Meet Yi Zhou

November 27, 2015

Central Saint Martins, MA Industrial Design, 2013

Born and raised in Beijing, Yi Zhou is an artist and independent designer. After completing her MA in Industrial Design at CSM, Yi moved back to Beijing and worked as a junior designer for SANS Practice before founding her own design studio, LittleE Studio. Most of Yi’s projects are drawn from sociological angles, and focusing primarily on the interrelation between human relations and behaviour. She takes inspiration from the mundane and transfers those insights and analysis into a playful artistic manifestations.

Find out about Yi’s experience at UAL and some of her interesting and interactive projects including the Hutong eraser and the BodyMemory project, which have caught the attention of international audiences…

What made you want to come and study industrial design at Central Saint Martins (CSM)?

I guess the approach to industrial design (ID) at CSM is more conceptual or artistic compare with traditional ID courses at other schools. Usually, industrial design is about solving problems, but at CSM, it is also about questioning. The courses give students freedom to explore the subjects they want, be it related to food/craftsmanship/hi-tech. An additional point is CSM is located in London. It is such a rich and wonderful city that’s full of creativity.


What is your fondest memory of your time at CSM?

Probably the time working in the studio with colleagues until the last minute when the school closed. I still remember the security guard starting to clear out all the rooms and people walked out from the main entrance as a group in the late night. The studio and workshops are like our battlefield and we are literally the last fighters. Everyone at CSM is so talented, yet still work so.


What do you think was the most important thing CSM taught you?

Critical thinking, the ability of doing research and team work. Those are the three key factors that help with all design processes in practice.


What advice would you give any student wanting to come to study at UAL from China?

First, be ready for a tough period of time, but the experience and skills you gain will benefit you throughout your entire life. Secondly, don’t worry about doing something wrong. The line between right or wrong is sometimes blurred. We gain our personal experience from discussions and mistakes.


What do you do now?

On one hand I am operating my mini scale design studio doing product design, curation and organizing interactive events throughout China. We have a main project ‘BodyMemory’ but also we have a product ‘Hutong’ eraser produced by a U.S. gift company Kikkerland. Now it is available in the North America market.

Hutong Eraser Yi’s Hutong eraser – based on the Hutong architecture located on the streets of Beijing. As the city is filled with more and more high rises, the traditional hutong-style streets disappear, just like the eraser will when is it used. This product was the winner of China Design Challenge run by Kikkerland.


Tell us more about the BodyMemory Project?

BodyMemory is based on the hypothesis that the body itself is capable of storing memories, not just the brain. Based on this theory, I created a series of duplicated cast models of human body parts that were transformed into accessories. This is especially meaningful for anyone who has special memories associated with that particular body part. This has been really successful and we have held over twenty ‘surgeries’ over the past year, ‘treating’ over 170 patients in New York, Taiwan, Hong Kong and across China. It also has been featured in several leading press outlets such as Timeout Beijing, Cool Hunting, and Huffington Post. It is also a regular project at Beijing Design Week since 2014 as well as featured as part of NYCxDesign 2015.


What have you been most proud of so far?

The BodyMemory project has been alive for nearly two years! At the beginning I didn’t expect the project to last this long. I am proud of myself for keeping it going, developing it and showcasing it at several exhibitions, loads of pop up events, and now to the U.S.


What do you most love about Beijing?

I grew up in Beijing, so there are lots of memories for me here. After I graduated and returned to my hometown, I actually find new things that I never thought about before. It is like rediscovering my city and that excites me.


Whats next for you?

Currently I am in New York for a three month artist in residency program at Flux Factory. It is an opportunity to learn and feel something different from my home country. Also we started a crowdfunding campaign called ‘Sharing the Spirit of Beijing with New York Through BodyMemory’( to support my residency in LIC. We will see how people react in Big Apple about my crazy ideas :)