I want to start by talking to you about how you became a designer. Your early roots were in Thailand?
I was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. I think I was interested in art from a very young age. I remember my mom made me take art lessons every Saturday. I’d do drawings or watercolors or oil paintings. Having that experience of really good training in craft from a very young age has helped me become a better designer today, actually.
I’ve seen in other interviews that you’re a bit of a magazine junkie. You read something like 30 magazines each month for inspiration?
I don’t know if I read, but I definitely look. I think I have a photographic memory. Like – I will know exactly where I saw something in a book: “It’s going to be somewhere in the middle of the page–on the right side–and the color is…” A lot of times, I just look at magazines and rip through them and start looking at it from a consumer standpoint.
Do you actually tear out the pages?
If it’s a good visual, I’ll tear out pages from magazines or clip and print things out and put them all over my studio. And, sometimes, you start to connect the dots of the things that you like.
Where specifically are you looking to find inspiration?
I’ve also read that, if you had one thing to change about the beginning of your career, you would have travelled more before you started…
What other bits of inspiration do you pick up while you travel?
I take photos of everything. I love Instagram and that’s my little diary of what I see and how I see it. There’s something about travel. I think I’m most creative when I’m moving. Whether it’s the train from Washington D.C. to New York, the plane, or driving a car… There’s that physical thing when you drive a car and roll the window down, and you go. The physicality of going and feeling in charge of your own destiny… I don’t know, I always think of something while I’m in the car, where I can’t really write it down…
I can totally relate to this!
[LAUGHS] I come up with the most creative things and then, by the time I get to my destination, it’s like “What the hell was that?” That concept… Voom – It’s all gone!
Maybe it’s the motion? Maybe it’s the sights or disconnecting from…
You have a strong voice as a designer and so I wanted to ask you – Can you summarize what you think goes into a good design.
I think it’s quite simple for me: I think good design is something that pleases the eyes and activates the mind. You see a lot of good design that’s really pretty or beautiful… but I just don’t think that’s enough. Good design goes one step further. For example, I think almost everyone can make a really good first impression, but not everyone can make a very good lasting impression. And ‘lasting’ is the key word in good design. It’s something that sticks with you and something that has the power to move you emotionally. Does that particular design give you goose bumps? Is your spinal cord tingling? It’s that physical response that you can’t really explain what it is, but you know, good design has that power to stick with you and has lasting impact.
So… it’s as much a case of “last impressions” as “first impressions”?
[PAUSES] I think you have to create first impressions that last.
You’ve said before that “People who ‘get’ design are people who have vision; they’re imaginative and take risks”. Do you think that risk-taking and confounding expectations is an essential part of creating compelling work?
I think consumers these days want to be delighted and surprised by something. How do you create design that’s very unexpected? Through innovation. So… where does innovation come from? It comes from experimentation, right? You want to try to do something new that no one has done before. And in order to experiment with something, you have to take risks. Risk is a key ingredient for a creative person. You have to have bravery–to not be afraid of taking risks and trying new things, to not be afraid to fail–in order to create something new that no one has seen before.
Are you seeing people trying new things and taking risks these days?
I think we’re in turbulent times. I think things change everyday and what I’m doing today might not be relevant six months from now. So it’s really hard to predict the future, but one thing I know is that, whether it’s a new piece of technology, whether it’s the new Apple Watch… technology is great, but what design can bring to technology is to make it something that has a lasting impact.
What do you think that your industry can do better to promote that kind of approach?
I think that the smart clients already know that, if they want to be successful in their business, that you involve the designers from the very beginning stages – not just bring them in at the end. Having a designer at the beginning of the process – or at the brief – is very important, because that person is going to be thinking way differently than an ad person or a copywriter because he or she is thinking in terms of the ecosystem, thinking systematically.
What do you think your task is as a designer?
I think the designer has to create something that’s built to last. A lot of what we do–whether a brand logo, corporate identity, or product–our designs usually have a much longer shelf life than any ad campaign.
Can you give an example of how good design creates a longer-lasting effect?
It’s not always about selling things, is it?