PANN LIM

Graphic Design

Kinetic Singapore

https://kinetic.com.sg/

Family and kinfolk. These are anchors for Pann Lim, co-founder of Kinetic Singapore, a local creative agency founded in 2001. With no less than 550 awards to its name, Kinetic was recently ranked 5th as Design Agency of the Year 2022 at the D&AD awards. Pann Lim was also the recipient of the prestigious President*s Design Award “Designer of the Year” in 2013. However, Pann does not over-rate these accolades. He remains grounded and shares some hard truths in running a creative agency for over 20 years, where hard work and humility never lose its value. Our writer Chris Low gets some life and work lessons from Pann Lim.
  • Company Name

    Kinetic Singapore

  • Company Founded in

    1999

  • Original Founders (1999)

    Carolyn Teo, Sean Lan, Benjy Choo and Adrian Tan

  • Successors (2001)

    Roy Poh & Pann Lim

  • Current Owner

    Pann Lim

  • Founder Birth Year

    1973

  • Education

    Dip. in Visual Comm, Temasek Polytechnic (1998)

  • Previous Job

    Art Director, Batey Ads (1999-2000)

  • Other Pursuits

    Rubbish Famzine

  • Other Pursuits

    Holycrap

  • 1st Office

    Thye Hong Centre

  • Period of Occupancy (1st Office)

    1999-2010

  • Estimate Space (1st Office)

    N.A

  • Number of Staff (1st Office)

    4

  • 2nd Office

    Joo Chiat Road

  • Period of Occupancy (2nd Office)

    2010-present

  • Estimate Space (2nd Office)

    2500 sqft

  • Number of Staff (2nd Office)

    16-18

  • 2001

    Co-founded Kinetic Singapore (the print arm)

  • 2006-11

    Nominated Singapore's Most Influential Creative Directors by Institute of Advertising Singapore and SMRT Media

  • 2012

    Awarded Singapore’s Most Influential Creative Directors of the Year by Institute of Advertising Singapore and SMRT Media

  • 2012

    Independent Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2012

    Design Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2013

    Awarded "Designer of the Year", President*s Design Award

  • 2013

    Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2013

    Independent Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2013

    Design Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2015

    Awarded "Design of the Year", President*s Design Award

  • 2015

    Design Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2015

    Independent Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2016

    Appointed Chairman for Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2016

    Design Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2016

    Independent Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2017

    Appointed Design Craft Jury President D&AD Awards

  • 2017

    Appointed Design Jury President AdFest Awards

  • 2018

    Design Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2019

    Design Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2019

    Independent Agency of the Year, Singapore Creative Circle Awards

  • 2020

    Awarded "Design of the Year", President*s Design Award

  • 2022

    Ranked 5th as "Design Agency of the Year", D&AD Awards

Family and Kinfolk

By Chris Low, 31 July 2022

Welcome to Studio SML. We are very excited today to have with us Pann Lim, co-founder of Kinetic Singapore. Hi Pann.

Hi. Hello! Thanks for having me.

Thank you so much giving us your time. I know time is a precious commodity to you.

I think it’s the same for everybody.

Just on that alone, what is a regular schedule like for you?

Regular schedule – you are talking like from when I wake up to the end of the day?

A normal workday.

I wake up quite early. I like to get some time to do some morning walk, so that I can reflect on the day, or reflect on the day before. That’s the time where I really straighten out all the planning, or whatever things that needs to be done for the day. I kind of do it all in my head first, then I will get ready to go to work. Before going to work, maybe spend some time with my wife before heading out to office.

Then yeah, after you hit the office, it's just meetings, looking at work, discussions, I think not anything unusual. I mean if you are in this industry, it's about you know, looking through work, discussion of work, planning strategising, looking at project briefs, problem solving and if there's presentation then we present. Then whatever that is within that day's planning, if it needs to end, then the day ends at whatever time. But most of the time, I do not encourage us to work beyond 8pm. I hope not to work beyond 8pm. I mean, if there are some of those sticky situations when we have to work later, then we will. But we try not to make that a habit because I think if you are energetic in your mind and body, you are able to do better work. And when you are happy you are able to take on life's challenges better. So, yeah, to me, I think it's really as balanced as we can be, but to say that we are a typical nine to five working hours kind of thing. I dare not say that every day is that.

