CHERIN TAN

Interior Design

Laank

http://laank.com.sg/

If you have been to Violet Oon’s Kitchen at National Art Gallery Singapore before, and wondered who is the designer behind the exquisite interior, it is actually done by a relatively young designer in her 30s, Cherin Tan of Laank. Laank is a 8-year-old interior design studio that has done some remarkable interior works focused on human-centric spaces. Today, we speak with Cherin Tan on her design-in pajamas-from-the-bedroom one-woman-show beginning to how she overcome teething problems to build her studio of 12 today. And as curious and adventurous as most creatives, she shares with us her other loves in fashion, art, botany and occasional.. gluttony.
  • Company

    LAANK PTE LTD

  • Founded in

    2013

  • Founder

    CHERIN TAN

  • Birthdate of Founder

    MAY 1984

  • Education

    DEG. INT ARCH, CURTIN UNI

  • Education

    DIP. ARCH TECH, SG POLY

  • Previous job

    ASYLUM

  • Previous job

    WOW ARCHITECTS

  • Other pursuits

    THE BOTANIST & HER THIEVES

  • Other pursuits

    LAAT

  • Other pursuits

    ADJ. LECT, TEMASEK POLY

  • 2003

    Graduated from Singapore Polytechnic, Diploma in Architecture Technology

  • 2005

    Graduated from Curtin University, Degree in Interior Architecture

  • 2005

    Joins WOW Architects

  • 2007

    Joins Asylum

  • 2012

    LAARK was founded

  • 2012

    LAANK was founded

  • 2018

    The Botanist and her Thieves was founded

  • 2019

    LAAT was founded

  • 2021

    Appointed Adjunct Lecturer in Interior Design at Temasek Polytechnic

Made of Little Wins

By Kelley Cheng, 20 November 2021

Can you tell us, how did you start out in design? Have you always known that you wanted to be an interior designer?

When I finished "O" levels and was trying to figure out what I want to study - and like many people out there - I was like, what do I want to do eventually? Do I want to do fashion design? Or? It was a little bit confusing for me during that period. But one thing clear for me was that I've always had an interest in design, whether it is architecture or fashion or just design in general, that is something that has always been part of my childhood and growing up.

My brother who's about five years older than me was studying building management, so that kind of sparked my interest a little bit. We started talking about how it was like for him, to be studying a design-related course like building management.

And I thought how cool it would be if I were to become an architect in the future, and I can work with my brother. Hence, I signed up for the Architecture Technology course at Singapore Polytechnic, which was the only architectural course available in Singapore amongst the polytechnics at that time. Yea, and from there, that's when I slowly started to figure my preferences, which led me to realise that actually architecture is not my biggest love, and it is actually interior design that I prefer. And that was when I slowly skipped towards interior architecture.

After Polytechnic you went to Curtin University to do your degree? Any particular reason why you choose Curtin?

Yea, after polytechnic, I was like, what's next now? I do love architecture, but I don't love it to the extent of wanting to become a registered architect, as it is a little bit more technical and dry in that sense. And I prefer things that are more fast-paced. So the logical move for me was to focus on interiors, and fortunately for me, Curtin offered a hybrid course called Interior Architecture. That kind of allowed me to jump over quite easily as well. So, that's kind why I chose Curtin.

Yea, that makes sense. Because a lot of the schools here offer either interior design or architecture degrees. After you graduated, you have interned and worked at companies such as WoHa, WOW and Asylum. What did you learn from these companies?

With every company, I learned different things, especially when they're at different stages in my life.

At WoHa, I learned a lot about technical detailing. At that time they were working on a lot of MRT stations. They were also working on St. Mary's Church... I get to see all these very intricate detailing, coming from the architectural standpoint.

And that kind of inspired me. I didn't really enjoy technical detailing at that point, but I learnt that there's actually design and beauty in technical detailing as well. And with WOW Architects, that was my first exposure to hospitality actually. That was also my first job as an interior designer. And just being able to work on hospitality projects at that scale, it really opened up my eyes to see like, wow, there are so many different types of materials, and managing the scale and proportion of these projects, these were all new to me. I was in my early twenties, so these were all huge eye-openers for me.

Asylum was definitely a very special place, a place that I hold very close to my heart because I was there for a long time as well. And you know, the people there are like my second family, Chris and people like Cara and many others, they really opened up my mind and changed my perspective about how I perceived design. You know, when you were a student growing up, you just think like, oh, design is a selection of materials, a selection of wallpaper, space planning and they are all very technically driven; whereas at Asylum, because they are multi-disciplinary, how they look at their projects is from the perspective of an ad agency, from different angles.

You look at the project from the client's view, you look at it more as a design of experience, mindset and things like that. So I think I learned a lot about that and of course there was also the input from their branding arm, and all these kind of influenced the way that I drew inspiration for work as well. Yea, so that was pretty awesome for me.

Asylum was definitely a very special place, a place that I hold very close to my heart because I was there for a long time as well. And you know, the people there are like my second family, Chris and people like Cara and many others, they really opened up my mind and changed my perspective about how I perceived design.

And so what made you decide to strike out on your own and start Laank in 2012?

Well to be really honest, I actually didn't intend to, I was actually just planning to take a sabbatical and I wanted to travel. But then I was like, okay if you want to travel, you better start saving and maybe start doing some freelance work to earn a bit more. But then one project became two, two became three, and it just kind of never stopped; it became a bit automatic and it just grew from there. Then soon I realised, okay, I better register the firm right? Looks like there is something official going on...

But then one project became two, two became three, and it just kind of never stopped; it became a bit automatic and it just grew from there. Then soon I realised, okay, I better register the firm right? Looks like there is something official going on...

That was a good problem.

Yea, it was a good problem. Other than the fact that I didn't get to go for my sabbatical in the end...

Oh dear.

But then I thought it was quite a nice starting point for me as well, because, you know, it was truly the first time that I got to do something that I basically get to call the shots, I get to like decide, I get to make the mistakes, you know things like that.. so there is a certain freedom in it as well, which I kind of enjoy, you know? So I think that's why I was so decided, you know, let's try this out and give it my all to see where we can go from there.

And, what does Laank stand for? It is a very unique name.

Yea, it actually doesn't mean anything… I used to have a fashion label called Laark.

So it started before Laank?

Yea, it was a passion business that I started and Laark was about creating very fluid shaped silhouettes for ladies wear. I hated the whole idea of S, M, L and XL and all that. So I just wanted to create a brand with a clothing range that was not based on any size. So Laark was named after the bird “lark”, to have the meaning free as a bird. It has a nice ring to it as well. So when I started Laank I was like, hey, wouldn't it be nice if we could just kind of carry on this double “A” thing. And Cara - who is the creative director at Asylum - was like, hey, you know what, let me design your logo as my farewell gift to you.

