5Qs with Yiying Lu, Award-Winning Artist, Food Emoji Designer & TEDx Speaker


From the Twitter Whale and Dumpling Emoji to Disney Shanghai Mickey Mouse, Yiying Lu creates iconic brand designs which transcend linguistic barriers and enchant a global audience. She shares inspirations behind her new art piece created for Singapore’s 56th birthday celebration.

2 August 2021 / By SGN

Yiying Lu posing with her artwork of Singapore

Tell us a bit about yourself – what brought you to the U.S.?

I was born and raised in Shanghai, China. I spent my university years in Sydney, Australia, and London, UK. In 2008, around my college graduation, one of my art pieces, “Lifting a Dreamer”, became the Twitter Fail Whale, a symbol of Twitter’s service outage in its early days. It has inspired thousands of funny, clever, and amusing homages and take-offs from users globally. This art piece got featured in the New York Times and earned me a “Shorty Award” winner in Design in 2009.


For me, this turned into an opportunity to build real-life friendships and business relationships that have lasted over a decade! Over the next few years, I found myself creating brands and creative campaigns globally with startups, through working at the intersection of art, technology, and business. My clients have included Disney, Apple, Google, Adobe, and the hilarious Conan O’Brien!

Yiying Lu presenting a Today at Apple Design Lab event at Apple Union Square in San Francisco 2019 (Photo courtesy: Adobe MAX)

In 2015, I moved from Sydney to San Francisco to become a creative director at the global venture capital fund and accelerator 500 Startups. Over the last 10 years, I also traveled to more than 20 countries, including Singapore in 2016, as a bilingual speaker on cross-cultural design. In April 2021, Mayor London Breed appointed me to be a San Francisco Arts Commissioner to bring more art and artists back to the City.

What was the inspiration behind the Singapore Skyline design?

My passion has always been unifying dualities: being a bridge between art and technology, business and culture, and East and West. To that end, I started a project called “Bridges around the World” 10 years ago, drawing Bridges from cities I have visited or lived in, representing my love letter to people, places and cultures. In this day and age, we need more “Bridges”, as I believe in building bridges through art, culture, and business exchange.

Yiying Lu’s new “Bridges around the world” art piece was created to celebrate Singapore’s National Day 2021, featuring Singapore’s iconic landmarks

This art piece, the Singapore Skyline, is a new addition to my “Bridges around the World” collection. In 2016, I visited Singapore for a 500 Startups initiative. During my 10-day tour there, I took thousands of photographs, mesmerised by the Little Red Dot’s colours and sounds! Inspired by Singapore’s iconic landmarks, this piece features the Merlion, ArtScience Museum, SuperTree at Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, and the Helix Bridge.

Drawing this new art piece brought me many fond memories. I hope it can also provide you with a sense of joy and connection to Singapore no matter what your background is. Singapore’s National Day (9 August 2021) is coming up soon, so this artwork was also created to celebrate the people and country of Singapore!

Yiying at the Marina Bay Sands enjoying a bird’s eye view.

From creating food Emojis and speaking at international conferences to promoting Asian cultures to a global community, what motivates you?

Delicious food, of course! Haha, well, this is only 33% true. Food, art and culture have always been the top motivations for me as they are essential to make us human! 

I believe food is a love language that brings down walls, as people are less guarded and more trusting when sharing a meal. One way of bringing people together is to encourage them to try new food from another culture. It is an act of trust and respect. Perhaps, it is also the most accessible way to experience a new culture with all your senses.

As an artist, my other love language is through creating visual art as it transcends linguistic barriers. Colours, shapes, and the juxtaposition of figures and ground is my way to express love. In addition, I intend to create art to bring people deeper connections and understanding of the world around them. 


Yiying and her emoji designs (Photo courtesy: Wolter Peeters for Sydney Morning Herald)

Creating food emojis is my way of spreading love and experiencing love.

How does your Asian background help you connect with a global audience through your work?

As a proud Asian, I created emoji designs for dumpling🥟, bubble tea 🧋, chopsticks 🥢, takeout box  🥡, fortune cookie 🥠, and peacock 🦚. Today, billions of people have been using them around the world. I am delighted to be an advocate for Asian culture, using the combination of art and technology through the tiniest communication medium 😊.


Yiying with her Bubble Tea (Boba) emoji design at her art show. (Photo courtesy: Colin Price for LA Times)

Whether it is the geographic location we are born and raised, our cultural background, physical appearance, or the language we speak, these all provide a unique perspective to view the world, as well as interpret and understand the world through our own lens. For me, my lens is an Asian female artist who spent an equal amount of her life in both East and West. After living in Asia for almost half of my life, I’ve been living and working in Silicon Valley for the last ten years. I encapsulate my global experience through my unique lens to bring fresh insights, facilitate new possibilities, and add a more diverse voice into the mix. 

Lastly, what are your hobbies outside of work?

I love to eat, and since the pandemic, I’ve started to learn how to cook different cuisines. I enjoy connecting with chefs and learning the human stories behind each dish.  I also love being in touch with nature and enjoy going to the zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, bird parks, and museums. 

Last but not least, I enjoy stand-ups and improv comedy writing and performing, whenever I get a chance. You might spot some bits from my latest Talks at Google: “Empowering Through Cross-Cultural Design & Innovation”, enjoy!

Creative × Fest 2021
Want to hear more about her work? Join Yiying at our upcoming Creative x Fest, where she will share about the stories behind her art and design with Singaporean fashion photographer, Jingna Zhang.

Follow Yiying’s activities on her website, Twitter and Instagramor connect with her here.


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