I do not encourage us to work beyond 8pm. I mean, if there are some of those sticky situations when we have to work later, then we will. But we try not to make that a habit because I think if you are energetic in your mind and body, you are able to do better work. And when you are happy you are able to take on life's challenges better.

Your office has a staff strength about 16 to 18 people?

Around 16, yeah, somewhere there.

Is that considered a very lean setup? For the amount of work that you churn out.

Okay, to me, sizing is also a little bit like .... actually it's very subjective because I think every business owner has a company size that they desire. Some people like to have a size of 50 to 80 people, some maybe like to have just two persons. So for me, how did we derive at this number was also through two decades of work. I wouldn't say trial and error. There's no trial and error. It's just that after a while, I realise actually this size is pretty nice because we can take on projects that are big, we are also able to take on projects that are small. In this way, we don't grow too big, until we are unable to take on smaller projects. Because there are always different nuances to projects, big or small.

Like big projects, you get to explore certain things and small projects, you can explore ideas that sometimes can be more interesting, you know? Yeah, so the bigger the clients, sometimes they also have more management to get approval from and as we know, as long as there are more approval processes, sometimes work gets challenged because you know it passes through so many chefs' hands. So actually, the simple broth, which is actually just a chicken broth - all you need is a fresh chicken, some spring onion, few slices of ginger; becomes like you know, you've to add this add that, then it becomes something else. So, there's beauty in a big project and there's also a lot of beauty in a small project and we want to have both. Our company size is exactly structured for that.

I realise actually our size (of around 16) is pretty nice because we can take on projects that are big, we are also able to take on projects that are small. In this way, we don't grow too big, until we are unable to take on smaller projects. Because there are always different nuances to projects, big or small.

And do you find that after 20 years in this business, you guys have won so many awards, right? Do you think actually with so many awards? It's kind of intimidating for smaller clients. Because perhaps you are so established, do clients actually sometimes approach you thinking that you may not want to take them on if their scale is too small.

No, no, no, I think for us, we have never thought about it as the aggregate of our awards becomes something that makes us unapproachable. I think I've never experienced it that way. What we usually go by will be - do we have the bandwidth to take on a project? Because bandwidth is important. We can always take on projects senselessly like, "Oh, I want to do more and more," right? But actually, for me, I've come to believe that if you take on too much, more than you can chew, even the tastiest food won’t go down well because you're just struggling, trying to chew it down to size.

So, we've developed this discipline that only if we have the bandwidth to take on a project, big or small, then we'll take it up. That's of course besides the part where, you know, the budgets must be fair. Because you know, we can't be doing something for nothing and so there are a few criteria, of course. And of course, sometimes during client meetings or first meeting with a new client or whatnot, I also go a lot by intuition. For this part, I don't think I can speak for everyone. Intuition comes very individually and it's very personal. Sometimes my intuition says, "I'm not so sure", then we walk away. Yeah, we walk away. But if let's say the intuition is good and you know that you can sense that both parties really want to make this thing work. And then I'm of course, very excited to be part of the project as well. I will never say that we choose our projects, but I think more so, we need to know whether we are suited for the brief because there are many things that can go wrong.

Let's say, I just use this an example, okay? So, for instance, let's say you go to a film director who's amazingly known for shooting horror films, and you go to them to shoot, maybe I don't know, a rom-com, for that matter. Of course, that particular talented director will be able to execute both genres very well. But for me, I will always look at the project brief and I ask myself first, are we the studio and agency to take this brief up? If we look at it and I think no, this is not something we will do well and it's very irresponsible for me to take up the project and to let the new client down. Then I'd rather not take it up, even though it's a business prospect, right? Most businesses will say, as a business prospect, you worry about that later. I don't think that thinking is wrong, but it's more like a personal preference as well. If I'm not sure whether I can do it - do a proper job. Or can I deliver on time because some deadlines are so ridiculous. They can tell you, “I give it to you today, three days later, I need it.” I don't think I can deliver at that kind of speed; I also will not take it up.

So, there are many aspects to meeting clients. I don't think they are related to what you just mentioned; are the small clients intimidated by the awards we have. No, we have never said that because we have won 'x' number of awards, hence, we only take on these kinds of clients. We have never had that thinking, never, not once, ever.

I've come to believe that if you take on too much, more than you can chew, even the tastiest food won’t go down well because you're just struggling, trying to chew it down to size.

Then looking back. Can you still recall what was the project that you worked on that got your first award?