I was like, awwww, okay. So she kind of designed the double “As” as like shelters and roofs and we added a colon to the back of our logo and that represents that there's always a story to tell. So I kind of figured like, okay, Laank doesn’t really mean anything and is not an acronym for anything, and that is okay. Because it's also a gentle reminder to myself that, you know, sometimes in design, you don't have to overthink it too much, you just kind of just go with it, you know.

Yea, it was a passion business that I started and Laark was about creating very fluid shaped silhouettes for ladies wear. I hated the whole idea of S, M, L and XL and all that. So I just wanted to create a brand with a clothing range that was not based on any size. So Laark was named after the bird “lark”, to have the meaning free as a bird.

What were some of the teething problems you faced when you first started Laank?

When I first started, it was kind of… just everything happening at one go, you know, there was so much going on and you know, I was so new to all that, I don't even know how to balance my books, for example. It was a lot of learning on the job and at the same time, I was also expected to know all these things. So the learning curve just was kind of expedited, right? So that was one of the bigger problems that I remembered and also, eventually, as the jobs came in, you need manpower right? And at that point, I can't exactly afford manpower as well. So there's a lot of juggling, I guess.

So you were a one-woman-show for how long?

I think it was for about six months and then I was like, okay, I'm kinda dying... and I had no office when I started out, I was just in my bedroom, in my pajamas, 24/7, 24 hours a day just churning out work. So after six months, I was like, I can't take it anymore. And so, I caught up with a poly mate who just came back from overseas and I was like, *ey *help me la. And that's kind of how we had our first hire.

I had no office when I started out, I was just in my bedroom, in my pajamas, 24/7, 24 hours a day just churning out work. So after six months, I was like, I can't take it anymore. And so, I caught up with a poly mate who just came back from overseas and I was like, ey help me la. And that's kind of how we had our first hire.

What were the types of projects at the beginning and how did these projects come about?

Hmm, I have the worst memory … But just off the top of my head, my earlier projects were .. hmm ... I was quite lucky because I had some ex-colleagues who branched out to set up their own firms. And their expertise is branding, so they had a few clients who were starting up new businesses, so there was an opportunity for us to come in to do the interiors, and they were very kind to recommend me these jobs.

One of our earlier projects was actually a yoga studio. Slowly, slowly, my brother also recommended some jobs from Thailand, as my brother is based there. So we kind of got some contacts from his clients as well. Yeah. And eventually we started doing things like service offices, and then, that led us to small startup restaurants and things like that.

Today you have more than 10 people with you, do you have a business development person or team to do the marketing to ensure a steady flow of jobs?

No, I don't have a business development person… that's me actually (laughs). Marketing… no… we don't have somebody full time, but I did hire a creative strategist last year. It's a role that is quite unique, to me at least. Her role is to creatively look at the strategy of the company and the voice of our works, you know, the type of work we do and things like that. So, yea, thankfully I do have a person who's helping me with that now.

So, out of curiosity, as you said, this is quite a unique role. So what does she do exactly? Does she have to liaise with clients, or does she tell you if it is the wrong client? Or?

I think there are two parts to it. There's internal and external. So from an internal point of view, we look at, uh, strategising … in terms of things like manpower, like what are the type of people we should hire, what are the roles that we need, you know, or what are the processes that we need to change to be more creative, and things like that.

Then there are also things like PR and marketing, you know, what she does is to creatively strategise to see what is actually best for us. And, you know, kind of like tailoring some of these solutions to what is the current climate of what we are doing. And there's also external, where she helps us to look at our work from a creative strategy point of view in terms of brand positioning for the client.

She also looks into things like when we design a space, how do we design it and why, what drives the space? We have to look at it from a creative strategic point of view.

Got it.. okay, so the next question is - for a lot of small studios, as you grow - and you having started as a one-woman show where you do all the design - to now where you oversee a team of 10 over people, do you feel that your hands-on designing gets lesser and lesser? Or are you still very hands-on in your design or are you more like a big picture person now?

Laank is in our eighth year now. And up until just last year, I was still very much hands-on. Actually, I still am, but I think this year, partly, especially since the pandemic hit, you know, I kind of realised that, I can't sustain like that, especially in terms of personal wellbeing. How can one person just be everywhere, right? If you do 50 jobs, you can't be in all 50 jobs, right? Yea... so, I just kind of realised, it's not a good way to go about this long-term and hence, now we are actually going through a lot of changes internally where we change our processes.

Like how can I still be involved without having to attend every single meeting or having to look at every single document, or every single page of design and things like that.

So do you have more deputies to free your time up, or how do you manage that?

It's about grooming the people in the team and giving them that freedom and to have more trust in them, you know, in letting them do their thing and trusting that they have the capabilities and that they understand the DNA of the company to carry off what my intentions are.

So just to share this experience, because I’ve gone through that state before. So, first of all, yea, it's about trust, you know, letting your deputies take more control so that you can do selective projects and, but you have to be mentally ready, there will be some mistakes. Yea.. you must be willing to live with it, but you should take it in the same way that we grow… we make mistakes too. So it's about allowing them that room to make mistakes and you know, you just have to suck it up when they do. But you will have more time to yourself, so the conclusion for me is that it's still worth it.

Yea, I definitely agree and I think I took that first big step of trusting, leaving things in the hands of somebody else. I think that's always the scariest part, right? But then once you do that, you feel, like, there's no regrets for sure. And I think the good thing is, I've made a lot of mistakes before in my own career too when I was starting out, right?

So for me now, whenever my team does make mistakes, I’m quite chill about it, it’s like, aiya whatever money can solve, let's do it. And if we have to redo something, let's just, you know. Ya, we just have to own up to our mistakes when it happens.

I've made a lot of mistakes before in my own career too when I was starting out. So for me now, whenever my team does make mistakes, I’m quite chill about it, it’s like, aiya whatever money can solve, let's do it. And if we have to redo something, let's just.

Absolutely, fully agree with you, for me, if it's a mistake that money can rectify then, let's just do that, you know.

Ya.. don't earn money.. it's okay la.

Ya, as long as we can move on from there. Anyway, in business, you win some, you lose some. It's not always a win-win. So, it's part of the game, it’s okay.

Next question is, you have offices in Thailand and Philippines. How do manage these branches remotely?

