Audrey Gu

Designer & Creative Technologist
Rockville, MD
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I am a graduate from American University and a former Design and Data Visualization Intern at New America. In my work, I seek to discover how design, technology, and contemporary culture can be combined to provoke meaningful and substantive dialogue. My free time outside of work is preoccupied with putting things together and taking them apart. I’m an avid film photographer and collector of vintage cameras, and I continue to frequent my university photo lab, a fantastic community where I discovered my passion for photography and from which I continue to draw inspiration. I enjoy disassembling, modifying, and repairing computers and other electronics, from iPhones to older handheld game consoles. I believe in the value and importance of open source software, and I am an ardent believer in the potential of video games as interactive media.

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Work Experience
Jun 2020 – Present
San Francisco, California
Graphic Designer
Sep 2019 – May 2020
Washington, DC
New America
Design and Data Visualization Intern
Jun 2020 – Present
San Francisco, California
American University
Visual Identity, Editorial Design, Brand Strategy, Interface Design, Front-end Development, Data Visualization
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You should select me because

WGI is seeking creative individuals who are interested in the possibilities of the in-between—people whose knowledge and skills rest uneasily in the traditional boxes of creative work. The ideal candidate for WGI is someone who is comfortable working in different disciplines, and who has the critical and analytical prowess to use their diverse skillset to produce unique outcomes and bolster new ways of thinking.

I have had a long journey to my current place as a designer. By circumstance and by design, I have worked in a range of disciplines and explored the liminal spaces between them. In high school, I conducted independent studies in educational philosophy and cellular biology. I went to college to study public policy and to eventually work in lawmaking; after discovering my passion for contemporary culture, I developed my own interdisciplinary major combining computer science, fine art, philosophy, and design.

My curiosity has taken me on many twists and turns over the years, but I have always emerged a better and more thoughtful person for it. I have gained a broad range of technical, theoretical, and creative skills, and I have learned how to apply these skills in unique contexts.

As an undergraduate, I worked as an assistant in American University’s Computational Material Perception Laboratory, where I applied my knowledge of user interface design and the Unity game engine to design and develop experiments testing the human perception and estimation of digitally rendered materials. These experiments utilized a haptic feedback instrument that allowed individuals to interact with digital objects physically. I worked with the lab’s primary investigators to integrate this apparatus as a key part of the project’s experimental design.

At New America, I used my knowledge of public policy, communication design, and frontend web development to bring complex policy research to life. My work touched every aspect of the organization’s brand and mission, and I created everything from interactive data projects to internal logo and branding concepts.

I have learned that there is profound value in approaching a problem from multiple points of view: the complexity of human life is something to be embraced, not reduced. This is what I believe, this is what I practice, and this is why I am uniquely qualified for WGI.

1. Why are you interested in wgi?

One of WGI’s alumni, Whitney Badge, wrote in a post documenting her internship experience that she and Maddy longed for an opportunity to come into their own as creatives. They wanted a work environment that valued strong perspectives and hard work—and that placed product over ego. “‘Give us an occasion, and we will rise to it;’” this, too, is what I crave as a designer. The chance to experience what Whitney described is one of the reasons why I am interested in the program. I am also attracted to WGI’s explicitly declared interest in lateral thinking. I have long thought about design’s potential to operate in spaces and configurations distinct from its traditional place in commercial enterprise, and I feel that this program was constructed to foster curious individuals who share a similar interest in exploring beyond the status quo.

2. What are you looking to gain from an experience such as WGI?

WGI is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to work with and learn from studios brimming with world-class talent. So much of my growth as a designer has come from working alongside other people, and this program is an opportunity to engage with creatives around the world. I want to immerse myself in each partner agency's culture to understand their mentality and strategic approach, and I want to develop my process and craft with the help of their advice and guidance. In the process, I hope I can find people to call friends and mentors. More broadly, this program is an exceptional opportunity to gain exposure to geographically and culturally diverse communities, each rich with history and possessed by distinct idiosyncrasies. I want to take time to soak in as much of this as I can.

3. What would be your goals after completing WGI if you were selected?

After completing the program, I would love to work for one of WGI’s partner agencies. Only so much can be done in a month, and I’d want to take on longer-term projects with a team I’ve enjoyed working with and hopefully contributed meaningfully to. After getting more practical experience and developing a more precise understanding of where I’d like to situate my practice, I’d eventually like to return to school to study for a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.

4. How did you hear about wgi?

I learned about WGI somewhat by chance; I stumbled on the program’s website after searching for more information about Collins, a studio that was one of WGI’s partners in its first year.

