthetically pleasing, engaging, and effective. Our approach is grounded in empathy for users and a commitment to interdisciplinary design thinking. We strive to address real-world problems with innovative, user-focused solutions.

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

Our transition from architecture and landscape design to user-centered design was fueled by a deep understanding of environmental interaction and a commitment to climate action. This background has empowered us to create digital experiences that are not only intuitive and meaningful but also environmentally conscious.

We integrate principles of sustainability and ecological awareness into our designs, emphasizing the importance of environmental stewardship. We view design as a tool for empowerment, enhancing daily interactions through a blend of aesthetic form, functional user-centric principles, and environmental responsibility. Our journey has been one of constant learning and innovation, allowing us to create designs that resonate with users' needs and contribute positively to environmental sustainability.

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

Relief.AI is an AI-driven landscape design company committed to reshaping the future of residential landscaping through advanced technology. Our vision centers on integrating cutting-edge solutions to transform how homeowners conceptualize and create their outdoor spaces.

The product design team involves deeply understanding user needs, uncovering key design insights, and iteratively developing solutions that align with those insights. We strive to bridge the gap between homeowners' aspirations and the practical execution of their garden designs, making sustainable and personalized landscaping accessible to everyone.

Our focus is not just on creating a product but on fostering a seamless and intuitive experience that empowers users to bring their garden visions to life effortlessly.

4What does “design” mean to you?

To us, design is a powerful blend of creativity, user-centric solutions, and a deep commitment to sustainability. It's about creating experiences that not only meet the needs and expectations of users but also do so in a way that respects and nurtures the environment.

Our approach to design is holistic, considering every aspect of the user's interaction with our creations, ensuring they are intuitive, meaningful, and environmentally responsible.

We believe that good design should solve problems without creating new ones, especially for our planet. This philosophy guides us in crafting solutions that are not just user-friendly but also sustainable, reducing environmental impact wherever possible. Design, in our view, is a responsibility - a way to positively influence the world, balancing the needs of the present with the well-being of future generations.

5What’s your favorite kind of design and why?

As UX designers, our favorite kind of design is one that seamlessly integrates user-centered solutions with sustainable practices. We find immense satisfaction in creating designs that not only cater to the users' immediate needs and preferences but also do so with minimal environmental impact.

This approach allows us to craft digital experiences that are intuitive, engaging, and mindful of the planet's health. It's the kind of design that aligns with our ethos - making a positive difference in the world, one user experiences at a time.

6To you, what makes a “good” design?

To us, a "good" design is one that achieves a harmonious balance between functionality, aesthetics, user satisfaction, and sustainability. It should solve the user's problem efficiently and delightfully, while also being mindful of its ecological footprint.

A good design is intuitive, accessible, and inclusive, ensuring that it can be used and appreciated by a diverse range of users. It goes beyond just looking great; it should feel right, work seamlessly, and contribute positively to the environment and society.

7Describe your design style and its main characteristics.

At Relief AI, our design style is simple, intuitive, and user-focused, blending ease and sustainability in landscape design. We simplify the user experience with a 'less is more' approach, carefully selecting options to avoid overwhelming users while maintaining quality. Our 'wishes collage' feature allows users to easily and playfully visualize their garden designs without needing technical skills.

Aesthetically, our designs use soothing orange and teal shades for a comfortable and relaxing user experience. We focus on clear, concise instructions and a semi-transparent UI style that adapts to diverse garden designs, providing ample visual space for users. Our goal is to make landscape design accessible, engaging, and enjoyable for everyone, aligning creativity with functionality in a sustainable way.

8Tell us about your design process.

Our design process at Relief AI combines research, collaboration, and user-centered solutions. We started with surveys and market analysis, discovering that 62% of homeowners DIY their gardens but often struggle. In-depth interviews with over 20 homeowners revealed a gap between their aspirations and actual knowledge.

Addressing this, we assembled a team of AI developers, landscape designers, prefab engineers, product designers, and vegetation specialists. This diverse team helped develop an AI and prefab platform, with product designers refining the user flow and interface for a welcoming UI.

Our experts also built a detailed database with over 50 furniture pieces and 100 plant species, fueling our AI. This meticulous approach ensures Relief AI bridges the gap between users' landscaping dreams and practical solutions.

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

Absolutely, our Chinese cultural background significantly influences our design process, particularly in our emphasis on nature and sustainability. Chinese culture has a deep-rooted appreciation for the harmony between humans and nature, which is reflected in our design ethos. We prioritize integrating natural elements and sustainable practices into our designs, respecting the balance and rhythm of the natural world.

Moreover, sustainability is a cornerstone in Chinese philosophy, which aligns with our commitment to environmentally conscious design. We strive to create solutions that not only serve the user's immediate needs but also contribute positively to the environment, preserving it for future generations. Our Chinese heritage thus plays a crucial role in shaping our design philosophy, driving us to create designs that are not just user-centered but also sustainable and in harmony with nature.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 MUSE Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?
Receiving the 2023 MUSE Design Awards is a tremendous honor for us and a testament to the dedication and creativity of our team. This recognition holds a special significance as it validates our commitment to innovative, user-centered, and sustainable design practices. It's not just an award for us; it's an acknowledgment of our team's hard work, our collaborative spirit, and our relentless pursuit of design excellence.
11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 MUSE Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Relief AI, our project that won the 2023 MUSE Design Awards, is a pioneering platform in landscape design that combines AI with practicality to transform homeowners' garden dreams into sustainable realities. This platform simplifies the landscape design process by utilizing AI to interpret user ideas into eco-friendly garden plans. It features a comprehensive database that allows users to design their gardens without needing extensive industry knowledge, supported by an AI that assesses sustainability.