Thailand is... because, you know, earlier I was sharing that my brother is based in Thailand. So a lot of the business opportunities came from Thailand in the beginning. So, Thailand came about quite naturally. Philippines was a bit of a cute story. I had a technical designer with me, and he's been with me for many years, and his wife is also based here in Singapore, with another ID firm.

One night, we went out for company, drinks and we were partying really hard, had too many tequila shots and all. And two months later, you know, he was like, oh my wife's pregnant... you know.. from that night. So, I was like, wow! (laughs)

This is going to be his third, and his other two children are in the Philippines, taken care of by his mother and his mother-in-law. So we just sat down and had this very real conversation about like... you know… it just doesn't feel right that you're here and they're there and you're going to lose out on all these precious moments with them.

So, we had this agreement that, he'll go back earlier than anticipated, but we'll start a Philippines branch there for them. So what we've done is actually built a Philippines technical team there.

I see... So do you have to fly over there often or do you leave it very much to your brother and this guy to run the offices there?

My brother's not part of the picture anymore... so I haven't flown up there for a while. The Philippines team is about two years old only, it's set up just about before the pandemic hit. When we first started in the Philippines, we actually flew down with them and sorted out stuff and things like that.

And we actually had this whole plan to fly the entire company there and all that, but you know, then Covid happened and then, ya... So, hopefully we can go up there - fingers crossed - next year.

What is your design philosophy and how are these philosophies shaped?

Hmm… I think for the last eight years, you know, our philosophy has always been about how design needs to be for the people. The way we approach our work has always been quite human-centric, you know? So we look at it from the perspective of the client and the people who are using the space, or how they will react to the space. It’s not so much about whether this is the style of work we like to do or want to do.

So we kind of handle each project uniquely. And that's why, if you look at some of our work, we don't really have a fixed style because we feel that the design is actually the answer to the client's brief and the client's needs. Yea, so that has been our philosophy. We are actually going through a rebranding exercise now, because after eight years, I feel that to be human-centric in design is actually a given now, you know, it's a must.

So we are looking at a new philosophy of, you know, one about processes actually. So I relook at our processes, alongside our creative strategy and things like that, because we want to create an environment that's more encompassing as well. You know, it's not just about just designing what a client wants and okay, nah, here you go. We want a process to involve the client a little bit more, you know? And how do we involve our own designers a bit more as well? And how much further can we take with some of our processes rather than just dealing with deadlines. It’s not just about, I take inspiration from here and this is what I do, and that's it. Yea, I would say processes is what is important.

You know, it's not just about just designing what a client wants and okay, nah, here you go. We want a process to involve the client a little bit more, you know? And how do we involve our own designers a bit more as well? And how much further can we take with some of our processes rather than just dealing with deadlines.

So far in your journey, what was the lowest point?

Hmm, I think it's quite hard to put a finger on exactly which was the lowest point, but I do remember that, at a point in my career where I felt that... like... you know, there's just so much weighing down all the time. You're just firefighting every day, you know, in and out. And sometimes, we have manpower issues as well. You know, people don't really stay for, like, 10 years anymore. So the fast turnover was one of the big struggles that I had to go through. And I think for things like turnovers, you can't help but feel demoralised sometimes, you know, like, why am I not doing it right? Am I not giving them the best environment? Is my work not inspiring enough, you know? So it's a lot of these questions that you ask yourself, and when you overthink it, sometimes you just fall into that little rabbit hole, right? This is something that some of my other friends that have their own businesses experienced as well. It's something that we all resonate a lot.. ya..

You know, people don't really stay for, like, 10 years anymore. So the fast turnover was one of the big struggles that I had to go through. You can't help but feel demoralised sometimes, like, why am I not doing it right? Am I not giving them the best environment? Is my work not inspiring enough? So it's a lot of these questions that you ask yourself, and when you overthink it, sometimes you just fall into that little rabbit hole.

Ya, I also resonate. Manpower is tough ah. People come and go, and there’s really no way to keep them these days, especially with the millennials. Hmm..I don't know what your experience is, like, do you think the young people’s stay are getting shorter and shorter?

Ya.. I think the first, maybe six years of Laank, that was my biggest struggle. Like, you know, I kinda just adopted that tone of voice where I kept saying, like, aiya, millennials la you know, they are easily bruised la, you know, they cannot handle hardship.

I said the same things that I heard, the same things I read about. And then I think it's only in the last, maybe two, three years that I felt like, "Hey, you know, like, this is our future generation, you know? If I cannot understand them, then what am I even doing here?" So I kinda changed my perspective on that.

And, you know, I kind of spent quite a bit of time listening to what is it that they want, what is it that they are going for? What inspires them, what motivates them and things like that. And then slowly I started to understand that it's not that they are afraid of hard work, you know? We think that they cannot 吃 苦 (take hardships), but I think that's not true because .. like, my team is made up of a majority of millennials, and they are the most hardworking bunch I've ever met, you know? And I just kinda come to realise that it's just that they get inspired very differently. They get motivated very differently. What I consider valuable is very different from what they consider valuable. So I think it's just a whole new, different perspective and it took me, what, a good six years to realise that!

I spent quite a bit of time listening to what is it that they want, what is it that they are going for? And then slowly I started to understand that it's not that they are afraid of hard work, my team is made up of a majority of millennials, and they are the most hardworking bunch I've ever met. I just come to realise that it's just that they get inspired and motivated very differently. What I consider valuable is very different from what they consider valuable.

Yea, that's definitely a lesson that we all have to learn. So what is it that they value? Maybe I could get some tips from you...

Maybe, like the way they perceive work for example. You know, for us, I think we belong to a generation where work is survival. You know, we've had bosses that we don't like; we had design briefs that we hated and things like that, but we just do it, right? Because that's what is expected of us, you know? But fortunately, for some of us, we also had the opportunity to do a little bit of both, like, work is survival, but yet you have some room to, you know, figure out creative expressions and things like that.

I think that with a generation like the millennials today, they are looking for a lot of value in what they do. You know, if you ask them to design a restaurant, they will want to know what is so special about this restaurant? Besides wanting to create an award-winning restaurant design, is the client adopting a philosophy that's very different or very interesting, you know, is the client authentic about what they do?

They look at it from a very different perspective. And actually, I think they expect a much more authentic perspective then we did. So I think that's why their perception is very different, you know? And it might seem like they are hard to please but actually they question themselves a lot more now.

Would you say that they seek more meaning in their work?

Definitely… everything's so fast-paced for them, right? You know, for us, we were from the dial-up generation. For them, they already know a lot of things already, you know, everything is at their fingertips.

