Design Around the World: Singapore

To coincide with this year’s April International Design Annual, we decided to pull back the grid of latitude and longitude even further and hear, firsthand, what designers in different countries have to say about design—how their location impacts their work, how clients embrace their creativity, what’s inspiring them and what kinds of projects keep them busy.

Here, Kevin Thio from Yellow Octopus talks about design on the island city-state that is also the smallest country in Southeast Asia.

Yellow Octopus Pte Ltd

Where are you located, and why do you enjoy being there?
Singapore is a melting pot where Asia meets the world. Locally, there are four main ethnic groups (Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians) with four official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil). We are a gateway to Asia, as English is widely understood here, making it inviting for English-speaking people. Also, because of our good government, many multinational companies place their regional headquarters here. I personally love the food available here, as there is just so much variety from a multifaceted society.

How would you describe your style?
Our style comes from the need to communicate from the depth. If we can’t believe it for ourselves, for our lives in our hearts, you won’t see it in our work. Our work pretty much reflects our lives and our beliefs.

What kinds of design does your firm specialize in?
We love branding events, naming and packaging, and we approach each project with a holistic mindset about how the target audience can be reached.

What’s a favorite project you’ve worked on?
One of my favourites is our Christmas card for 2006. It holds truths that everyone can identify with: It deals with the pain that life brings, yet Christmas is a time when we remember that there is hope. If we make people laugh, that’s good, but if we make people cry, then that’s great. Not that we are sadists, but we are thankful that it touches the heart and soul of people.

Is there any recurring element that usually ends up in your designs?
Metaphors of life.

What things influence your work? Where do you get your inspiration?
Life and the passions it holds. If we meet a client or a partner who has passion, we will not let them go without collaborating with them on projects. That is a sure guarantee that the work will come out very satisfying.

How do you think your community and clients view design?
The community in Singapore is said to be two to three years behind places like New York, Hong Kong and Japan. However, I believe the community is maturing and is more receptive to creative ideas and concepts. Our role therefore is to keep believing in what design is and share our passion educating them about it.

Do you think there’s anything that sets your location’s design aesthetic apart from other places?
Unfortunately, not really. I think designers are not really given the opportunity, though we have a growing talent pool. I hope they will be nurtured and given a chance. But the voice of designers is growing.

If you were a color, what color would you be?
Yellow—because it’s all about passion.

Other interviews in the series
AUTUMN:01: Sydney, Australia
BLOK DESIGN: Mexico City, Mexico
Laboratorium: Zagreb, Croatia
LeBoYe: Jakarta, Indonesia
Steinbranding: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Third World Media: Nairobi, Kenya Barcelona, Spain Hamburg, Germany
Yellow Octopus Pte Ltd: Singapore
Zetalab: Milan, Italy