I have been doing graphic design for 40 years. I am always interested in solving problems, looking at things and saying, “Couldn’t you do it another way?” I think it was that interest that caused me to carry on. I did architecture and then graphic design, and then started my own business in Singapore before I came here. You just keep on going. And then suddenly, you become this.
I came from a family of six siblings. After the war, my family lived in Chinatown in a very, very small room with the six of us. We were the only ones with a tiny window, otherwise it was total darkness. That was a very tough part of our life, but I did not know anybody who was rich. So we were all equal. No television, nothing. Nobody was wearing flashy attire. So we were very happy in that respect.
My father worked two jobs to support all of us. So being the eldest, the moment I finished high school my mom said, “Well, get out and work. I need you to help the other five.” So I went to work in an architecture office and then studied architecture in the evenings for three and a half years.
That was very typical of Chinese. All my friends suffered through the same conundrum. But that’s the way to survive. It was always, “If you don’t study hard, you’re not going to get anywhere,” which was true in those days.
When you are an immigrant, I think especially when you are from Asia, and you join a firm of the same equal standard, you get the lowest pay. When I joined the Edmonton firm in the design office, everybody said I had the most experience. And then guess what? I’m the lowest paid.
My monthly pay was $950. But you say, “Okay, I’m willing,” because my father taught me you have to bear with it.
After three and a half years, I said, “That’s it. I’m quitting. I’m starting my own business.” And I said to my boss, “Don’t worry, I’m not taking a single client from you. If they come to me, I’ll send them back to you.”
Later on, we really became good friends because it’s how you treat others that they’re going to respect. When you are in a position where you think they don’t view you as higher value, you work harder to prove that you’re better. Looking back over 40 years, many of the competing design firms aren’t around anymore. It says that you just have to keep on your goal at doing something good for the community.
The more challenging the project is, it seems the more I like it. The Calgary Olympics Arts Festival in ’88 was a challenging 17 months of relentless work. I had to fly to Calgary every day from Edmonton, and by the end I chalked up more than a quarter million miles.
I also had 11 people working for me, and that was stressful making sure everybody did the same job. But every Monday, I made sure we had a pizza lunch, and I would say, “Now is the time for you to look at one another. If you want to give each other shit, go ahead, because we are going to finish this whole project, becoming friends and not splitting.” The people in the Calgary committee had a lot of problems – divorces, arguments, firings, and so on. That was the difference. If you treat people nicely, you get good in return.
When the job was over, I came a quarter million under budget. I was honoured at the Olympic Truce, and then I got to go to Beijing to lecture to 800 on design. So one thing led to another. That was a good start for me to make an international name for myself. You have to just keep on plugging and one day, something will click.
I taught at U of A for a little while and at a digital art college. I was asked a number of questions mostly on how to come up with concepts. But my best advice for them was to open their eyes and look at things in a different way. Design is about visual.
Architecture is a fantastic subject to study, because you solve certain problems. Not necessarily actually doing it, but thinking about it. My instructors taught me something very interesting: “Put your hands on your knees. No paper in front of you. Now you think of a solution and come up to the chalkboard and draw it out.”
You have to learn to visualize that solution or a picture in your head. And that is a training that I find not many other design schools do. You cannot think in a straight line. You think in layers and layers, and you grab one from there. I guarantee it works. The mind is fabulous.
You can’t go out very much now, but you can take walks. Suddenly you have an idea by the time you get home. That is because your mind is free. You see other things. You see birds flying all over. You see friends running around in snow. I think you have to engage in that kind of activity to become creative. No other way.
Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you come to the end of the roll, the faster it goes. In life, you cannot have a fresh roll. So make full use of every sheet of paper.Bonus advice from Wei Yew
我在平面设计的领域工作近四十余年。我热爱艺术及素描，我喜欢解决难题，也热衷于研究不一样的解决方法。 这些兴趣使我一直向目标前进，愈是有挑战性的项目会使我愈感兴趣。 最令我印象深刻的是在一九八八年的卡尔加里奥林匹克艺术节的标识设计比赛，那时要连续十七个月无间断的工作。 結果我的设计被选为奥林匹克公平公正 (Olympic Truce) 的标识，并被邀请前往北京主持一個800多人參與的设计讲座。 这是我首次在国际舞台上留名。 我相信只要坚持不懈，总有一天可以成功的。
我的建筑学教授曾教会我一种解决疑難的思维方式: 不要使用纸张，而是在脑海中把影像形象化去尋找答案；不要采用直线的一方思考，应该尝试创造探索不同的层次。 这个方法对我十分受用，使我发现了思考的奇妙。
我曾在阿尔伯特大学及一所数碼艺术学院教学。 许多人都问我如何创作。 我的建议是要扩阔眼界，从不同的角度观看事物。 如果却乏创意，不妨去散步，也许会看到小鸟在天空飞翔、人们在雪中奔跑，只要放空脑海才能看见更多的事物，让你变得更有创意。” —Wei
(Feature Image) Wei Yew with his design of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award Medal.
All images provided by Wei Yew.