So, you know, it takes a lot more to keep them motivated, to keep them inspired, you know, but that's just the way it is right now. And sometimes I feel like I have to catch up actually. You know, I feel like you can learn more from them these days.

And you are not even that old yet!

Yea... but you know, I have a young team and they will be like. Eh Cherin, do you know this? This? This? And I'm like, "Huh, what is that?" So ya, I think there's just so much to learn from each other, actually.

Definitely, yep. And, so, on the other end, what was the highest point of your career so far?

Hmm… honestly, when I think of a question like that, I feels that it is the small little wins that matter, you know? That just kind of lead to a general level of happiness. I can't find, like, that one highest point yet. But I think we have many, many good days in the office. Like last night, one of our designers got engaged, and I feel like that was a high point for us. Cos we were all anticipating this engagement for a long time already, you know?

And the other high points are things like, whenever we do go out, like to celebrate our client's opening and things like that, we always have a lot of fun together. My high point memories are usually things like that, you know, or like completing a very difficult project, and we go there and pop champagne, that kind of celebration.

I feels that it is the small little wins that matter,. That just kind of lead to a general level of happiness. I can't find, like, that one highest point yet. But I think we have many, many good days in the office.

Yea, true. What are some of the unforgettable challenges and lessons in the journey? Was there ever a point in the journey that you thought aiyah (sigh), just give up. Damn sian (tired and demoralised).

Many.. too many times, right? I’ve got to admit - I do feel like having or running this firm or having my own business is an extremely lonely journey. You know, you share your joys with the entire team, but you know, when the business side of things get tough, you have to suffer alone, you know? So it’s been quite a lonely journey and, ya.. I definitely have thought of giving up many times, you know?

And I think the most unforgettable challenges and lessons… there are a lot of “self lessons”. I think things like learning how to run a business, and things like that, you slowly pick up at your own pace, you slowly learn. But I think along the way, you know, I just kind of force myself to look internally a lot, you know, and the more I look, the more I find, and then the more I find, I go like, wow, you know, I didn't know about all these things about myself, you know?

So I had to just kind of unlearn things as well, you know? And also be able to kind of just go easy on myself also. Because, you know, when you realised, oh, I got this flaw, I got that flaw or I don't do this well and I don't do that well; then you go hard on yourself, right? So I think that it really eats you up a lot. So being able to unlearn that, and just go easy on yourself, to just say, "Hey, you know, slowly la, one day at a time”, believe in yourself that you can do it. I think that was probably one of my most unforgettable challenges.

I do feel like having or running this firm or having my own business is an extremely lonely journey. You know, you share your joys with the entire team, but you know, when the business side of things get tough, you have to suffer alone, you know? And, ya.. I definitely have thought of giving up many times...

Which project or projects do you think had pushed Laank to its current reputation in the industry?

I think there are definitely a few key ones. But I kind of saw them as little nudges that kind of just nudged us along to where we are today. But I definitely think that projects like Violet Oon are important, with them trusting us to design all the outlets in Singapore. And that kind of affirmed our capabilities, you know.. to be able to share with the industry that, hey, you know, we can actually do work that is of a certain level and things like that. And I think that kind of boosted our own confidence a little bit la.

So, would you say that Violet Oon kitchen is a breakthrough project or were there a series of breakthrough projects for Laank?

Yea, I definitely would consider that as one of the breakthroughs. And I think what is interesting was the process of design we went through with Violet Oon, they were one of our first few clients who was super involved, you know?

And when chemistry like that was there, I realised that I really enjoyed the participation from the client. And I realised that I'm not somebody who needed the kind of designer validation, like, "No, the idea must come from me" then it means something, you know?

And externally, the project definitely gave us a lot of exposure. But I think internally we also realised that, "Hey, you know, it doesn't have to be so one sided all the time." Yea, so I think that's where we started exploring like, "Oh okay, how else can we work better with other clients?"

I realised that I really enjoyed the participation from the client. And I realised that I'm not somebody who needed the kind of designer validation, like, "No, the idea must come from me" then it means something.

What were some of the other projects that you deemed significant for Laank?

Hmm... I think maybe Boathouse in Phuket? It was a hotel that we designed in Phuket and what was unique about it is that, Boathouse was actually a very traditional hotel in Phuket and was the first hotels in Thailand that brought in fine wines and fine dining and things like that.

So the late king used to celebrate his special occasions there. So it held a lot of value and significance to the local community in Phuket. When we took on that project, you know, the client also took a chance on us. You know, they were used to working with big names who had a lot of experience in hospitality, whereas we were like... okay, this is our first hotel under Laank, you know?

So we just did what we did and then, we tried not to overthink too much and just did our best. With our concept, we tried to do something that encompassed the local community as well. And eventually the client was happy with the results.

And I think because of the sensitivity that we put in the work, the locals in Thailand started to pay attention to us as well. So I think that really helped us tremendously to be perceived as being more international as well, and not just like a local firm in Singapore.

Do you think projects like Boathouse and Violet Oon Kitchen helped to define the direction or a certain kind of standing for Laank?

I think not just with these two... with every project that we do, it kind of helps us define who we are. Hmm... when you say directions. I kind of think of it also as what it means to us internally, you know? I don't just think of it as just external styles and things like that. Like I was sharing earlier, Violet Oon just kind of got us thinking like, “Hey, you know, maybe our processes can change, you know?”

Maybe we can work with our clients closer because the end results are great. With Boathouse as well, it got us thinking like, “Hey, okay, now we know we can do a hotel, you know. Then, you know, what else can we do more? Can we do a hotel that is not so typical, maybe? Or can we do a hotel that means more than just a two night stay, you know? So yea, I would say that every project does actually help to define our direction as a company and as a whole.

So which is your own personal favorite project of Laank so far?

I think this one is going to be really hard to answer because they're all like your children. There is your blood, sweat and tears in all of them.

Ya, I understand. How about a handful of favorite projects? Because surely there are also the "not so favourite" ones… (laughs)

Ya (laughs) those we keep one side, under the blanket.

Ya, correct.

But ya, I think, personally... my designers always say I that I am very 变态 (literally means psychotic but used in jest to mean someone who has a out-of-the-norm moment), because the projects that I suffer for, or that we suffer for; that are harder, more challenging, more tricky, more intricate, those actually become my favourite, you know, because of that huge sense of accomplishment you get when you finish it, right?

