We had a chat with recent grad and Strategy Creative newbie Liam Ooi about winning a Best Award AND two AGDA Student Awards (too good!), living in post-earthquake Christchurch, and all things Type – including working on his first commercial type family.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the studio that you work for. I’m a recently graduated, type-mad creative based in Christchurch, New Zealand. I studied at Ara Institute of Canterbury and during the last few weeks of my degree I got an internship at Strategy Creative. One thing lead to another, and I’m now on the verge of ticking over one year full-time. It’s been a lot of learning, a lot of fun, a lot of design, and a lot of ping-pong.
We’re a small but nimble creative team, focused on producing outstanding work for a range of great clients. It’s pretty exciting times for our studio with Nick Harvey recently coming in as managing partner, and it’s been great for our team being able to pull from his experiential background. We’re all loving being able to push our thinking beyond the usual design outputs. With lots of awesome briefs on-the-go, and even more great work in the pipeline, there’s this incredibly infectious creative energy in the studio. I think that’s really going to be reflected in the work you’ll see coming from us over the next year.
‘The best opportunities are the ones you make for yourself. There’s no such thing as a perfect brief, so take ownership of what you’re given’
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? When I was a little kid I used to say I wanted to be a graphic designer, but I don’t think that I fully understood what that meant. My dad ‘got his hands on’ a copy of Adobe CS2 and Corel Draw, so in my spare time I would be drawing pictures, or making really rudimentary animations in Flash (is that still a thing?). So I guess I’ve always had this affinity towards art and technology, and graphic design kind of became the natural path to follow. Even if didn’t realise it at the time!
I started to see the potential in a design career during my last year of high school. We got exposed to all the classics—Sagmeister, Carson, Rand—and I was instantly attracted to the pure simplicity of the modernist movement. But what really solidified my decision in pursuing design further was living in post-earthquake Christchurch. We’ve been given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape our city into what we want it to be. I realised that design was going to be my way of making a lasting impact on the future of the city.
In a lot of ways, nothing has really changed since then. But I’m much more aware of what’s going on in the industry today. Things really clicked in design school when I began to discover studios like Alt Group, Pentagram and Christopher Doyle & Co. Their work just made so much sense to me—visually and conceptually—so it became the benchmark I wanted to hold myself to. I learnt to love crafting language as much as I love crafting design. And because type is the visual representation of language, it was only natural for that obsession to blossom as well.
What has been your highlights since you started out? Professionally, working on the rebrand of Unfiltered (a global digital learning platform for business) has probably the big one for me so far. It was a great opportunity to be able to partner with such an inspiring group of people and I’m extremely proud of the work we produced. We recently helped relaunch the infamous Christchurch bar Fat Eddie’s which was heaps of fun. I helped develop a distinctive visual and verbal language for the brand. A large chunk of our year was spent refreshing the Naylor Love brand—one of New Zealand’s largest and longest running construction companies. It’s beautiful work, and I got contribute a few nice pieces including a set of custom numerals and a suite of certificates for their internal awards programme.
At a personal level, having my student work win a silver at the Best Awards and two Distinctions in the AGDA Student Awards was absolutely amazing. With the high calibre of work being entered every year, it’s incredibly humbling and gratifying to receive this recognition.
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why? A Smile In The Mind has got to be the single most important book any designer/creative can read. Trends and style can come and go (and vary by personal taste) but ideas are universal. It’s full of witty, creative work that will make you think and laugh, but most importantly wish you’d thought of it yourself.
I’ve also found Brand New to be an amazing resource. It’s popular for a reason! The work they feature is less important than the critiques themselves. Creating a nice identity from scratch is one thing—evolving an existing brand takes another level of consideration. This was one of the biggest learning curves coming out of design school, so it’s been a super important way for me to increase to my own understanding.
The Netflix documentary that was released this year (‘Abstract: The Art of Design’) was an awesome watch. Every single designer they feature is working at the very cutting edge of their field, at a level most of us can only dream of. It’s fascinating to see the thought processes used throughout. There are a lot of differences—but also a lot of similarities.
What’s the big goal in the next five years? My goal is to have my first commercial type family ready for release in the next few years. I’ve got a good idea of where I want it to go, so now it’s a matter of getting it done. I also want to redraw Lamplugh Sans from scratch and expand it into a full family at some point in the future. I really want to focus on learning the craft, both visually and technically. Being a completely self-taught type designer, I’m hoping to get a bit of guidance along the way. It can be difficult finding the time to work on personal projects alongside a full-time job, whilst also making sure I live a life outside of design. Hopefully having a goal will help me carve out chunks of time when I can!
‘It doesn’t matter how good your designs/ideas are if you can’t take your client on the journey to get to that point’
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. Don’t forget to take a moment to breath. We work in such a high stress industry, 80% of which is self-induced. I’ve faced a lot of challenges this year outside of the design world, and time moves so quickly that it can be easy to forget to take the time for yourself and for others. Nick shared this great quote the other day that sums it all up: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—Family, Health, Friends and Spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it. Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.”
2. After you’ve proofed your work, proof it again, and then proof it three more times. And then get someone else to proof it, because there’s a 100% chance you’ve still missed something.
3. It doesn’t matter how good your designs/ideas are if you can’t take your client on the journey to get to that point. I’m still learning how to do this—it only comes from experience.
4. The best opportunities are the ones you make for yourself. There’s no such thing as a perfect brief, so take ownership of what you’re given.
5. Have fun. I spent my first few months working constantly wondering whether I was good enough. Everything was a first: first deadline, first billboard, first newspaper ad, first logo, first brand. But after while, you stop doubting whether you can do it—because you’ve already done it. Each new brief becomes exhilarating because you see the possibilities instead of your shortcomings. Get to this stage as quickly as possible, because that excitement for your work will keeping feeding into itself. We’re incredibly lucky to work in an industry that allows us to feel this way, so make the most of it!