When I was 16, just graduated from my secondary school, I was thrown into this deep end where I had to choose what I wanted to pursue for my future career. Art has always been my best subject in school so I naturally enquired about what courses I could enrol in would be closest to Art. I ended up enrolling in a local polytechnic not even knowing what design was. I had used Photoshop before by then but I had no idea what I went into. All I knew back then was that I liked to create visuals.
I was lucky enough to meet my mentor in school and started to get a real taste of what graphic design was and what it could be. It was not until my third year in school when I started experimenting with design, because I was bored with school work. I started Autotypography, a year-long project where I designed a poster every single day and that project really helped to shape myself as a graphic designer and informed my practice. That was when I truly felt that I had fallen in love with design.
After 3 years in the polytechnic and a diploma, all Singaporean sons including myself were drafted and I served 2 more years in the Singapore Armed Forces before stepping out into the workforce officially. During my time in the army, I was lucky enough to be in a vocation that gave me some free time, in which I utilised to produce a few self-initiated projects, free from client restrictions. Then in my second year in the army when I was 20, I met my ex-business partner and we started to collaborate on a few commissioned projects together. I got accepted into a local university and had originally planned to enrol in a local university to continue my studies but I made a decision to venture into an official business with my ex-business partner right after I left the force. Eventually, the partnership did not work out, one thing led to another and now I am running my own practice.
I think a good portfolio should contain a good mix of both commissioned projects and self-initiated ones. Commissioned projects shows the ability to handle briefs while self-initiated projects shows opinions/interests of the designer and ability to experiment. Also a well curated (not too heavy) portfolio shows that a designer understands positioning.
As mentioned earlier, back in school I started this project called Autotypography, a year-long project conducted between 16 June 2012 and 14 June 2013 with a graphic poster created daily, amassing 365 posters in the collection. Initially conceived as an experimental ground for typographic and semiotic play, the project evolved to take on a more inquisitive and speculative approach to investigating graphic design fashion and trends. Each day, no matter rain or shine, in sickness or health, I tried to design a poster to recount my daily life, sort of like a visual diary. The project not only serves as an experimenting/training ground on good days, it was also a form of cathartic release for me on bad ones. By committing myself to this project, it not only helped to train my discipline and technical skills, it became such a big part of my life then I was practically living and breathing with design. It really enabled me to look deeper into not only design and aesthetics, but also form opinions about the issues and concerns surrounding the industry and the practice in general. I always believed that design is opinion, it is important to form opinions and it can only be formed through reading, observing, practising and doing. So if there is a chance to work on a passion/self-initiated project, I would recommend everyone to do so!
I think over the last few years there has been a lot more tolerance for alternative design ideologies (alternative to the canon modernist ideologies) as well as more criticality for the practice in general, on the global stage. Designers have been experimenting more, not only with aesthetics but also concepts and intentions behind their works, pushing boundaries of what graphic design is and can become. These inquisitive approaches towards graphic design and negotiations with current frameworks have been shaping my opinions and my practice a lot.
Also important to me is the increasing relevance placed on digital mediums of work, be it website, animation, 3-D, VR/AR or any other mediums in the digital code. More and more clients see web presence (and by extension, digital content) as an integral part of their branding, communication and positioning (for example, how relevant are logos now, vs content-personality?). Technology has opened up a lot of possibilities and potential for graphic design not just for aesthetics but also for methodologies, so I have been actively trying to read up on technology news, getting involved in website development projects and finding out where is UI/UX design heading, what is graphic design’s role in this ever progressing digital landscape, and how can we marry design and code? Print is definitely not dead - but digital is very much alive.