By challenging ones, we meant from a design brief point of view, for example, Violet Oon Kitchen is definitely one. But to be able to design the first Singapore-identity restaurant, that was really, really, exciting for us. I think my second favourite is actually one of our recent projects, Wonderlit. It's a children drama center. The client has a lot of trust in us, in letting us kind of… just be very free in creating our vision for their project. And I think it turned out very different, like, it's not something that you expect when you walk into a children's drama center. So ya, I would say so far, these two. A couple many more la... but yaaa...

Do you usually choose the projects you work on or do you just take whatever that comes along? And if you do choose, what are the factors that you consider in accepting the project?

We didn't have the luxury to choose in the beginning, but I think we've been very blessed to have stabilised enough now to be able to choose.

So, we usually ask ourselves two things before we accept a project - one is how's the client? Like, can this client be a friend?

But this is quite hard to tell though.

Ya, it is, right? You don't really know who you're gonna be with until you sleep with that person, right? So like, hmm... I think it's just a general vibe. Usually what I like to do is, I like to meet the client first, face-to-face. To just hear the client talk about how they run their business, what their beliefs are, what their philosophies are. Just kind of get a gauge of them as a person first. Yea.. that's what I normally do, and if it's good vibes, then it's something that we will be happy to go along with. And of course the second part is, you know, looking at what they have la, if they want to design something that is truly authentic or is it one of those projects where like, aiya, I just want you to design something nice la, you know, that kind... so yaa...

You don't really know who you're gonna be with until you sleep with that person, right? So I think it's just a general vibe. Usually what I like to do is, I like to meet the client first, face-to-face. To just hear the client talk about how they run their business, what their beliefs are, what their philosophies are. Just kind of get a gauge of them as a person first.

How about the fee? It is important too, ya?

The fee?

Would you like, if they are not paying so much, maybe it's not worth doing? Because it's a lot of work to do an interior design project.

Yea... the math is something that is very important, especially when you're running a business, right? But occasionally, we do take in certain jobs even when the fee is not great. For example, a couple of years back, we did a cafe called Seeds Cafe for children on the spectrum. And they were trying to set up a cafe to train children and teenagers on the spectrum, so that they will have a job in the F&B industry when they grow up, . So they can be, like, a coffee barista, a waiter or waitress, you know? They can paint artwork and display it in a gallery, things like that. And when a project is so meaningful, things like fees, if it's something that we can absorb, we would la.

So it depends on whether there is a social cause to it la, in some way.

Ya... Or sometimes we get clients that, hmm.. you know, maybe their budget is not great, but they have something that's so good behind their ideas, or they are just such great people to work with, and they have great vision and things like that. And so we just try to do what we do, you know, try to make the best of what they have or what they can afford. And then, ya, we just go from there.

So for you, which genre of projects do you enjoy doing most?

I think generally I enjoy commercial projects the most, which is why we have like, maybe 2% on residential only.. (laughs)

I think that my team shares the same sentiment as well. But I think I'm a little bit of a... I like to try different things.. kind of person. So like, you know, we have done a few restaurants, we have done a few retail as well, and we have done offices and then we've done hotels, and then we have done exhibition spaces and all that.

And so, I would love to try genres, things like maybe a church or like a community project, or like, you know, hybrid spaces? Those are things that get me more excited these days. Yea, so because I just want to try different things and things that I've never touched on before.

Laank has worked on projects outside of Singapore, you mentioned Boathouse and I'm sure there are many others. Do you find that there is a difference in culture which affects the spatial requirements of a design?

I definitely think there's a difference in culture. Spatial requirements.. hmm.. I would think it's more a design brief difference. For example, let's say if we talk about Boathouse, you know, the contractors we work with, the vendors we work with, down to the hotel owners, they are all very different.

I would say that, actually working overseas is generally a lot more chill than expected. They too have a pressing timeline and things like that, but they are very embracing of new ideas. Especially working in Thailand, you know, it is a lot about the culture, and they really embrace it. They have this philosophy where they don't cut down trees, you know? So when we were designing, It's like, okay there is this tree in the middle of the restaurant, and we will still keep it. The restaurant needa to shift, not the tree, you know? So I thought these are things are really inspiring, and very different from Singapore.

Do you have to pay special attention to ensure that your design feels relatable for the locals?

Yes, definitely. Definitely so. Especially when you are designing on foreign land, I think that is one of our top priorities when we are designing there.

What are the main differences between working in Singapore and abroad? Are the clients' mentality different?

I think on a general level, most clients or business owners are kind of on the same page when it comes to things like numbers, right? I think that's always important for all clients. But mentality wise, I think Singapore clients are generally more competitive, they would benchmark themselves more to their competitors. Whereas what I noticed is that for overseas clients, they are really more interested in creating something that is truly their own, you know? And they're not so stressed out about things like, “Oh, so-and-so has done this as well... and so-and-so has done that”, you know? So I think they are more into an individualistic perspective actually, which is quite interesting to see.

Earlier you mentioned that, with Violet Oon kitchen, one of the interesting thing is that it is a establishment that should embrace a Singapore identity or that you are tasked to create a Singapore identity for them.So, how important do you think in general, when you're designing in Singapore, how important it is to put forth this Singapore identity in your design? Or is there even a Singapore identity to speak of to begin with?

I think Violet Oon Kitchen is a very different project because it was the client's brief that they wanted to design a restaurant that would represent Singapore. Violet had envisioned to have a restaurant, whether it is in London or in Singapore, when people walk by it, they will understand, “Oh, this is a Singapore look!” And I think the Singapore identity is not something that we can recreate for every project, for example, like, if we are designing a skincare or dental clinic, it's not something that we could just kind of fit in a Singapore identity.

But for restaurants that embody the Singapore spirit, then that's where we talk about the Singapore identity. And I think that's where we also try to dig deeper. Like, you know, Singapore identity, what does it mean spatially? For Violet, for example, there are certain distinct aesthetics to it, right? Like the Peranakan tiles and all that. For other brands, we look at it more internally as well. Like, what does the Singapore spirit mean? Sometimes you realised it actually has nothing to do with the layout or the material choice...

For the interior design of F&B and retail, sometimes you have to be a bit more “out there” to create an identity for the brand. Do you subscribe to the theory that form follows function? Or do you think that in interior design, sometimes, function can follow form?

Hmm... I think it is a little bit of both, to be honest. But I guess how I would perceive my work to be - is actually more about using design to problem solve things. So a lot of times, our designs is borne out of the solution to some of the problems that the clients have. Yea, so I would say maybe more function follows form actually.

A lot of times, our designs is borne out of the solution to some of the problems that the clients have. Yea, so I would say maybe more function follows form actually.