Can I be honest? Yeah, I can't remember. I mean, I also want to share this thing about us being award-winning. The awards are not for us to display on the shelf, to look at it, and feel good and become another human being. No. The awards participation is actually to gauge at that point in time and space, where we are at with our work. So, you see, it’s a very funny thing, right? Like, let's say, to find out whether you are overweight or not, we go to a weighing machine and we gauge by the kilos or pounds. Then you want to know, who jumped the furthest, you know you can take part in a long jump and you can use a measuring tape and say, "Oh, how many cm did this person jump?".

You see, unfortunately for creativity it’s kind of hard to gauge, right? You can't say that "Oh, this fellow is .... you can't measure in kilos or centimetres and whatnot. So, then the only way to kind of 'weighing' will be by a few things - testimonies from your clients, if not, then testimonies from your peers, right? Because your peers are your most important critics, right? Because we are all in the same industry. If your peers feel that your work is no good, then it's not a good, sometimes. Okay, I won't say it's all the time. Then the other way is to let a panel of international judges who have a total of, let's say in a judging panel, a total of maybe 200 years of experience. And they are looking at this piece of work that's coming in from all over the world. I'm talking about, of course notable award shows right. And let's say you managed to be shortlisted, that is to me already a very good testimony to what we have done during that time. And if let's say it goes on to win a medal, then it's just a bonus. So, I'm not really like “Oh, I must win a medal and the medal must be in this colour”. No, I've never thought it that way.

I just know that as long as it’s shortlisted it means that it already caught the eye of a large panel and they feel that this work is worth looking at. And that's all that matters, right? If let's say to go on and we get lucky and we win something, then just maybe for that one hour, two hours, we feel good about it and after that move on.

I don't really look forward to looking at a trophy. I think to get it is just to tell you that okay, we have managed to still be relevant at that point in time. So now I want to know what I can do to be relevant next year. So that's what goes on in my mind. I won't go on looking and dusting and polishing the medals of the past. It is really not what I do. That part is just not me. I don't have a particular shelf where I think all the medals must be arranged neatly so that people can see our achievements. No, not really. It's really just staying consistent.

You know, being consistent is one of the hardest things, to be honest. There's nothing wrong being a one hit wonder. Let's say for instance, in your whole lifetime you only have one hit song, it's okay. It's better than you don't have a hit song at all. But then for me, my goal is, I hope I can serve my clients well with our all-rounded thinking, creativity and also be appreciated for our good servicing, you know, when we manage projects. I think that kind of expectation is something I set; to be so called all-rounded and to be fulfilling, you know. I also want to be someone who takes pride in doing the day-to-day stuff. And in order to do that, you just set standards. Yeah. In a way.

Being consistent is one of the hardest things, to be honest. There's nothing wrong being a one hit wonder. Let's say for instance, in your whole lifetime you only have one hit song, it's okay. It's better than you don't have a hit song at all.

When you mentioned the word relevant as a local creative agency. Is there ever a need to differentiate yourself from a large global creative agency in terms of approach?

I don't look at it from an approach point of view, I look at it from a thinking, conceptualisation and execution point of view as well. You know, this local, international thing, is never what I think of when we do our work. When I do my work, I don't think of how I differentiate myself from the rest of the local agencies or the international agencies, or whatever. To me, I think we just work based on what we feel is right. And of course, we are bombarded with work globally right now. With the access of superfast broadband, we are able to do any research in a really short time. We can see that the global standards are at a certain mark. And as long as we push out our work, we know that it's of a global standard. Then that's all that matters to me, but I never wonder, if I do this, how will I differentiate from that...

To me, it's important to know that you are currently in year 2022. Are we doing work that is you know, relevant to this space and time because if you look at like 40 years back, or 30 years back and you look at the kind of work that was the benchmark of that period, it’s so different from now, right? But I can't say that they did a bad job back then because back then that was the benchmark. Moving on with time, there's different elements coming in, there's different processes and the taste of people have changed, cultures also have changed. There's new cultures and whatnot. So, to me, that is actually more important than differentiating. How are we in tune and in line with what's out there? What's .... I can't think of a better word than relevant, right?

