Spotlight: Jelly Deng, Designer and All-Around Creative

By Ryan Gandolfo, October 18, 2019

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Spotlight is a regular series where we feature a prominent person in the creative scene. This month we speak with Jelly Deng who is a creative designer who has worked on a unique mix of projects.

Jelly (Jialin) Deng knows a thing or two about design. Having studied fine arts among other disciplines in Guangzhou and London, the former Shanghai-based creative designer and strategist has made a living by helping clients around the world deliver holistic brand and multichannel experiences to consumers in China. We chat with Jelly about her work, creative approach and, best of all, food.

As a designer, illustrator, storyteller and event planner, your work in the creative industry sounds by no means monotonous. How did you get started in this line of work?
The artistic part of me was enlightened by my mother’s paintings when I was little, and so I started to paint. Painting has trained me to observe the world through different perspectives and to think differently. So naturally, I went to art schools and dove into the creative industry to inspire and help people to solve problems – to make an impact with my work.

One of your early projects – ‘Whispery Savoury’ – takes a dynamic look into the role that art and science play in gastronomy. What made you interested in this subject?
As a foodie, science lover and designer, I have always been very curious about the relationship between food and our bodies; so, it made sense that my project would be based on these topics.

‘Whispery Savoury’ was initially inspired by a very intriguing neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia. I have a form of synesthesia called grapheme-color synesthesia, a condition where I perceive individual letters of the alphabet and numbers as ‘shaded’ or ‘tinged’ with a color. My experience with this prompted me to query whether our perception of flavor could be extended by any of our other senses, and if so, by what means could our sense of taste be translated into visual, audio or tactile forms.

The shape, size, texture and design of a plate can affect how – and to what extent – we enjoy our food and the entire dining experience. With this in mind, I designed a set of plates as primary visual stimuli. It was the first element in how this project fuses complex integrations such as plate design, sound, gastronomy, cross-modal science, dining experience and more. The combination of these details contributes to a complex multi-sensory feast of art and science.

What differences or similarities have you found working with domestic and overseas companies in terms of creative approach? Which companies – would you say – tend to have more of a ‘creative gene’?
Since I have only worked in China and the UK, and the industries are quite different, the comparison might not be that objective. Personally speaking, there has been a tremendous transformation in the Chinese creative industry over the past several years, especially since the boom of China’s internet economy. In this fast-paced marketing and consumer environment, Chinese companies have to innovate to stay highly competitive. In this regard, I think that there is no other place with companies as fast, big and radical as in China nowadays, in terms of creativity. In the UK, by comparison, I feel everything is going more smoothly and systematically. People pay more attention to details, and there are many ‘small but beautiful’ things.

Shanghai is known for its innovative and creative energy. What prompted your move to the metropolis and how has your work progressed there?
There are definitely more opportunities in a big metropolis – especially in the creative industry. You can always see the newest things and meet the most interesting people there. I came to Shanghai in 2016 because I found a job at a food innovation company. I’m very appreciative that I worked with fascinating teams and could keep doing what I practiced in London here. I’m so excited that what I have done is inspiring to others. I’ll be moving to Melbourne at the end of September, and will definitely stick with what I’ve been doing all these years.

From ‘Edible Jewelry’ to ‘The Future of Snacks,’ each of your projects have a level of intrigue that we’re curious to learn more about. Would you share with us a project you’re excited about?
I have to say both those projects are my favorite. ‘Edible Jewelry’ tends to be more of an artistic expression and a philosophical way of thinking about life. ‘The Future of Snacks’ is concerned with people’s day-to-day lives and, ultimately, the future. Imagine this: If you time-travel to 2049, and receive a box of snacks – what would be inside? ‘The Future of Snacks’ explores seven new and delicious snack combinations, bearing in mind the resources and conditions 30 years from now.

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[Cover image provided by Jelly Deng]

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