How important do you think that interior design is in establishing the brand of a company? Or shop or restaurant?

Well, I think just judging from how competitive everything is right now… I think if your brand direction is set in a way where you need people to experience the space, then I would definitely say, yes, paying attention to your interior design is something that's a must ah, even offices right now is a lot about experience, right. Gone are the days where offices are just nice for being nice, right? Now, they even need to be pandemic proof and things like that. So I think crafting and designing the environment that you're in, it's always something that's very important.

Do you think that social media play an important part in the branding and marketing of a brand, or a company?

Funny you asked this.. because remember I was sharing that we are rebranding right now, so like for the longest time, I'm like, oh, social media is so important, right? Instagram, Facebook, and all that. And then I think in the last year I realised, actually, maybe we could do without Instagram or Facebook. Because like, I guess it's really more a platform for us to just share our works, but if you want to talk about things like if you're trying to market the company, in terms of potentially bringing back leads, then maybe Instagram might not be the best platform, for me, personally. Yaa..so I do feel like even things like your marketing tools and your PR tools have to be a bit more creative these days.

For the longest time, I'm like, oh, social media is so important, right? Then in the last year I realised, actually, maybe we could do without Instagram or Facebook. Because it's really more a platform for us to just share our works, but if you want to talk about things like if you're trying to market the company, in terms of potentially bringing back leads, then maybe Instagram might not be the best platform,

Hmm… so what are these other tools outside of social media? Social Media seems to be so, like, the obvious choice for most people. So for you, what are these other tools?

Well, we are still figuring out what's the best direction for us. But I have seen some things that are quite interesting, you know, like, I have seen more videos now and I think, last time, if you think of interior design, you think of videos, right? They're all like, okay, this perspective, that perspective, you know? How many rooms, how big is the space? Before and after … all that. Whereas now, a lot of videos are actually more mood-driven, like, the videos kind of translate a certain vibe and no words, nothing, no explanation, no talking about how fancy a design is, it's just a certain vibe. I thought that is quite interesting actually. You also have things like collaborations, which are also very interesting as marketing or PR tools actually.

if you think of interior design videos, they're all like, okay, this perspective, that perspective, how many rooms, how big is the space? Before and after … all that. Whereas now, a lot of videos are actually more mood-driven, the videos kind of translate a certain vibe and no words, nothing, no explanation, no talking about how fancy a design is, it's just a certain vibe.

So, having been in the industry for eight years, maybe in the beginning, you just go with the flow; but at this point, do you have a branding strategy for Laank? And like, maybe you want to be known for doing only certain kinds of projects or, you know, so on and so forth?

The branding direction that we're going through right now, like I shared earlier, it's more focused on being process-driven. Like, if you ask me who is our dream client now? It would be a client who is collaborative with us. You know, it would be a client who is very respectful of the processes and are willing to work as a part of team, but also respectful in terms of the entire process of the construction and everything else as well.

As for a dream project, whether it is an office or a restaurant, I think to have this whole synergy with the client, and being able to come together and play together, I think that would be the dream project for me right now.

Interior design is a very competitive industry with a lot of companies providing design-and-build services and often cut-throat prices. What is your view on this? And what do you think can be done to better the situation?

Yaa... It's definitely cut-throat! (laughs) It's definitely competitive. What's my view on this? Hmmm... I think maybe the good thing is that the more competitive it gets, it also means that the industry as a whole is getting better. Everybody's standards are higher, you know. So I think with that, it also opens up opportunities as well, even though it's competitive. It made a lot more potential clients out there realise the importance of interior design. Like, you see, during this pandemic, there are a lot more people renovating their homes, you know?

So I think that's actually a good thing. You will always have competition. There will always be somebody cheaper than you too. And I think my view on that is that, you just have to be very sure of who you are, and if you are demanding a certain price, then you have to make sure that you are worth that price, right? And I think, just given time, clients will see that and that's where they will come back la. They will come back to you.

You will always have competition. There will always be somebody cheaper than you too. And I think my view on that is that, you just have to be very sure of who you are, and if you are demanding a certain price, then you have to make sure that you are worth that price, right?

Talking about COVID. How did the peak of COVID last year affect your business or did it affect the way that Laank worked?

Ya, definitely. When COVID hit, at first we were all like, er, you know, nothing la, just work from home right? And then when our clients started to tighten their belts, and we also had clients who canceled their projects, and we even had projects that were like three-quarters done and they abruptly terminated the contracts and things like that. It was quite a scary period for us. I mean, that kind of sent me into a little bit of shock as well. Like wow, what's going on, you know? But I think the biggest thing I worried about was, can we make sure that we keep all our staff? That was my top priority.

But I think we just kinda ride it out and just do our best at what we could do, with the clients that chose to stay. We just made sure that, you know, the whole design process and even the build process is something that we managed to our very best efforts lah. Yea, so, I mean, the good thing about the pandemic is that, we learnt how to work a bit more remotely as well. I realised also that I don't have to be in the office 24/7, like everywhere, around there. (laughs)

So that kinda changed a little bit for us. And I thought that was quite nice. But I think during that period, the best thing about that was also, we got to just focus on non-paying jobs actually. We created our own design briefs, you know, we imagined spaces of, let's say, what the future office or future retail will look like, and then just have fun with that lah.

When COVID hit, at first we were all like, er, you know, nothing la, just work from home right? And then our clients started to tighten their belts, and some canceled their projects, it was quite a scary period for us. But I think the biggest thing I worried about was, can we make sure that we keep all our staff? That was my top priority.

So with this experience of the COVID, that we are all working from home, do you think that you might consider not having a physical office or, do you feel that the physical office is still very important?

Yea, so I have been seeing everyone downsize their office and everyone's like, saving a lot of money for not paying office rental, right? And I was like wah, how nice, and I've given it much thought, you know, and actually I am thinking quite the opposite, I'm actually thinking of moving to a nicer office if we can, because I feel like with our design philosophies of wanting to play together a little bit more, I think we would need a nice office space for that, you know?

I see this direction essential and hence, I don't think I can do that remotely because when we discuss ideas together or just recreational bonding, having that physical space to do so, that is quite important to me.

Nowadays when the client comes to you for a project, do they give you a brief that, "Hey, you know, you must take into account this COVID situation, social distancing and all that because this COVID situation might not go away soon.” Do you encounter changes in brief to take into account the COVID situation?

Yes, definitely. I think like, as long as it's a restaurant or an office, the one thing you hear in a brief consistently is - can you please pandemic-proof this?