Let's say, and I like to use the example, let's say you watch a movie from the 1980s, there are still a few films that still stand the test of time. When you watch it, you still feel the editing pace is nice, storytelling is still very nice, the acting is ... for acting, if you're good in whichever era, your acting will be good. So, it's about the editing and the style and the way movies are made. If you look at movies these days, everything is fast edits; versus when you look at an old film, and you say "Oh my God, it's so draggy and slow. How did this film become such a hit back then?" I'm sure this is a very common thing, and you look at the younger generation now they will feel that the old films are too draggy, too slow. But back then, I remember very clearly when I was in that particular time and space in the 90s or in the 80s or even in the early 2000s, I did not feel that the film was draggy. But now when I watch it myself, that particular film that I enjoyed 20 years ago is so slow. So how do we explain this phenomenon? Because things do change. And that is why being relevant is important.

What we designed 20 years ago might not always be relevant today. But of course, there are also things that can stand the test of time, such as a timeless piece of architecture, you know, after 50 years, the building still looks awesome, and that's the genius of the design. I'm sure you've also seen some buildings that, say, was launched in 2009 and you look at it now, it looks pretty nasty. That's how it is. So, to me, I'm very particular about the work being relevant. Hopefully the work we can create is relevant and at the same time, hopefully stand the test of time. So that after 10 years, 15 years, when you look at it, it doesn't make you cringe. But it does happen you know, I do have some old work that when I look at it, I think oh my gosh, during that time it really looks like that.

Hopefully the work we can create is relevant and at the same time, hopefully stand the test of time. So that after 10 years, 15 years, when you look at it, it doesn't make you cringe. But it does happen, you know... I do have some old work that when I look at it, I think oh my gosh, during that time it really looks like that.

A few days ago you had what you call Kinetic Day. Can you share with us what Kinetic Day is?

Yeah. First July is our birth date, so to speak, the day they started. So Kinetic was started in 1999 by Carolyn Teo, Sean Lam, Benjy Choo, and Adrian Tan. I think these partners came together and started Kinetic Interactive. Back then it was, you know, that period when dot.com was booming. They started in a time where interactivity, digital design was booming. So yeah, they did very well and they created some of the best works around the world and business was growing steadily. But you know, the setback about a time like that; during that time, client’s budgets were still not ready for digital. So, while it's booming, it only accounted like less than 20% of their total A&P or whatnot. There was still a lot of requests to do print work, press, ads, TVCs and whatnot.

Two years later in 2001, because Kinetic Interactive grew and they had quite a number of clients and the clients liked what they did and they said: "Do you have a print arm to support you?" So that's where I was roped in, together with Roy Poh, with the rest of the partners, to start Kinetic Design and Advertising. Because I was print trained, the guys who started Interactive, they were all interactive trained. So, then we were like a full-fledged 360 agency actually, in 2001.

We operated under one name, but actually we were kind of two companies. Again, business grew steadily and throughout the years, different partners pursued different interests. I think maybe in 2019? I kind of took over the whole agency. While I am not the original founder, I'm just a co-founder in 2001 but now I'm running the shop. So, every 1st July, other than the last two years during COVID, this was the first time we could gather as a whole company and got to go out. The previous time, we were all still kind of working from home. What I did then was I hand delivered presents to every single one. So I'll call them: "Hey, please come down from your house or come out from your gate." So I hand delivered some things to them. And yeah, it's good to be able to celebrate Kinetic Day, four days ago. And we all went out, from morning we had fun and games, we hung out, we had lunch and until dinner we drank and yeah, pretty much a celebration of sorts.

When you guys celebrate, because you're already hyper creative, so when you celebrate is it regular? Or is it really like out of this world?

No lah, we didn’t really do anything but actually for us I do not think that when we celebrate, it is linked back to any creative things, but it's more like we just really want to spend time together. It will be good that you know, we sit down and just chit chat some more and have a meal together then later we went to ... I can't remember where, I think near Jurong? We went to a fish farm to do prawning. We went there to prawn. Some of us have done it before. A lot of us have not done it, so it was just a group activity, actually it’s more about teamwork than being creative, to be honest,

It's one of those team building days.

Yeah, but we also don't purposefully call it team building, because for us we do things quite naturally, so our culture in Kinetic is, I would say, quite unique and strong. We don't particularly need to purposefully go and do something. But when we get together, things just happen... we just enjoy and laugh together, you know? I think it's very nice to hangout, like what you do when you have a bigger family, with more brothers or sisters.

What kind of staff do you attract, at Kinetic?

What kind of staff, as in people?

