Before we are designers, or any profession, we are humans at the core. We have beliefs, causes we care about, and we pursue the interests that have shaped us into who we are today. Our designer Eva Mega Astria asked the notions of our molds to Yah-Leng Yu, Founding Creative Director of the Singapore-based design studio Foreign Policy Design Group, as well as our Design Principal, Eric Widjaja in the fourth episode of Thinking Zoom Inc. Season 2.
The thing that we're so passionate about doing is what shapes us the most, explained Yu, as well as making changes in our lives, making a difference, and little contributions to the things we can propagate with design. From a business perspective, Eric shared how financial abilities are something that gives the visceral push aside from passion. However, starting a business, especially design in his first few years experience, was a rocky ride because these financial abilities usually stream through the rapid later on. It was a part of his belief when he started Thinking*Room. The real question is, why do we really do it?
The nature of initiative projects comes from the very matters that intrigue us, whether it was design-related or random interests. It was around 2006 when we ventured into redefining our voice. At the time, we had less interesting projects than we would've liked, which measured the abundance of free time we had. We started creating art installations that some went exhibited, finding meanings through what we had created, exploring typography through different forms. What came to fruition were these initiative efforts, and further through these efforts, we began to use them as a way to express our thoughts. These initiative efforts were the work Eric presented more than client work at the time to the talks he went to.
At Foreign Policy, Yu expressed that she was inspired by a few things that mostly surround the communities, especially in Singapore, that she wanted to give a spotlight to and celebrate. It led her and her team to unpack and display the essence of these communities by building exhibitions from scratch. The process that, not only did it include branding the identity of these exhibitions, but also an exploration in curating, interior design, and architecture. This exploration molded her interest in event-planning and exhibition building.
We seek belonging and reflection in the communities that surround us. Through them, we share livelihood as we coexist to strive. It's no different from how we view creative self-initiated projects. At Foreign Policy, Yu elaborated that from building exhibitions that were inspired by, to name a few, travelers in Singapore, design studio portfolios online, entrepreneurs & brands harnessing design in the city, local communities in their neighborhood, to aspiring Asian designers in Southeast Asia, the common objective was clear as day: to celebrate them. The common objective has been a visceral urge to give a platform to create an even deeper connection with these communities and celebrate them.
This objective is shared, felt Eric, in the earlier chapters of our book where we were focusing on getting to know more about the industry, the communities that surround us, and connect with them. From doing roadshows and workshops for design schools to doing submissions for design associations in the country, it was apparent that these communities are one that we put our future and hopes in, as well as one that we sought belonging in. Aside from the common objective at hand, the different approaches to every community Eric and Yu catered for enabled us to explore with our design. Yu and Foreign Policy were able to expose brands, businesses, and the designers behind the brands through Brand Guide: Singapore Edition. They also cast light and bring together Asian designers during lockdown through Design Diplomacy. On our pages, we had the opportunity to educate the next generation of designers through our roadshows at universities, explored our voice further with our work, and integrated with the community on a whole new level through our submissions. All of these diverse approaches, in and of itself, is a celebration for the creatives behind the initiatives too.
Daily client briefs can be monotonous, which believe it or not, can be soul-sucking because of how creatively limiting they can be. Initiative projects are like that of a plunger, and it only takes one to do it.
Yu pointed out that when we have that "Just Do It" attitude, anything that comes out of initiative efforts will come as a surprise—because you'll never know what you're going to get. It could very well open up a chest of new contexts and possibilities. There are no expectations, no disagreements, and it naturally is creatively stimulating. A project that Yu shared was The Space Program, a part museum, part retail, and part installation inspired by travelers in Singapore and the short amount of time they usually spend in the city that doesn't do justice to the entirety of what Singapore truly is. Inside the box that Yu and her team opened through this project was an exploration through the means of architecture and interior design. It felt like it stirred the pot, and it was the moment that Yu knew she and her team would take the venture of exhibition-building.
In and out of the conversation, not knowing what you're getting out of a project a collective feeling. Last year, we launched Conjunglyph as a part of an exhibition. We ventured into linguistics, experimented with Indonesian conjunctions, and made 9 new glyphs. This project and the box it opened were something entirely new to us at that time. It opened up conversations about the possible evolution of language and futures for semiotics. Now, initiative projects have become a yearly ritual for us at least once as a part of our playtime.
The unknown is not as frightening as we thought it would be, after all.
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