Our focus on prefab modular packages is a key aspect, offering detailed information on materials, dimensions, and maintenance, ensuring that the designs are not only construction-ready but also environmentally sound. Set to launch in July 2024, Relief AI aims to democratize sustainable landscaping by making it accessible to a wider audience.

This platform stands out for its ability to bridge the gap between homeowners' aspirations and the practical aspects of garden creation, all while maintaining a strong commitment to ecological responsibility. We chose to enter Relief AI into the MUSE Design Awards because it encapsulates our vision of revolutionizing landscape design through sustainability and accessibility.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

The biggest challenge in this project was bridging the gap between designers and non-designer users. With eight years in the design industry, understanding how users without a design background perceive and interact with design plans was crucial.

It involved systematically rethinking design from a non-designer's perspective – recognizing the distinct roles of 2D and 3D renders and their appropriate phases in the design process. Another challenge was constructing a comprehensible scale for the 'grid' system that users could easily navigate. A key focus was determining the extent of user control at each step.

For instance, initial expectation settings involved broad categorizations without delving into specific models or sizes. It was only in the final customization phase that users engaged with individual model placements. This approach ensured the platform was intuitive for all users, regardless of their design expertise.

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

Winning this award has been a milestone for us. We've always been focused on integrating landscape design with new technologies and user experience design, and this award validates our innovative approach. It has opened doors to new collaborations and significantly boosted our credibility within the design community.

Furthermore, as a startup, the recognition has increased our visibility, aiding tremendously in attracting potential clients. This award is not just an honor; it's a catalyst that propels our mission forward, connecting us with opportunities to expand and evolve.

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

User-centric approach: Coming from an architectural background, what captivates us most about the UX industry is the emphasis on understanding and prioritizing user needs. The experience of genuinely viewing design challenges from the user's perspective and formulating solutions is incredibly fascinating.

Innovative atmosphere: The dynamic and innovative culture in the tech industry is exhilarating. Unlike the often slow construction cycles in architecture, the rapid iteration and testing in UX design allow for immediate validation of design outcomes, making it a very scientific and efficient process.

Scientific approach to design: The methodical and empirical approach of UX design, with its constant testing and iteration, provides a scientific edge that ensures designs are not only creative but also functional and user-friendly.

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

As a start-up operating in the U.S. market, we've observed that the design industry in the United States is characterized by a unique mixture of cultural diversity and innovative practices.

Moreover, it serves as a center for technological progress, significantly shaping design trends and approaches. This has inspired our solution to revolutionize the traditional landscape industry through the application of AI and prefabrication technology.

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

In the next 5-10 years, we anticipate a significant shift towards integrating AI and sustainable practices in the design industry. The focus will be more focused on creating designs that are not only user-centric but also environmentally conscious.

Moreover, we expect a burgeoning trend in blending reality with virtual visualization, enhancing the way designers and users interact with and conceptualize spaces.

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

Best of luck! Remain inquisitive and view each challenge as a chance to expand. In this domain, it's essential to put the user's requirements at the heart of every design choice.

Moreover, consistently place sustainability as a primary consideration in your projects. As you venture into this journey, ensure your designs not only address issues but also motivate and extend the boundaries of the achievable.

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

"The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman: Essential reading for UX designers, this book provides key understandings into the cognitive elements of design, aiming to create products that are more instinctive and accessible to users.

"Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug: This book serves as a fundamental resource on web usability, offering a succinct, witty, and advice-rich guide for enhancing website accessibility and navigation.

"Design Disruptors: An intriguing movie that delves into the role of design as a pivotal factor in business achievement and innovation, showcasing perspectives from leading firms such as Google, Airbnb, and Netflix.

19Tell us something you have never told anyone else

In the initial stages of our career, making the leap from architecture to UX design presented a crucial moment filled with uncertainty. We questioned whether our architectural expertise would seamlessly integrate into the UX domain. The transition often seemed daunting, as it required us to acquire an entirely new skill set and grasp the fundamentals of user-centric design, which starkly contrasted with our architectural education.

This phase was difficult but ultimately expanded our horizons and skill repertoire. It underscored the value of being adaptable and the ability to view design from various perspectives. Sharing this experience for the first time, we recognize it as a defining moment that not only influenced our career trajectory but also our design philosophy, transforming us into a more adaptable and empathetic designer.

20Who has inspired you in your life and why?
While at UPenn, we encountered an exceptional circle of friends and professors, whose enthusiasm and knowledge significantly expanded our viewpoints. Dialogues with them deepened our grasp of design and led us to philosophical contemplations on human-centered design, experiences we likely wouldn't have found in the professional field. These exchanges and insights have laid the groundwork for our design ethos and persistently motivate our endeavors in UX.
21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
Our recommendation is to avoid getting bogged down with overanalysis at the start – simply plunge into action and maintain momentum. Engage in extensive reading, embrace a variety of experiences, and allow your curiosity to lead the way. Every interaction and experience you embrace serves as nourishment for your creative energy and personal development.

Winning Entry

Relief AI | 2023

Relief AI | RAB Lab and Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang

Venturing into the realm of landscaping, homeowners often face a storm of complexities and misinformation. Relief AI …
(Read more at MUSE Design Awards)

Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang

Yiwei Lin and Jiayuan Wang lead the Relief AI design team, with a background in Landscape Architectural Design from the University of Pennsylvania and a focus on user-centric design. With eight years spanning architecture, landscape, urban design, product design, and digital media, they bring a diverse and extensive skill set.

Read more about this interview with He Xiaojun from China, the Platinum Winner of the 2023 MUSE Design Awards.