Beyoncé Made Me a Graphic Designer

Learning skills by following Beyoncé.

Nothing magical. It just happened to be Beyoncé when I needed a rock star to grow my talent. This is not another crazy fan story; it is a story about how to take the chance, to grow and to learn from the best.

Beginner · Recognizing

In our early ages, we were all influenced by the ones around us. In my case, it was my elder sister who introduced me to this woman who, initially, didn’t really catch my eyes. The woman was Deena Jones in Dreamgirls, the 2006 American musical film depicting a group of African American girls chasing the fame of singing. Despite the great story, it was a visually stunning film and the songs were very catchy. The one song that particularly touching was Listen, depicting one’s decision of getting away from being controlled and following the voice inside.

Beyoncé as Deena Jones performs the iconic song ‘Listen.’ // superiorpics.com

Beyoncé’s voice was rather memorable that it induced us to watch the alternative music video version of the song, where she stands along with a black camisole and sings the song with tears. I could feel the emotion that she brings, but I never thought that she was one of the greatest female singers until my sister played her live performance DVD. It was the 2007 Beyoncé Experience Tour. At that point, never in my life had I witnessed such a breathtaking performance because she’s nothing like any other female performers I’ve seen. How on earth can someone dance so hard and still sing like a power house? Wow. Just like that, the name ‘Beyoncé’ was engraved in my mind.

Level 1 · Making

Out of curiosity, I searched online to see if there are any Chinese fan base of Beyoncé, and I found a Beyoncé forum in Baidu Postbar, 百度贴吧, which we later called “Beyoncé Bar” or “Beé Bar.” During that time, the forum had around 200 members, not as big as forums of Brittany Spears, Justin Timberlake and many other major pop stars. Although it seemed small, I was glad to see Beyoncé related posts that had been shared in the forum. I soon became one of the members and started to follow Beyoncé’s news feed. Such an online community actually had a sense of solidarity, as people were organizing activities and all wanted this forum to be as good as the famous ones. Many people also shared their love by drawing, singing and writing.

Like everybody else, I wanted to contribute something to the forum, and I knew I had talent in making images. In the forum, every user can set up a ‘signature picture’ that follows every post they make. Many people utilized the signature to promote the celebrity they were following. I saw this as a chance for me to practice making images digitally, so I created a post where I would make ‘signature’ for the forum members with no charge. Google’s Picasa was the tool I first used to put text on images, and I remember I had to put ‘´’ on top of the ‘e’ manually.

One of the examples — signature for user ‘Are you BEE.’

Surprisingly, people were very supportive and fond of what I did, so I kept on going, and extendedly applied my skills to various promotional material such as banners, posters and covers. They weren’t great, but my peers continuously encouraged me to make more because it helped building the forum, significantly. Since Picasa has limited functions that couldn’t fully translate the vision in my head, I started making in Adobe Photoshop, although I had no idea how to use it. The trick is, I learned to use Photoshop by making more, and more.

An example of signature picture I made in 2011.
An example of signature picture I made in 2012.
No more drop shadows in 2013.

Level 2 · Grinding

This is probably the most important part of the story, because this is where I evolved the most. Have witnessed my passion for making, the lead manager of the forum invited me to an inner editorial team, where recognized members were gathered to prepare for the first issue of an online magazine that would be published within the forum. The team was originally consisted of 10 members. In the beginning, we had no idea our responsibilities were, and we just did whatever we could. I remembered I was one of the few people who kept coming up cover ideas, modified on top of one another’s work and opened to public critique. If people didn’t like it, we continued revising. I also looked up online magazines some forum had published, learned from them, but tried to design ours better. Critique after critique, modifications after modifications, some teammate who couldn’t spare much time left the team, yet I was very determined. I had to try my best because the things we were working on would be formed into the very first issue, which, for me, was similar to designing a first impression. Somehow, I became the chief editor. I then clarified everyone’s job based on their schedules and interests. After endless mutual efforts, the first issue of Irreplaceable, the annual online magazine of Beyoncé forum in Baidu Postbar, was published. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. I do have to apologize ahead that there are many inevitable English spelling and grammar problems throughout each issue; we tried.

Covers of first issue of Irreplaceable.

The magazine included the major news of Beyoncé within the year and fans’ tribute to her. I can’t describe how members of the forum loved this first issue. All of them encouraged us to keep it up, and those encouragements ignited the fire inside me. I decided to continue this magazine and improve it year by year. To get a better sense of what a magazine was, I started to study the real life examples and compared the magazines that I collected, trying to figure out what information was necessary in a magazine, how elements were arranged, and why certain elements were selected, then applied these studies into the prescribed, squared format. Because of the uncertainty of personal lives, many of my teammates couldn’t be as committed as I was, and I eventually became the main person who designed the magazine. With helps of content-gathering and text-editing from the remaining teammates, in the next three years, we continuously published issues on the first days of Chinese New Year. Every issue contained a main journal and a special. The magazine was indeed made better yearly. 
[ Click captions to see full PDF of each issue. Empty parts inside the issues were left for videos.]

