#WFH Diaries: Billy Liao of Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Even as the world begins to open up amid the pandemic, most folks are still working from home. We're continuing to check in with creative people to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Billy Liao of Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

Billy came to GS&P in 2019 from China, after being one of the most awarded students in the globe. In 2018 and 2019, he created award-winning work like Hello Officer, an app that auto records voices and images when you get pulled over by police; Everytown Emma, an A.I. bot that guides people to fight gun violence in five steps voiced by Emma Gonzalez; and Base_1, an Adidas speaker that helps preserve hip-hop culture in China. 

At GS&P, he has worked on Pepsi, BMW, HP, Tostitos, Xfinity, Comcast and Sam Adams. Most recently, he was part of the team that created the First Responder Twitter Bot, which automatically responds to Covid-19-incited racist tweets with videos that both educate the perpetrators and uplift Asian frontline workers. The bot also replies to those tweeting in support of Asians with tips on how to confront racism when they witness it in person.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

A Chinese art director at GS&P who hasn't had a haircut in four months and dreams of himself as a Michelin-starred chef.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

I'm living with me, myself and I in San Francisco.

What's your work situation like at the moment, and how is it evolving?

It's a bit of a roller-coaster situation for my partner and me. Sometimes we have our hands full with six projects at the same time, with the deadlines on the same day. And then on other days, we're struggling to fill out all eight hours on our timesheets.

What are you working on at GS&P during WFH?

I've actually been working on a project that's very personal to me. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, racist speech against Asians has surged by 900 percent on Twitter, leading to real-world incidents: boycotts of Asian businesses, verbal harassment and even violent physical attacks, including stabbings. 

As an Asian, I feel very sad about the growing hate on the internet and have hoped I could play a part in changing the situation—even just a little bit. So I've worked with a small team at GS&P to #Respond2Racism by launching the First Responder, a Twitter bot that always responds to racism online, educating haters and providing allies with tips to help victims in real life.

But this is only the first step. There is still a lot more work to be done for all POC under the current circumstances, and I hope #Respond2Racism can be a useful, impactful platform for all of us.

Describe your socializing strategy lately.

Video-chat with my close friends on a weekly basis to let them know "Hell, yeah, I'm still alive." Every week I also find one connection from my friend list that I haven't talked to in years and open up a conversation with him or her. Even though it has the potential to be short and awkward, most of the time there's a surprise, and I'm glad I took the risk.

What are you reading?

I've been reading B magazine and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

What are you watching?

TV series: Westworld, Hollywood, Upload, Chef's Table, Killing Eve, Tiger King, Too Hot to Handle, The Great, Reply 1988, Kingdom, The King, The World of the Married.

Movies: The Half of It, Emma, Extraction, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Bad Boys, The Platform.

What are you listening to? 

Random playlists from Spotify.

How are you staying fit?

Every few days I take a 30-minute walk to my favorite Japanese grocery store to pick up some fresh seasonal meat and fruits and vegetables to balance my diet. Then I walk back home for another 30 minutes. So between the healthy food and roundtrip walk, it's a fitness win-win. I also do a series of muscle-stretch exercises on my yoga mat.

Have you taken up a hobby?

I've always pictured myself as a chef—perhaps even a Michelin-starred one—if I weren't in advertising, and let's just say I think quarantine has proven me right. I've been cooking every day, experimenting with different ways to combine the limited food materials that I have. The meticulous use of food ingredients, the control of temperature, the consideration of combinations, the art of plate decoration and the final moment of tasting—every single aspect of cooking challenges you to see the world in its most raw status, to be extremely patient when it comes to the creative process, to be aware of your senses and the surrounding environment and, of course, to prove that your grandma is always right.

An awkward moment since all this started.

One morning I slept past my alarms, only to be awakened by the notification of a starting meeting on Teams. I hit Join, and, of course I was the only one on the call that was in bed with my eyes half-open. Ah, the excitement of video calls!

An "aha!" moment since all this started.

Since the start of the stay-at-home order, I've sat by my window from time to time observing the ever-changing and transforming sky, which has added up to be quite a few hours. The clouds continuously surprise me with how they'll resemble something or something—"Aha! That's the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars! That's the Discovery from Star Trek! That's the huge UFO from Independence Day! That's Pegasus! That's a dragon chasing a roast squab!" Eventually, I reached a big "aha!" moment: Normal day-to-day life can turn out to be quite magnificent with a little bit of imagination.

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

We'll eventually win this fight together and won't let history happen again.

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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