Is it people who are more visual communication, or design communication trained? Do you begin to see a variety of people wanting to join your firm?

I think most important for us, it's about a gathering of like-minded people. I think that is the first point. Then the other thing, which is very important for me is, are we getting a person with the right attitude to come in to join us? They can be a designer, they can be an art director, they can be an account manager, project manager, they can be an account director; any role that has transferable skills in our industry, we welcome all actually.

Of course, it will be quite impossible for me to hire an interior designer for the matter because we don't touch that much on interior spaces. Occasionally we do, but it does not warrant someone that is full time on it because we just don't have that kind of jobs that are coming in consistently. So in hiring, we are actually looking at creative people who can design, art direct and conceptualise very well. These are the skillsets that we need but I think above the skillset, it's attitude. I think that's the part that is 1,000% important.

I always reckon our space now currently, our kinetic family, I call everyone a kinfolk. Whoever you bring in, should be able to complement everyone; doesn't have to be like everyone. You should not find someone that is like everyone, we should find someone that can complement everyone. Then our family can grow in a unique way, but when we complement it means that the person coming in must be a team player, must be humble, must be hardworking and must be always there to help others. Then we can truly build a culture of brothers and sisters. Actually, that's the part that is the most important thing.

Yeah, so if I see someone's portfolio that's very good and during the interview process, when we chit chat, we find that the person is a bit, I don't know, maybe, you know, is like a rock star and you know, quite vested into their own fame ... I don't know. They are just full of themselves and then I’d rather not. Because none of us inside this office is like that. To be honest, if any one of the guys here are, I use the word cocky, I'll be very disappointed. And frankly every single one in the office is multi award-winning, to be honest. And I always tell them, if you become full of yourself right, that's the day that you'll lose everything. Because end of the day, humility is not even like a virtue or whatever; humility is mandatory in Kinetic. It's mandatory. If we don't know how to live humbly, right, we actually have nothing to offer.

To me, remember at the very early part of the interview, when we talked about how clients feel, will they feel intimidated if we are a multi award-winning agency. They should not because we have never approached anyone saying “hey, we've won awards so please take this idea and not do that”. No, we should not. No one should do that. No one should say "I know better because I'm an award winner. You do not know better; I know better and please go with this." What we will do is, if we feel that a client is taking a wrong turn, we will be there to advise them because end of the day they will still be the one who decide what their fate is. And I will do it in writing. I won't do it verbally, I'll do it in writing, I'll do it in email to let them know that our advice is to go with this, our recommendations are that, but the free will is still for them to decide what to do.

To me, that has always been our way. We do not feel that we are like a doctor, I prescribe you a medicine so please just take it. We're not doctors to be honest. Unfortunately, we are not. In a way, this has always been our method.

When hiring, we are actually looking at creative people who can design, art direct and conceptualise very well. These are the skillsets that we need but I think above the skillset, it's attitude. I think that's the part that is 1,000% important.

What is the design process like within your office culture: when you first receive a project? Are there people who will then conceptualise it, are there brainstorming sessions?

I don’t think the process is very different from most places because end of the day when you get a project brief, you have to brainstorm, to problem solve. So this is to me, if I distil it down to the simplest, is that. Of course, when we get a project brief, whatever that we are not clear, we will keep checking back with the client until we know what they are talking about, and we also know very well what they need. Then, of course, with all these KPIs or the needs and wants and objectives, we'll take it from the project planning and accounts and after being synced, we strategise and whatnot, then we will bring it to the creative teams. Then again, we will sit through one more round of discussion. And from the discussion, with all the questions there, if we need to go back to the client, we'll go back to the client to ask some more, if not, then we'll proceed to tackle it.

We do not have a star team that works on it. Everyone who's available is always welcome to join our project, even if someone is busy, but they want to take up the challenge, they are all welcome to participate in it. To me, I do not have this idea where only the senior team gets to do the fun things and the junior do all the rubbish work. No, we don’t have that. Everyone is kind of equal as long as you do not have too much on your plate. Because sometimes when a new project comes in, it's in the middle of another person's busy period. Then unfortunately that person cannot take on more. But I do have guys who are always hungry to do stuff. So even though they are busy, they will just say it's okay, they don't mind working late on their own. So, it's not that I ask them to work late, rather, sometimes, they want to do more. There's no discrimination if you want to do more and you want to learn more and you want to get better and you want to have more interesting things in your portfolio. I don't think it's my duty to stop them.

I always tell my team, if you become full of yourself, that's the day that you'll lose everything. Because end of the day, humility is not even like a virtue or whatever; humility is mandatory in Kinetic. It's mandatory. If we don't know how to live humbly, right, we actually have nothing to offer.

So, this naturally generates the sense of ownership for projects.

Oh, yeah. Because you see, everything starts right at the beginning, the hiring process. Whoever that you bring in: their attitude. If you bring in someone who feels like "Hey, I've done my job already, why would I want to stay late? I’m going back first". Because usually anyone who's done, they will just say: "Does anyone need any help? I'm done with this.". So if someone takes on another extra bit to help another friend, everyone can go back maybe forty-five minutes earlier. So, this way of working has been quite natural. Of course, there are times when someone finishes early because they have a dinner then of course they won't pretend to say: "Anyone needs help? But I need to go off in five minutes." That's ridiculous then. I don't know how to explain this, but so far, the glove fits well and so far, it's been quite pleasurable to watch how everybody works together.

Because usually anyone who's done, they will just say: "Does anyone need any help? I'm done with this.". So if someone takes on another extra bit to help another friend, everyone can go back maybe forty-five minutes earlier.

Is it difficult to find young people to fit in to this work ethics?

I don't know whether is it difficult to find young or … hmm what’s after young?

Fresh graduates maybe?

Young or medium, middle weight. At any level, it's always hard to find like-minded people, at any level. It's always hard to find like-minded people. But once you see one that is like-minded... I don't think it differs in age group. But I think when you meet one, you will know that “Oh, this person really truly likes the culture like that.” Then that is the person.

Is it harder and harder to find? I think what we find harder these days is that in this current day and age, a lot of creatives might not be going into design studios or advertising agencies anymore. They are also going into different corporates that want to build their own in-house team. That is a fact. There is no denial of this.

A lot of great talent might be going into in-house teams for big corporations. And if you ask me, I wouldn't say it's bad for us because there are also a lot of graduates every year. And my wish as an educator is for every single one of them to find something to do. Find a job that they love to do. If it's not a 100% job that they love to do, then at least still get to do something using the things they have learnt. That's of course what I wish for. But because of that, sometimes we do lose quite a number of strong candidates to not just the different studios, but they are absorbed into other corporates.

So yeah, I think it's sometimes harder to find people but when we find someone and the attitude fits, yes, it's quite okay... I cannot use 'rare', as 'rare' seems like it's almost impossible to find. But yeah, it's harder to come by, but when you find that someone who is connected to the culture we have here, we know that they will very likely join us, even at the beginning of that 30 minutes of chit chat. You will kind of know. They are already interested in what we do. We are not talking about those who kind of like what we do, and they follow us like for every single project we have done. We don't expect our candidates to do that. But for those who already follow our work closely, it's quite natural for them to want to join us.

But those who know a few projects that we do, but they do not know us very well, then during the conversation we will share with them our culture and we see whether they are suitable for this culture. Because some people that we meet like to work in a big machine, you know, they like big companies. And there's nothing wrong with it, because it's just an issue of taste, right? Like Western food, or Chinese food, or Malay food. To me it's just a matter of taste.

I think what we find harder these days is that in this current day and age, a lot of creatives might not be going into design studios or advertising agencies anymore. They are also going into different corporates that want to build their own in-house team. That is a fact. There is no denial of this.

With your experience that you have: you have worked in big companies, as well. And then when you became part of Kinetic Singapore, what words of caution do you have for young people who want to start their own creative agency?

I think to start a studio or agency, it all really depends on the size you want to go into. Do you want to start with just yourself or you want to have a business partner or so and so forth? So, for me, to be frank, I've been so blessed to have a very good working relationship with all the business partners that I started with. Like for instance, with my last business partner - Carolyn, who is so instrumental in actually building the foundation of Kinetic. Four to five years ago, she had to take over her dad's business and unfortunately, she can't run two things. It was a huge loss for me. Huge loss. And that is because we had a very strong partnership together. While she runs more of the business aspect of things and I run the creative aspect of things, we might not see eye to eye all the time, but we both understood that we were all doing our job, to get the best thing for our client and the best outcome for Kinetic.

