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Creative workshops in Singapore: Theseus Chan and Colin Seah share their design processes at Today at Apple

Creative workshops in Singapore: Theseus Chan and Colin Seah share their design processes at Today at Apple

Design lab

Text: Aravin Sandran


Image: @inventory.co
Image: @theseuschanwork
Image: @darrensohphoto

As part of a collaboration between Today at Apple and DesignSingapore Council that runs from March to December this year, design enthusiasts and professionals will get a rare opportunity to not only meet Singapore's award-winning legends such as WORK's Theseus Chan and MOD's Colin Seah first-hand, but more importantly, learn their unique approaches to design.

"DesignSingapore Council is committed to raising awareness and design literacy amongst the general public and design community through platforms such as the President*s Design Award, which is Singapore's highest accolade for design. Our objective is to engage award recipients, like Wendy Chua, Larry Peh, Lekker Architects, Colin Seah and Theseus Chan to impart their passion for design, and design skills, to the general public. We hope that participants will find their own inspiration at these Today at Apple workshops and explore design for themselves", remarked DesignSingapore Council's executive director Mark Wee.

Taking place this weekend on 3 August, Theseus will be revealing more about his bold approach to collage-making in a two-hour session that will see participants cutting, shredding and tearing their way to a one-of-a-kind digital masterpiece using the iPad and Procreate app.

We caught up with Colin and Theseus to find out more about the key experiences, tools, and influences that have shaped their understanding of design.

Colin Seah, Ministry of Design

Ministry of Design's Colin Seah has honed his sensibilites while working for the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind. As MOD's founder and director of design, he has led over 100 projects internationally and is a two-time recipient of the prestigious President Design Awards.

What experiences would you say have changed your understanding of design?
At a fundamental level, a recent shift in my perception of design has been of its power to address universal macro subjects, as opposed to just the personal micro issues, as well as my need to contribute towards this larger agenda. I was at a design conference recently, where a senior key local minister painted the fundamental needs of the nation in such a vivid manner, and posed them as a challenge for designers and architects to resolve through design.

Do you have any unique tools and approaches that you employ during your design process?
I almost always start my design process by defining a "design question". This "question" usually challenges convention on some level or another. It's in my nature to be a thought rebel, at least when it comes to design. Regarding tools, I use both Morpholio Trace and Paper 53 on my iPad Pro to test preliminary ideas.

While it is not often talked about, a lot of design revolves around commercial solutions as much as it can be about creative ingenuity. What have been your learning curves in business?
I agree. Designers serve at the pleasure of our patrons to fulfil a measurable commercial end goal. In recognising that, the continual challenge for us is to keep aligning ourselves with patrons who are like-minded in their goals. Patrons who also need to challenge conventions in order for their businesses to flourish. This is a reality that I accepted early on, and decided that the growth of our firm would be pegged to this. We would not grow just to take on any sort of design commission.

Who, or what are your main influences right now?
I try not to be overly conscious of this, although I'm definitely influenced by a wide array of things some tangible and distinctive while others are more peripheral and serendipitous.  The truth is, it's not super helpful to identify them because of the threat of subconsciously mimicking them too literally. Perhaps what intrigues or mystifies me is more important than what influences me.

What's your proudest achievement in your career so far?
It's odd that I can't name one in particular. It's because I don't see my career as a series of achievements as much as I see it as a continuum, an ever-evolving process. Also, it's because we never really established any fixed goals to accomplish, except maybe to remain true to the firm's ethos to question, disturb and redefine. The fact we still do that today despite commercial pressures after 15 years is great. Maybe that's what I'm proudest of.

What's one piece of design-related advice you've received that continues to resonate today?
Never stay within your comfort zone for too long.

Theseus Chan, WORK

As art director of award-winning design agency WORK Pte Ltd, the transgressive works of Theseus Chan defy traditional notions of graphic design: his WERK magazine challenges readers to consider the very idea of a publication (the densely printed 640-page no.26 "The Brutalist" edition couldn't be opened unless it was first deconstructed) while his collaborations with fashion labels Comme des Garçons and The Salvages have seen him venture into a territory of textile design that can be described as anarchic.

What conversations would you say have changed your understanding of design?
I was once asked what I would have done if not for the creative brief. It made me realise that my interpretation is far more desirable than my translation of the brief. It meant that I could go beyond the brief, and create something no one was capable of thinking of at that point yet. Go beyond the brief that you were briefed about.

Do you have any unique tools and approaches that you employ during your design process?
I usually embark on a search without having to be concerned about its outcome.This can happen when I'm simply playing around with papers, book dummies, or paints. Something will eventually come up when I'm noodling around with my MacBook or iPad Pro. Often, my assistant and I will simply 'do' and ideas happen. Chances are that you will encounter something even better than what you are capable of thinking at that moment by simply doing.

While it is not often talked about, a lot of design revolves around commercial solutions as much as it can be about creative ingenuity. What have been your learning curves in business?
The steepest learning curve has been managing the operation overheads in the design business. Ideas can come in waves, but processing and realising them with team members can be costly. What has saddened me of late is that business and short-term gains have superseded inspiring and visionary work. Great work is not as important as the bottom line. I believed that it should be the same.

Who, or what are your main influences right now?
Rei Kawakubo has always been an influential and inspiring business and creative example to me. As a creative business person, I realise that I need to be in tune with my intuition as well.

What's your proudest achievement in your career so far?
I am blessed that there are quite a few. It was a great honour for me to be the first recipient of the President's Design Award in 2006. I also have had the creative opportunity to work with design legends such Rei Kawakubo and Gerhard Steidl. Most recently, I was selected to create the Olympics Poster for next year's Tokyo 2020 alongside two other international artists and 16 Japanese artists.

What's one piece of design-related advice you've received that continues to resonate today?
Boldness in thinking, action, and execution; purity in ways you manifest your work.

While Theseus's session on 3 August is fully booked, check out the Today at Apple website for more details on upcoming programmes. Registration is free, but limited slots are available for each session.

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