5. Share an example of a time you were most motivated and a time you were most demotivated.

Most motivated: my time working as the design editor for American Word magazine. I was responsible for putting together American Word’s Fall 2017 issue with the help of two design assistants. Almost every deadline on the editorial side fell through, and our team’s timeline for preparing the magazine’s content for print decreased from four weeks to just shy of a week and a half. Having worked previously for other student publications, I was well-acquainted with the potential pitfalls in leading a student design team. Unclear timelines and schedules, a lack of open discussion and feedback, and an unwillingness to share creative ownership were things that frustrated me about the teams I worked with in the past. Delegating work was also a point of contention; design editors often chose to divide work by spread rather than by publication-wide task, making it difficult, if not impossible to maintain consistency on the whole. I was determined to do things differently. From the outset, I met with my team to set up a clear timeline and schedule for when and for how long we would meet and work as a group. We brainstormed collaboratively about concepts for article illustrations; while the team focused on bringing these concepts to life, I provided feedback and guidance as needed. Having developed a type and layout system for the magazine early on in the semester, I focused on handling page layout and text flow. After completing our first draft, we worked together to identify typographic errors, layout issues, and editorial corrections, making changes as needed. After hours of tireless work and an all-nighter on my part, we produced the publication’s first major redesign in years. I could not have been more proud of what we accomplished. Most demotivated: my first three months at New America. From the outside, New America seemed to me to be a radically new kind of research organization: a lean, progressive policy shop that embraced design and technology in its quest toward a new vision for American democracy. I was eager to contribute to advancing the organization’s mission when my internship began last May. After starting, I soon came up against the realities of design work in the non-profit sector. With research as the first and foremost priority of the organization, the communications department was understaffed and overworked. New America’s visuals and branding were handled by a team of just three people—a designer, a full-stack developer, and an intern. I was now a part of this team. Research reports make up the bulk of what a think tank publishes, and these reports almost always require visuals of some kind. As the intern, the production of these visuals fell to me; they made up nearly the entirety of my workload in the first three months. These visualizations were simple to conceive of but time-consuming to produce. Our team had no standardized template system for producing commonly requested graphics, and authors often had particular visual requests, meaning that I often had little choice but to build these visuals by hand in Illustrator and Microsoft Excel. The drastic difference between the kind of work I had hoped to do and the work I found myself actually doing left me deeply frustrated. The whole team shared similar frustrations. We wanted to dedicate our time to the projects that would truly set New America apart in the think tank landscape. But with many aspects of our work out of our control, we had to make the best of the situation we had. I worked with the team to standardize and streamline the production process. To ease the time burden of producing standard graphics and visuals, I created templates and usage guides that would allow for quick and consistent results. I contributed feedback about production challenges, and I sought out other projects outside of the reports pipeline. I got the opportunity to design a poster for a Pride month fundraiser, and the workflow improvements from introducing templates helped to free up my time to work on other projects. I learned a great deal from my internship at New America; it taught me how to approach my work strategically, how to do more with less, and how to seek out opportunity in unideal—and at times discouraging—circumstances.

6. In your opinion, what creates a great culture at a company?

A company cannot truly draw on the potential of its employees without first establishing a foundation of mutual respect. Everything else that makes a company a great place to work—candid and constructive collaboration, a mutually held sense of ambition, a willingness to help your colleagues grow—cannot emerge without this as a fundamental underlying principle. In practice, this means companies with a great culture, even if their organizational structure is somewhat hierarchal, must ultimately be willing to set aside differentials of seniority and power to be open to the contributions of all team members. This requires active participation and buy-in at all levels, and demands leaders who are committed to bringing such an environment to life.

7. What brands and companies do you admire and why?

I have long admired Bandcamp’s business model and position in the digital music landscape. Much has been said about the difficulties artists now face in the music industry with the ascendance of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Throughout this, Bandcamp has remained a stalwart compatriot of independent artists; the company’s very existence demonstrates how digital technologies can be used to put artists first and provide them with a more direct platform to share and profit from their work. In terms of branding, I find Dropbox’s most recent rebrand to be a constant source of creative energy and inspiration. There is so much fantastic work on display, from Sharp Type’s robust Sharp Grotesk typeface to the incredible work of artists like David McLeod. The team at Collins synthesized these diverse elements into a bold and creative brand system that works to give Dropbox a clear and compelling narrative.

8. What do you do to stay sharp and improve your craft?

Outside of school or client work, I find that allowing myself to play with a new style or approach in a small, well-defined project can yield new and fresh results. I have also found it useful to study the work of others—not merely from the perspective of an admirer, but from that of an engaged practitioner trying to understand the mechanics and constituent components of a successful creative solution. I use this as a means to ask better questions when I approach my work. Lastly, I always find it valuable to read a diverse diet of books and written media. Reading is a gateway to new worlds and bodies of knowledge, and it provides insight into perspectives beyond one’s own experience.

9. What’s your favorite quote?

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." —C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

10. If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

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