After graduating with an MA in Graphic Design from Camberwell College of Arts in 2007, Yan Kong quickly realised that she wanted to change the world. However she found herself frustrated and lost designing for the commercial sector. She decided to forge her own path, and set up the UK-China Culture & Business Centre, a non-profit start up based in London. This has enabled her to do what she loves; support design for sustainable development.
Where did your interest in design come from? And what made you choose to study at Camberwell College of Arts?
I would say my interest in Graphic Design comes from my family. My dad and my uncle are both professors in art/design school. My dad has been teaching graphic design since I was a little girl. Watching him work as a graphic designer as well as a teacher is one of the sweetest and most fascinating memories I have.
I was very disappointed by the design education system in China at that time. I wanted to be able to improve design education in China, and also wanted to do something more meaningful than designing just to help companies sell more products. But I could not see a path. I believed that the UK’s design education was more advanced and so I decided to come to London.
Because what I needed was a path leading to a meaningful design approach, I did my research before I applied, and I came to the conclusion that graduates from Camberwell were more concept driven.
I got what I was looking for. Because of my studies at Camberwell, I understand my power as well as my social responsibility as a designer. This is very important for leading a meaningful life.
What was the biggest challenge you faced after graduating? How did you overcome it?
I studied sustainable development at Camberwell and hoped to go on to contribute to the world. My hopes were halted by the realities of the commercial world. If you want to survive as a designer, in most cases you have to do what your client or your boss wants you to do. It often has nothing to do with contributing to the world, or even being creative.
I decided the best way I could overcome the problems I was facing in the commercial world was to become an entrepreneur.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about using design as an approach to achieve sustainable development. My former tutor at Camberwell once said that design is about problem solving. Solving sustainable development problems is extremely exciting. Behind what looks like a simple issue of pollution, there are often complicated social and economic causes.
Tell us about how you founded the UK-China Culture & Business Centre
It was a long story. Anybody who is curious about it can read it on our website.
I mentioned that being an entrepreneur could be the best way to overcome the commercial world. However, it is a very hard journey. Because sustainability projects are not money driven, it is even harder to start. So I created the C4S programme to encourage and support sustainability projects from the very beginning, and to continue supporting them until they don’t need my help anymore.
What has been your greatest achievement?
The design work I did before was mostly commercial, created to seduce consumers into spending more money, so I don’t consider it anything to be proud of. I have published a book about sustainable package design which has been selected by the Ministry of Education of China as a text book for design schools in China. But I always think it could be better.
I am expecting C4S to be my greatest achievement. I carefully choose the young designers we support, and I believe they will create great designs focusing on sustainable development, and I will help them to develop their projects into businesses. I look forward a future that is full of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs.