GCA communications intern Kristi Saliba (K) recently spoke with Jeason Li (J), a Post-Professional Interior Design graduate student here at Gibbs! Jeason, who is an international student from China, was recently selected by Metropolis Magazine to be part of their 2021 “Future 100.” This recognition honors the top 100 graduating students from architecture and interior design programs in the United States and Canada. As part of this honor, Jeason’s work will be featured in the March/April 2021 issue of Metropolis.

Interior Design associate professor Mia Kile recently reflected on what contributes to his success: “Jeason approaches design through the lens of curiosity in which he seeks alternative ways to engage the users in the experience.”

Kile continued, “After working with him for several semesters, I found that Jeason is an active, hands-on learner. Through the process of modeling (physical or computer generated), he explores means in which to manipulate his work, taking it to the next level.”

In this episode of the Gibbs Spotlight, Jeason shares what brought him to Gibbs College, as well as some current research and projects he is working on.

Read on or listen to learn more.

K: Hey everyone, welcome to the Gibbs Spotlight. My name is Kristi Saliba. And I’m a strategic alumni communications intern here at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today, we’re going to be talking to Jeason Li. He recently was recognized as one of the Metropolis 100 graduating students for the future 100 portfolio competition. So congratulations, Jeason, how are you? 

J: Thank you so much. Hi, everyone! This is Jeason Li, an international student from China. My major is interior design, and I’m doing pretty good. 

K: So, Jeason, can you tell us a little about yourself? 

J: Yeah. So my official name is Siyao Li. They just call me Jeason to help them memorize the name. I come from the interior design major, and now I am in the Master of Interior Design Program, which is a post-professional program. I will graduate with Master Degree in the fall of this year. 

K: That’s amazing. So can you tell me a little bit about your life leading up to coming to America and before studying at Gibbs. 

J: So at first I was in China for my primary school, middle school, and high school of the first three years. But then I figured out there is not the right environment for me. So when I was in the last year of high school, I just came to the United States. I was first arriving in Michigan. And then I started my general study in New York State. And I spent almost one year there. And then, you know, I tried to explore my knowledge. Finally, I came to Gibbs and I settled down, and I now I’m trying to figure things out; there is so much I need to learn. 

K: That’s amazing! I didn’t realize that you traveled here while you were still in high school. 

J: Yeah, this is pretty different. Like, for me, when I was first coming to the United States, I was 17. I remember, I was leaving the home state, as nobody. And I’m still nobody now. But I know English, and I have so many, professional skills. But, as can you imagine, when I first came here, I only knew how to say hello, and how are you. 

K: That is incredible! So you said that you started University in New York? Is that right? 

J: Yeah, that’s my first time starting my university journey. 

K: What prompted you to come to OU? 

J: So that’s another quite interesting story. I would like to say coming to OU is more like an arrangement of fate. So when I finished my first semester in architecture study in like in New York–I don’t know if you’ve heard of the SUNY system, State University of New York. So I was in one of their schools, and learning architecture, and the my roommate would say it’s too cold and too boring in New York State. So he invited me to transfer together and he told me, “Oklahoma has beautiful scenery and very comfortable weather,” and I was just too pure to just directly say, “Oh, right.” I said yes, and I didn’t resist to transfer, but at that time, I didn’t know there is tornado and I didn’t know there is huge winds. But moving to OU was indeed the best choice in my life. You know? 

K: That’s really amazing.  

J: Yeah, it started the best time of my life. 

K: That’s so sweet how you called it an arrangement of fate. How do you feel about the weather now that you’ve experienced it? 

J: You know in NYC we experienced the huge snow storms. It’s just so cold, but the tornado–oh my gosh. The first time I saw tornado is about like two years ago. I got a message about, “huge winds tonight so please stay at home or go to school shelter for coverings for safety.” But when I when I saw outside, the raining and crazy wind is crazy and beautiful. I don’t want to say that but it’s beautiful. I will say it is beautiful. 

K: That it is, that it is. So you were studying architecture in New York. Is there anything in particular that made you want to study interior design? 

J: Architecture is kind of like you’re building the house, you do the building, make the body. Also good architecture always comes with good interior design. It’s kind of like a soul and your body, which have really good cooperation. But for me, architecture would be too much serious requirements. And as a Chinese or international student, I’m seeking more about internal thinking, more about cultural relevance, and more about what you really want from your spirit. So I know architecture is a really, really difficult program or major, but interior design is more deep development than you think. And interior design will teach me how to emphasize, how to understand people’s mind how to, read your customers, how to talk to them, and how you try to be friendly, because I wasn’t really friendly. I don’t like talking to people. It’s about trying to accept and to deal with being friends with your environment, and how to be settled down by yourself like a whole project located in a particular environment. And that’s all that interior design teaches me. 

Image credit: Jeason Li, “Attitude to Nature.”

K: That’s really beautiful. 

J: I know you are a major in architecture, too, right? So while you are in architecture, you can feel the competition, and you can feel like is quite a hard time. Right? I was saying it’s a real hard time.  

K: Oh, yeah, absolutely.  

J: But it’s also beautiful, like, when deep diving into this major. That’s the same to me to like about interior design.  

K: Yeah, I love that analogy you used about the body. And I mean, the way you’re describing interior design is so beautiful, it’s so clear that this is where you belong. Is that how you feel?  

J: Yeah, this is a real life view. It’s really interesting, in our graduation year, the only male is me, and the rest of my classmates are females. So many of our customers feel, “Why you are male in a full female class in interior design?” And I say why not? Right? I have my own concept, there is nothing about gender, right? The only thing about design. 

K: Exactly. And I mean, your background, everything you’ve experienced, and coming from China just really brings something so special to the table. In terms of interior design, I’m sure it makes you really stand out. 

J: You’re right. So, because I have a international background from China, I am always thinking through a different like point of view, which is due to growing up in a different environment. So, I try to break down some barriers. People, at first, will give so many limitations about how spaces should be designed. I’ve worked at so many places and seen so many things. So, I try to apply this in my design. So I’m not just limiting myself to one style. I try to experience all these different styles, different personalities in my design, and try to make a variety of looks. Anyways, my Chinese background gives me more selection to my design direction and gives me multiple choices when I’m facing a struggle or challenge. I will never just stop there, I will just try to find a solution. My few years experiencing the United States or my past experiences in China are important to me anyway. 

K: Yeah, it brings something really unique to the table. Would you like to talk about your current project first or the Attitude to Nature project? 

J: Yeah, I was working on the Attitude to Nature last semester, which was in our human behavior class. It’s a graduate class, and we try to develop our own theory in that class. So in that time, I got a project from my old friend– she is my auntie–and she gave me a design case, which is the renovation of a house. So I tried to use my knowledge, combined with biophilic design and also a new Chinese-style design into that project. And in that project, I used the new type of interactive lighting systems. They’re trying to bring natural elements into the indoor environment. Normally we have a barrier between the indoor and outdoor, which is a powerful design. It’s really recommended about nature elements and brings light and nature patterns into the indoor environment. So I reset. Many are scared of houses, and I tried to bring like the landscape, the water, and also the lighting flow, the daylighting, the natural elements (like the wood and stone) into the house. I tried to make the indoor environment become part of the natural environment, not just introduce the natural environment into the indoor, which is kind of confusing, but this is my personal design style.

I try to always combine human and nature trying to combine the emotion and the touch. In this way people can really feel the power of a design. It’s not just making the declaration or arrangement of the furniture. That’s not what interior design is. Interior design should give people the first touch when you move into the new house. It should give you an impression about what your home is like, what’s the view of the family. Also, interior design should be always mean something. Attitude to Nature is about showing the Chinese new generation’s relationship in the family and the relationship between the house and the natural environment. We always try to put something way more than the decoration. We always have signs in our design; we always make the scenes become more about people living better, or helping people get a better quality life. That’s out main target. 

Image credit: Jeason Li, “Attitude to Nature.”

K: I love the idea of blurring the line between indoor and outdoor. I’ve been studying a little bit about that. Like from the architecture perspective, it’s really amazing. 

J: The architecture is quite a beautiful, right? It’s also in the mix you want to just deep dive, right? 

K: So something that you talked about–people assuming that interior design is just decorating–are there any other common misconceptions about interior design that you have an opinion about? 