To start a studio or agency, it all really depends on the size you want to go into. Do you want to start with just yourself or you want to have a business partner or so and so forth? So, for me, to be frank, I've been so blessed that I have had a very good working relationship with all the business partners that I started with.

This is when you say 'complement' right?

Yeah, yeah. So, in a partnership, that is actually what's the most important. I will caution people who start their business because in your first three months, everything is nice. Everything is nice. Partnership is nice, but when you hit a roadblock where both the needs are different; because at some point, right, you start the same because you're working out of your parent’s home or something and later, one of you decide to, you know, maybe I don't know, get married or something. Your needs become different. And your other business partner, maybe is still single and still happily being single and his or her needs are also different. Just based on needs alone, it's already a challenge. Don't even talk about whether the moral compass, the way of working or the principle is the same, about agreement on whether to take this project or not, or whether this project is worth taking, even though the margins are very low. All these are challenging things that we don't even talk about.

So, to me, I always feel if anyone wants to start any business and have partners, you guys really got to sit down and discuss every aspect as detailed as possible. So that we know. It may not be anything contractual. I'm not saying we're going to draft out a bloody contract, no, not that. It will make the start unhappy already. You just need to sit down and talk frankly, like if next time, our lives change, what is the thing that we will do, and agree on something.

That means to open the can of worms first!

Yes! Open the can of worms and agree to something and when the day comes, always remember that you all had this talk, because I also know there are people where when the day comes, they pretend that they didn't have the talk before. You see, again, these all come back to whether you are with a like-minded person.

Like for me, I've been so blessed, and all the business partners have been well principled. Whenever we have challenges, we sit down and talk. We will always decide what's best for the whole outcome. Not for yourself, not for himself, not for anything but for everyone. So yeah, I think that part is critical to me, critical in a business. And that's on top of 'can you get any business', that's another thing. I'm not even talking about whether business is good and whatever. I am just talking about the foundation of this.

It's just like two persons getting married, right? It's very easy to fall in love but is it very easy to be in love all the way? That is the question. Falling in love is one thing, getting married and getting a place is one thing, then later staying in this place together forever, happily, is another thing. For me, what I'm trying to say is, from day one, try to iron out all these differences first and be frank with each other before you want to start something together. Yeah, this is pretty much what I can think of, which is very important.

You can hear from my answers, it's really more about family things than anything else. That is really the backbone of Kinetic culture. It's really just about taking care of each other. Because when you take care of each other, right, the whole environment will settle itself.

It's just like two persons getting married, right? It's very easy to fall in love but is it very easy to be in love all the way? That is the question. Falling in love is one thing, getting married and getting a place is one thing, then later staying in this place together forever, happily, is another thing. For me, what I'm trying to say is, from day one, try to iron out all these differences first

Because it's positively charged, isn't it?

Yeah! No bad mouthing, no nothing. I mean, I'm sure there'll be some gossiping on and off, here and there, which I might not know. But then it's normal to talk shit, but it's just what does it manifest into?

You also mentioned you're an educator. So what are some traditional skill sets that you had as a visual comms student that you feel now, is still relevant for a young student.

I've not reached my 60s and 70s, so I don't know if my skillsets will last that long, but I think the skills they need is to be able to conceptualise and be strong in an idea. That, to me, is always quite important. The other thing that should match that will be, how do you bring out the correct and applicable beauty of that particular project?

Beauty doesn't mean that a project needs to be beautiful, you know, sometimes there's this thing called ugly beauty - ugly beautiful. And if that particular project needs ugly beautiful, then that is the perfect match. For me, I think skillsets that will transcend time will be understanding conceptual thinking, understand the look of the time, which is what we spoke about just now. You don't want your work to look irrelevant. Understand the look of the time and also remember to hopefully make your project as timeless as you can. Because you also don't want your project to look like crap after one year or three years or five years. Of course, if you can understand that means you will likely understand subcultures and cultures, if you can understand that, at no matter what age group you are at, hopefully.

You can imagine next year I'll be 50, when I enter the 'five' in front of my age and I can still kind of connect with whatever people in their 20s are doing, 30s are doing, I think that part is important so that whatever I work on will hopefully still be relevant at that point in time. To me, I will always advise young creatives to have that in mind. Of course, when they are young, whatever they are in touch with, should be currently in trend, right? But I think that part is not the important part, because whatever they do that is in trend, might not have a very so called ‘in-depth’ thinking.

