Young Guns 21: Justin Au

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie on Nov 01, 2023

Get to know the phenomenal class of Young Guns 21

After 85 incredible finalists and intense deliberation, the Young Guns jury has narrowed it down to the 29 winners that make up the class of Young Guns 21. An astounding collection of animators, illustrators, film directors, typographers (a few Ascenders 2023 winners as well!), graphic designers, and photographers make up YG21.

Every year we interview the Young Guns winners to get to know them better as artists and people. And as always, we are welcoming another class of outstanding individuals into the highly coveted Young Guns community.

Now that you know the YG21 winners better, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating them in person at NYC’s Sony Hall on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at 6:30 PM. See you in two weeks and get ready to party!

Justin Au
Designer, Animator, & Art Director


Brooklyn, NY


Hong Kong, China


What were your original impressions of the Young Guns competition, the award, and the community?

When I first started my career in New York I realized almost every creative I looked up to was either a Young Guns winner or a finalist. Every year I’m blown away by how talented everyone is.

How did you end up in the creative field anyways?

I first started working with images drawing manga in my bedroom in Hong Kong. Unlike many incredible specialists I’ve always had scattered interests ranging from typography, motion graphics, illustration, 3D, UX, and creative technology. Every year the list keeps growing. After some experimentation in a couple of ad agencies (Ogilvy & Droga5), I eventually brought all those interests together at branding agency Gretel and in my own independent practice. But, yes, I started in advertising.

Congrats on the W! Why did you decide to enter this year?

I made it just as I hit 30! I was a finalist two years ago, and since then I’ve sharpened my creative process, opened myself up for more experimentation, and have been much bolder about shooting for things that feel exciting. This time around, the projects I’ve submitted represent the type of work I want to keep doing in the future.

You only get to submit six projects that embody you and your talent. The best of the very best. So, how did you decide which pieces were good enough to make the cut?

First of all, none of these projects would have been possible without the talented collaborators I worked with on each of them. Especially with branding, it will always be a team effort.

The projects I submitted felt the most true to my design approach. While I don’t have a distinct style, I treat every brief with the intention of creating work I jokingly refer to as “dumb-good” — work built on a simple (almost obvious) concept, expressed in a cohesive but unexpected way. Sometimes it ends up being “dumb-bad,” but these projects represent results I find exciting, from unique motion behaviors, dynamic typography, to generative tools.

Maybe it’s because I’m a straightforward person, but I like visual experiences that everyone from a seasoned curator to my mom can understand. To quote a friend and mentor Andrea Trabucco-Campos, good work should be “inevitable.”

What was your reaction when you discovered that you won?

I was on my couch, midway through a bowl of bo bun hue and immediately spat out a mouthful of noodles after finding out.

In what ways does your hometown inspire your creativity as an artist? What about your current city?

Growing up in Hong Kong, you develop a familiarity with contrasts from a young age — Chinese/Western cultures, low brow/high brow sensibilities, old/new ideas, to name a few. The convergence of diverse reference points has and will always play a large part in everything I do.

With brand identities you have to be completely adaptable, but I’ve been able to tap deeper into those experiences in SHY*BOYZCLUB where I’ve teamed up with chefs Lucas Sin and Eric Sze to explore Chinese authenticity/inauthenticity through cuisine and art objects.

Now that you’re a part of the Young Guns community, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

Fellow WashU alumni Aaron Duffy (YG9) gave me my first creative gig at SpecialGuest, where I caught a glimpse of his artistry in experimental storytelling. At my current agency Gretel, Greg Hahn (YG2) and an amazing past / present roster of creative directors have created an incredible practice that taught me everything I know about creating dynamic brand systems.

First a shout-out to some of my fellow South-China compatriots: Zipeng Zhu (YG13), Untitled Macao (YG17), Lam Ieong Kun (YG19), and Tracy Ma (YG11). And to list a few others… Leo Porto (YG17), Noemie Le Coz (YG15), Eric Hu (YG8), Lotta Nieminen (YG8), Hugo Hoppmann (YG13), Chloe Scheffe (YG17), Braulio Amado (YG13), and Grilli Type (YG13).

If you could create a new Young Guns tradition, what would you want it to be and why?

It would be awesome if there was some sort of finalist meet and greet! I can't even begin to list the incredible people that I'd love to have met when I was a finalist previously.

"It would be awesome if there was some sort of finalist meet and greet! I can't even begin to list the incredible people that I'd love to have met when I was a finalist previously."

Name a creative and professional dream project that you have yet to fulfill — maybe Young Guns will propel you in that direction!

I have a few projects on the horizon: books, restaurant branding, and SHY*BOYZCLUB merch. Beyond that I’m certainly eager for projects in music, fashion, food, film, and also… the Olympics. That’s on the bucket list.

I’d love to work with other AAPI creatives on projects and initiatives that explore themes in Asian diaspora. And obviously, I’d be excited to collab with anyone in the Young Guns community.

This is YG21, but what do you imagine you’ll be up to when YG31 rolls around in 2033, both personally and professionally?

I’m just trying to make it to next week, but if you twist my arm I’d say it’d probably be building a studio of my own with some like minded people. And probably karaoke.

Will we see you at the YG21 party in NYC in November?

Hell ya!



Come party with us and celebrate all the Young Guns 21 winners on Wednesday, November 15 at Sony Hall! See you at 6:30 PM in NYC!

Get tickets! It's party time!

The class of Young Guns 21



Fire + Fragility: Zuzanna Rogatty's YG21 Cube Design
Young Guns 21: Max Amato
Young Guns 21: Tess Ayano
Young Guns 21: Caroline Bagley







Follow Us