J: Visiting the United States we have a high development of interior design majors, but in China it’s a different situation. So when you’re talking to, like my father’s friend or my parent’s friend, they will say that doing interior design is just kind of like doing the decoration, moving the furniture around, or just trying to get some materials and apply it in a new house, then you get paid some salary, that you get paid for this hours working. I cannot to interrupt them as they’re talking, but what I really want to say is that’s not how interior design work. We do not just make a decoration. We are making space. We are trying to put a soul in a building. We are creating a new atmosphere, or we say we are creating a new touch or new emotional sense to the space. This is interior design’s power, which makes the spaces follow the heart, voices. It can make you feel more touched from any sense: from your eyes, from your ears, from the touch of your finger, from the feeling of your feet. All these elements or things in interior design should make you like feel more about the space. Because normally, nowadays, people are just coming home and sitting down because they’re tired, they’re pressured in or they’re just busy or working. They spend less and less time observing family. They spend less and less time taking care of the world they’re living on. So a good interior designer should spend time reflecting and thinking about what the home is, where the family is, and what the interior space even is, which for me is really interesting. Observing people when they’re seeing my design case or when they listen to my presentation and give feedback. I can see how people really care about this emotional touch.  

K: You talked about introducing interactive lighting systems to that project, and this is your graduate work, correct? 

J: Yeah this is my graduate theory, the interactive lighting systems. It is future lighting systems which are more intelligent and which can be more flexible and more adaptive. For traditional lighting you have specific parameters for the lighting source, like the cartoons like how strong the lighting source is and the what angle it is. So what you can do is you just buy the light and put it into your bedside table or put it somewhere, but interactive lighting system is a more intelligent lighting systems. It can be changed like following your emotional changes. You’ll be happy and you’ll feel the lighting change if you feel sad. Do you still remember the first time you turned on the light? The sense and the touch of when you first enter on the electric electrical light is not just a simple light on, right? It’s more like a hope, more like a family. Do you ever think about like, nowadays, turning on and off the light become normal things, like it’s not important, you just turn it on and turn it off. As interior design students, we always think life needs attitude, life needs ceremonies. So in lighting design, especially in the field of lighting, we trying to make people remember the touch when they see the light turn on. So, I think are a few reasons why I’m studying the interactive lighting systems is because people always want to get more when they put in effort, but a single switch turn on is not too much effort, right? So we can turn the lights on and the brightness changes, but if we apply the interactive lighting systems, a little effort, like when you turn on the light when you come home, you just need to do a little job to make life really become better and better. It will automatically change the lighting environment according to your situation or according to your emotional change or behavior, and also interacting with lighting is fascinating. It is beautiful and we really dive into it. I just keep reading every day and yeah the lighting just beautiful. 

K: That is amazing, wow! You are graduating in the fall. Do you have any plans after graduation? 

J: I’m thinking about working in the United States for one to two years, then I’ll probably just find some international tie company. I have an advantage like we mentioned before, a Chinese background, right? So, I know both Chinese and English and because I grew up in China, I know what traditional Chinese interior design is like. I also learned advantages at interior design knowledge in the United States, so I have both advantages. I’m trying to seek an international tie company that has an office in China, so I can make some money there. Then, probably after five or six years, when I get enough experience, I can start my own studio. Which I think this is the top of my life. 

K: That’s amazing! So do you have anything in particular that you like about Gibbs? What’s your favorite thing about the college? 

J: Gibbs College of Architecture is unique. People are constantly innovating things. Every year, when the semester begins, when you go through the corridor, you will see there are so many walks full of creative surprises. You even feel admiration. And also, in every studio, you can see every voice really get innovated in their work. You can really develop academic potential in this, to the extreme. Have you ever seen three o’clock or four o’clock in the lab? Like in the basement of the Gould Hall? You should be there at midterm or end of the semester, you will see people just working there. They are tired, but they’re still happy. They’re just really getting into the project, and the emotion you can feel when as a student of architecture is powerful. That’s the power of creativity, That’s makes me feel like, I need to work harder, to make more work, and I need to spend more time with my design, and it’s what I design for. Yeah, that’s the power of Gibbs College of Architecture. 

K: Yeah, I totally relate to that being in studio, even in the evenings after class is over, working towards a deadline. It’s really inspiring being in an environment where everyone is kind of striving towards the same thing and working towards the same goal. Thank you so much for getting on here and joining me! 

J: Thank you so much for inviting me and it’s my honor. Thank you. 

K: It was so great having you and congratulations again on your recognition. 

J: Thank you so much. 

Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.