So, for me at the different stage of your career, you need to beef up certain areas in your arsenal. Of course, if they are young and they are strong in conceptual thinking and they are good with understanding what kind of look will match the kind of project, then next comes the most difficult thing, and that's the grit. The grit and perseverance and determination in a project. Because it's easy to be very prolific for the first two to three years of their (working) life, but to keep up with the same energy is another story.

We come back to that topic I talked about - which is consistency. If you don't have that, then after that, at the fourth year, you might not have the energy to continue, and it ends there. Or if it doesn't end there, then it just becomes like 'I just do my day-to-day work', and just get by. For me, I don't enjoy doing that, but I don’t know, some people might enjoy doing that. They just feel that if my day just go by, if I can get past, I'm okay already. So, to me these are a few things.

To also further your question about education, the other thing is attitude. Again, I've come back to that. Attitude is a lifelong learning. Because some people after 10 years, they get good, they kind of become another person. It's possible to become good. They feel that they have arrived and when they have arrived, they behave differently, they talk to people differently. They are no longer the same guy 10 years ago, things like that. To me, I think at every stage, it's a huge challenge.

Now, for me, I will try to un-learn my own projects. Because sometimes I know the process a bit too well, and I plan so ahead because I know the process too well, which I know, could not be an advantage. So sometimes I try to un-plan it because I'm planning 'too ahead'. Because I'm experienced in this area, so I plan too way ahead, which sometimes I might bypass certain important details. That's why self-reflection is important. You need to always look back, to see how you can better yourself. Self-reflection.

Beauty doesn't mean that a project needs to be beautiful, you know, sometimes there's this thing called ugly beauty - ugly beautiful. And if that particular project needs ugly beautiful, then that is the perfect match.

This skill of conceptualisation. How, do you think it works for you? Such that you can actually transfer this and teach your students because it's very abstract.

Yeah. So, you see, it's almost quite impossible to teach someone how to conceptualise, but you can teach them how to contextualise. For instance, let's say you are trying to put two items together. Let's say in one of the student's works, he used an apple. So, I'll ask the person: how do you contextualise this apple? It could be a few things, right? It could be about gravity because Newton = apple, that's one. It could be apple keeps me healthy because of the saying: an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Or it could be, I know apple has always been used as a representation of the forbidden fruit for that matter. So, this apple alone, if you contextualise it in the way you want; that is closer to the idea that you’re driving it, it means three different things, right? To me, that is also the beginning of conceptualisation.

But sometimes, some students just cannot connect these three things together, then you must find other ways to encourage them. Another way I sometimes get them to do is to be very well versed with all the amazing ideas that is done by some of the best agencies in the world. You can look through the D&AD website where all the years of amazing thinking and executed work, are all there, free for people to look at.

The problem is most of the time students are too lazy to look at it. Most of the time. I can guarantee you they find it too tedious to look at it. I know that if they find it too tedious to look at it, I kind of know that they probably are not the people I am looking for.

The people I'm looking for needs to spend time to think. Many times, people look at works, they say: 'Wow, the work is so nice. How did you think of this?' It's not how do we think of this, rather, we really spend time studying what other people are doing and we try to understand that, wow; to get a good idea, it needs to have good connection, sometimes it must be emotive sometimes, it must meet the client's objective and most of the time, there must be some kind of talking point. Because it must be interesting if not then why do you talk about it? For what right? So, all these little, little factors are actually critical in to coming together as a big picture.

So yeah, again, depending on the particular student’s interest. If their interest is to just do something beautiful, there's nothing wrong with that, it's just it will always be just something beautiful and when you look deep inside, there’s no meat. There's no deeper meaning. There may be craft, but there is no depth. So, to me, I think these two things are equally important. If you have depth but you have no craft, the story is tight, but it just looks terrible. It can't work that way, unfortunately. Just can't work that way.

It's almost quite impossible to teach someone how to conceptualise, but you can teach them how to contextualise.

We've come to the end of the chat. Thank you very, very much. I think there is a lot of things that we can reflect and think about. And also, it's so good to hear from you, sharing your experiences in terms of starting a practice, in terms of being relevant in this time and in this design field. Thank you so much.

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me and I really enjoyed the session. Thanks very much.

If their interest is to just do something beautiful, there's nothing wrong with that, it's just it will always be just something beautiful and when you look deep inside, there’s no meat. There's no deeper meaning. There may be craft, but there is no depth.

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