Building the magazine was a big part of my design practice in the forum, but it wasn’t the only thing I did. Other than the magazine, I also helped making promotional materials of some activities raised in the forum, translating some special reports into Chinese, and managing the visuals of the forum. To make sure all those materials looked official, I tried to translate the original visual as close as possible, because of which I learned a lot of how things were designed, and thereby trained my design sensibility.

Banner and avatar sets that I designed based on weekly or monthly hot topics.
One of many covers I designed for choruses organized in the forum.
Translation I did based on 2014 Time’s most influential people.
Yearly digital wallpaper I designed to celebrate Chinese new year in the forum.

I knew that Beyoncé always collaborate with some of the best designers on the planet, so studying those official materials released by the Beyoncé team was also a great learning opportunity.

I study Beyoncé’s visual elements every time her team releases new promotional materials.

Level 3 · Elevating

Once I got into making, I couldn’t pull myself out. While helping building the forum, I also constantly made my own original work that related to Beyoncé, and share it with the fan base.

In 2011, I created a word mark for the forum.

In 2013, I created a word mark for a Beyoncé fan platform called ‘Beyoncé China,’ who later stays on Weibo as one of the Beyoncé news feed accounts.

In 2014, I made a set of emoticon based on her hit song Drunk in Love.

©2014 Zheng Jian.

In 2015, I made some T-shirts designs based on some iconic gestures she uses during her concerts, and I call them ‘Beysture.’ The series was pushed out by the ‘Beyoncé China’ microblog.

Click here to see more designs.

In 2016, I created an ultimate Crazy in Love remix, the iconic song of Beyoncé, that has 737k views in one of the Chinese largest video sharing platform called Youku.

For entertainment only. *I DO NOT own the right of or profit from the official footages in this video.

Level 4 · Earning

Not only did I gain countless skills by help building the Beyoncé fan base in China, the efforts that I made rewarded me a little fame within the community. People recognized me as the talent that brought out the best of the community and helped shaping a “high-end” image of Beyoncé in China.

In 2014, after browsing the magazines in the forum, a representative of Beyoncé Official Platform of China contacted me, and invited me to help them initiating and contributing to the platform. Like everybody else, I was skeptical that Beyoncé wanted a Chinese Official platform right before she released her self-titled album, but everything the representative showed me had proven that they were real, including the Knockout font Beyoncé would use for the new album. I was honored to become one of their super members (now that I recall, that was UX testing). Again, I poured my great passion as a fan and maker into this platform — giving feedback of my experience, offering insights of the Chinese fan base, and suggesting visual consistency. Having shown my commitment to the platform and seeing it run not as successfully as it should have, I asked them if I could become their intern and manage the platform from an experienced fan’s perspective. They gladly accepted my request. For three months, I was a news collector, a translator, an image maker, a text editor, a video editor and a multi-media manager. There is no doubt that the internship elevated my ability to applying skills, but the fact that the job was unfairly paid and the company was all about profiting disappointed me. I had to leave the job. Although the company was authorized officially, they failed to shape the community that fans were expecting. The official platform is still running across Weibo, WeChat and Youku, mainly promoting videos.

One of the many promotional visuals I made for Beyoncé Official Platform of China.

The unfortunate experience did not stop me. I believed I could still do more, so I reached out to the biggest Beyoncé fan site — BEYONCÉ LEGION and asked if they wanted expending to China. The team was appreciative that I brought it up. After dozens of back and forth emails, BEYONCÉ LEGION China was launched on Weibo. I then became the blogger who synced Beyoncé newsfeed constantly. It was comforting to know that the blog was pretty well received by the fans, since the news being shared was always authentic and truthful.

One of the launching posters of BEYONCÉ LEGION China.

Master · Owning

Reap what you sow, perfection is so…mmm.” The experience of making and sharing Beyoncé things rewarded me countless skills that I wouldn’t have mastered otherwise, because of which I also acquired some faithful followers who loved what I did. As my life gets more fruitful, sadly I have to say goodbye to this ‘Beyoncé Experience’ and move on to new challenges. At the same time, I can’t deny that Beyoncé as a successful entrepreneur has been inspiring me along the way, as I learn from her documentaries and understand the hard work that she made and the sweat and blood that she devoted behind the scenes. The lesson is, the success we’ve all been longing for needs to be earned, step by step.