Jenny Lee aspires to spark joy with every project she touches. As a senior graphic designer who played a lead role in creating the branded environments for projects like the Lundquist Institute, MRL, UCLA Wasserman Football Center and the Phoenix Suns Verizon 5G Performance Center, she is masterful at developing unique visual expressions of a brand’s mission or a client’s history. We caught up with her to learn about her inspirations, her bond with her daughters, and about the time in her life when she had to rely on her drawing skills as a sole means of communication and connection with others.
When did you realize you wanted to be an environmental graphic designer? There wasn’t a defining moment when I knew I would be a graphic designer, but in looking back on my experiences growing up it’s clear that both my education in the arts, interests, and communication style all led me to where I am now. When I was in elementary school in Korea, I tested into the fine arts school and continued on the arts track in high school until I moved to the United States. I learned quickly that trying to make friends at my new American high school was especially challenging because of the language barrier. I turned to my drawing skills to communicate with my classmates, which were much better than my English back then. It was an isolating time, so I found myself expressing my emotions visually rather than verbally.
Now, after fifteen years with ZGF, my favorite thing about environmental graphic design is the sense of discovery it creates in a space and the dialogue that is fostered when people see an installation. Beyond being beautiful and representing a client’s brand, they are designed to be thought provoking, bringing people together as they discuss what they’ve stumbled upon.
How does living in Southern California inspire you? Richness in art, architecture, diversity, and weather. Being near the beach and mountains with great weather year-round means you can explore nature anytime. I love that I can go up to the mountains and connect to other communities and natural environments within a few hours. Nature is the most amazing source of inspiration, filled with colors and tones you can’t imitate. In helping with a graphic wall for the Cedars-Sinai Ventana Cancer Care Clinic, we tried to mimic the color of the sunrise and it was nearly impossible.
Coffee or tea? Tea. I have a sweet tooth so unless it’s chocolate flavored, coffee is a little too bitter.
If you could design for a fictional character, who would it be? Hello Kitty. I loved her so much growing up and I still do. Now I imagine how I could evolve her design aesthetic into a more sophisticated version of the Hello Kitty we know and love.
Favorite tool of the trade? My phone. Visual searches on Pinterest and Instagram is where I look for inspiration first thing in the morning.
Favorite movie? The Family Man with Nicholas Cage. I love this movie because there are so many things in life you don’t understand until you have the experience. The main character gets to step into a life different from his own reality. He ends up finding the value in the things he didn’t think he wanted, and becomes uninspired by his high-profile, but unfulfilling life he was living. It teaches you the importance of valuing the right things.
Do you have any hobbies outside of the office? Exploring nature with my daughters. I love seeing how they respond to elements in nature they have never seen before. Seeing the world through their eyes is enchanting. They feel inspired and begin to tell me their thoughts. It connects us.
What is the best advice you have ever received? My mom always told me to be joyful and thankful in all circumstances. I take this to all the projects I work on, especially hospital environments. Joy is everywhere, it’s just a matter of finding it.