So yea, I guess, it is what they call the new normal, huh? But nobody knows when this situation is going to ease out, you know, even if we can start traveling next year. So I think having that flexibility to just adjust accordingly, I think that's always a safe thing to fall back on.

Since the pandemic breakout until now, construction cost has gone sky high. 30% to even 50% more. How does that affect your business?

It has affected our business generally, but it has definitely brought on more client concerns.

I think what it does affect is… we have to look at how we spend the money, for example, metal is something that has tremendously increased in cost. So we try not to use too much of it. We try to look at what are some other creative materials that we could use in replacement of that. And we realised that there are so many different types of paint that can simulate metal textures, and that kind of opens up possibilities, which is great. But I think fortunately for us, we worked with a handful of contractors who have been with us the last eight years, and they've managed to somehow keep their pricing the same, but timeline, of course, is not kept la. You know, it’s actually the timeline that is 30% or 50% more. Which is not a bad trade off, I think.

I think what it does affect is… we have to look at how we spend the money, for example, metal is something that has tremendously increased in cost. So we try not to use too much of it. We try to look at what are some other creative materials that we could use in replacement of that. And we realised that there are so many different types of paint that can simulate metal textures, and that kind of opens up possibilities.

Well, at least this is a good compromise.

Yea...

I’d like to touch on a little bit of Laark and Laat. So you actually have this fashion brand Laark, and a furniture brand Laat, right. Are they both still in business or they are now on a hiatus?

Laark is no longer in business anymore… It's physically impossible for me to manage, with the things that I need to do on the ID side. But Laat is something that is new and it's a passion. It's a passion business that Alvin Tan and I started. The name - LA comes from Laank and AT are the initials of Alvin Tan. We started this because, you know, Alvin being an artist and also a good friend of mine, we are always talking and sharing ideas. Day in, day out, I see a lot of construction wastage, whether is it off-cuts of marbles or nice furniture that the client wants to throw away… and I keep asking myself that, you know, very sayang la (a pity) right? Like, what can I do with all this la? And Alvin and I also kind of love the idea that Laat can be an outlet for us to just do something that is completely different from what we are so familiar with.

For Alvin, it is his artist's work. And for me it is like interiors, right? So when we do a project under Laat, the design process is completely organic, you know, we take whatever we have and you know, all these off-cuts and weird stuff, and we look at what we have and we go like, okay, let's play la. Sometimes we Lego it, sometimes we break it apart, sometimes we explore with the materials, and all that. So I think that has been really, really fun.

So you have a workshop to do all this, or how do you assemble the pieces?

I wouldn't say it's a workshop la… It's more like a storeroom… but ya, we make do. Haha. Hopefully next year, we can install aircon… (laughs)

And, how do you market these pieces or is it just a passion project and for fun?

Art Now at Raffles Hotel has taken us in, in the last two years. So whatever collections that we design and we do, they are exhibited at Art Now and sold there. Sometimes we do get enquiries about customisation as well. Ya.. so this is how we've been going about our retail aspect of it.

You also have a venture which you started with three of your friends, The Botanist and The Thieves? How did that come about? What's the motivation to start this?

Yea, so this is actually started with my ex-colleagues at Asylum... with Kara, Michelle and Cheryl. We are all really good friends since my days at Asylum. And after I left, we stayed in contact. I often invite them over for lunch, and we share this passion for plants, so we're like, hey, you know, we encounter a lot of these plant problems, and we actually found solutions through experience. One example is - when we do gardening it's super messy with all the newspapers, as it is the wet and all that, so we decided to design a potting mat.

And then of course, because we are all design trained, so when we design something, we also put a lot of heart and soul into designing the nicest looking potting mat you've ever seen, right? So, then we realised that actually there's a lot of design solutions that we can provide for the gardening community, and that is kind of how Botanist was started. And then we thought it would be really nice to be able to pull together a gardening community as well, because the people that we know who love plants at that point of time are all very separated and individual. Either that or… we bond with the auntie who has her own private garden in the HDB corridor and things like that. So we thought how nice it would be if we can start a brand that just kind of brings everyone together.

You have a physical shop for Botanist as well right?

Yes, we do, just this year, actually

How is the shop going?

Yea, it's doing great. We were looking at each other, like, are we crazy? We are starting out a physical shop in the middle of a pandemic. But, I think cause we've been operating as an online store for maybe the last three years, and then we thought, one of our best memories when we had running the business is actually getting to talk to our customers… like getting to meet them and becoming friends with them.

So then we thought, maybe it's time to just take the leap and have a physical space. And just so happened, we had a great offer from a landlord as well. So that's been going well. With the whole pandemic now, people are more interested in gardening because during the lockdown everybody was just picking up new hobbies and things like that.

Does Botanist synergise with your interior works? Are you able to specify some of the plants in your project or something like that?

Yea, it definitely does. I mean, I never ever push too hard, you know, but, sometimes clients who maybe Google a little bit and they realise, hey, I didn't know, Botanist was yours? You should have told me earlier then I'm like, “Yup, yup, you want plants?” (laughs) It kinda just works out sometimes.

Is there anything or any business that you hope to try out in the near future since you look like a quite an entrepreneur and you have your hands in a lot of different business, so anything you would like to try?

I don't know whether it's going to be a business, but I do have a huge interest in exploring materials. There has been this interest for a long time now actually, but, of course, with all the things happening, it's just like aiya… already so much things to do already… and if I were to start something, I want to make sure that I do it well also. But the exploration of materials is definitely something I want to look into, especially materials that are a little bit more sustainable.

I think sustainability is a very interesting topic to look at, you know, this word is being thrown around a lot. But, what is actually sustainable is a whole new, different thing all together. It's kind of like going to the supermarket and like, why do I have to pay $12 for my organic lemons ah? So why can't materials that are sustainable, be a bit more affordable ah? You know? So these are some of the questions that I've been asking myself, especially since I started LAAT with Alvin.

So, in terms of what you mentioned, do you mean you would like to source and import sustainable materials? Or you plan to explore the use of these materials..? What exactly do you mean with this interest?

I think it's a little bit of everything. Like what are the potential materials that we can bring into Singapore? What are the materials that we could create ourselves? What are some of the collaborations we can work on with the suppliers? So there's a whole sea of opportunities, I think.

I saw on your Instagram that you constantly post about food.

Haha, only food actually.

So is it also an interest of you to cook? Any plans to go into the food business?

No, no plans for food business. Cause I think cooking has just been something that is pure joy for me. There's no work attachments to it since the day I started cooking and it's very therapeutic for me. When I cook, I enjoy that whole process and it's very similar to the creative process. There's a lot of experimentation and you have to embrace your mistakes. My mom's a great cook, so she's been a huge influence. And the best part about cooking is getting to share it, and I do enjoy feeding people a lot! Before this whole pandemic, we used to get together in big groups, for Christmas parties and occasions, and we would just feast our hearts out!

Cooking has just been something that is pure joy for me. There's no work attachments to it since the day I started cooking and it's very therapeutic for me. When I cook, I enjoy that whole process and it's very similar to the creative process. There's a lot of experimentation and you have to embrace your mistakes. And the best part about cooking is getting to share it, and I do enjoy feeding people a lot!

You do also part-time teaching in Temasek Polytechnic, right?

Yes, correct.

So, as a part time lecturer, what do you think are some of the other skills that are important to teach to design students besides the hard skills of design itself?

I think in general, I always feel that there is a huge gap between a student that just graduated and then plunging them into their first job. And they realised, oh, culture shock, like work culture shock. So, I always find there is a huge gap there. I think some of the softer skills or hard skills… there's a lot of opportunities to look into that, even to teach them what to expect when they are at work, you know? In school when we study interior design, it's very stage-driven, this concept stage, that design stage… There isn't a problem solving element to it. So, when you make your first mistakes, for example, like, oh no, my table is too big or my circulation space is too tight and what do I do!? These are the gaps to plug, they are important skills for school to take on, to actually prepare the students for work eventually.

In school , when we study interior design, it's very stage-driven, this concept stage, that design stage… There isn't a problem solving element to it. So when you make your first mistakes, for example, like, oh no, my cable is too big or my circulation space is too tight and what do I do!? These are the gaps to plug, they are important skills for school to take on, to actually prepare the students for work eventually.

But that is actually what the compulsory internship is supposed to train, right?

Supposingly lah, but the internship sometimes is too short. I mean, the good thing is some of the schools now they've extended it to like six months and all that. But I think sometimes even six months is not enough for you to actually really see for what it is, you know? So I think schools should actually consider internships for more than a year in fact, or provide a bridging internship. So instead of going for a full-time job immediately after you graduate, you should start working at all these different firms to understand how it's like, what do you even want for yourself and all that.

Schools should actually consider internships for more than a year in fact, or provide a bridging internship. So instead of going for a full-time job immediately after you graduate, you should start working at all these different firms to understand how it's like, what do you even want for yourself and all that.

You mentioned to me the other day that you're also studying psychology at the School of Positive Psychology. So what motivated you to pick up this course? Is it a retirement job or is it like an interest in psychology? Why do you do it?

Well, to be honest, it started with - how I should use my SkillsFuture money, and I accidentally stumbled across this. This was something that my husband and took on together. We were like, ey, that sounds really interesting. And I think it particularly sparked my interest because having been a designer for a while now, I feel like, I want to know what I am championing as a person besides just doing design work, you know, things like that.

But I think the eye-opening thing for me this year was, I would like to look into more process-driven things, you know, even things like mediation, those are very interesting things to me, that I suddenly took an interest in. And I think in these years, I've watched, or stood by a few people who have been very burnt out and even for I myself, I have been burnt out a few times as well, and you know, in the end you still have to crawl out of that hole.

So with all the experience, it got me thinking like hey, it would be really nice if I could be a champion for the mental health of the industry, and more so than championing behind the works that we create. I mean, I love both aspects of it, you know.. studying psychology might remain as an interest but let’s just see where I can go with it la.

With so much on your plate, how do you manage? Do you have any work life balance?

It sounds like I don't have time at all for anything besides work right? (laughs) I think time management is something that is so very important when you're trying to juggle all these things - you have to juggle your personal time and your emotional health and mental health as well right? So, I mean, for sure there are a lot of sacrifices made, like, I work on weekends as well.

Like, on Sundays, I'm at the Botanist shop. On Saturdays, I'm trying to figure out Laat stuff and things like that. So I do sacrifice quite a bit of my personal time, but I believe in just freeing up time for yourself in between things rather than one specific day or one specific weekend, you know. So that makes it a little bit more manageable for me.

What's a typical weekday like for you?

Hmm.. very full, but I do get up very early… I wake up at maybe 7am or 6.30am. And when I'm up, I just take a moment for myself first and then I usually deal with the hardest thing that I have to deal with on that day. So once I get like - I called that hardest thing the “fat frog”, because I am scared of frogs - so once I get the fat frog out of the way, or I swallow that frog (laughs), then that's where the rest of the day feels a bit more manageable or easier. Then you have the energy to achieve a little bit more, I feel...

Besides cooking, what else do you do in your free time? What do you love to do?

I take pottery classes every Saturday morning. So I really, really enjoy pottery. I started with hand-sculpting first and now I'm doing the wheel one. It's really really fun because I mean… you've been working on a computer for so long, and then suddenly, when you do something with your hands… you know? I used to do that with cooking, but then I realised I could do that with pottery too. It's such a good feeling to have, to be able to create something with your bare hands.

I used to do that with cooking, but then I realised I could do that with pottery too. It's such a good feeling to have, to be able to create something with your bare hands.

You were talking about mental wellbeing and all that. So have you - so far - experienced any burnout, and how do you overcome it?

I think.. like, several right? (laughs) I think many people will share this experience with me. I think burnout comes more often than we think actually. You know, sometimes it comes out of the blue as well. But I think most of the burnout that I have experienced is when I keep doing something that is repeated, keep doing the same thing and same thing over and over again, that I lose sight of why I'm doing it. That makes me feel a little suffocated and I will start asking myself, what's this? Am I like tied to something for the sake of it, you know? And then I start to feel a bit imprisoned by it and that's where the burnout usually happens. And sometimes, it's when there are just so much, so much, so much... when everything crumbles on you at one time, then of course, burnout happens as well.

But I think there's no poetic way of overcoming it. Overcoming it is just giving yourself time, and having the support from friends and industry peers to just kinda talk you through it and just helping you out, and actually just talking to yourself a lot as well, like figuring out in what’s your head, what's causing the burnout - what is it you like? What is it you don't like? What brings you joy? What doesn't bring you joy. Ya.. and I think maybe just taking it easy on yourself. Cause I think sometimes as creatives, we are very anxious about perfecting things, right? Or that we feel the need to know everything, you know? So, ya... just going easy on yourself. That's actually one of the best ways to overcome burnouts.

But I think most of the burnout that I have experienced is when I keep doing something that is repeated, keep doing the same thing and same thing over and over again, that I lose sight of why I'm doing it. That makes me feel a little suffocated and I will start asking myself, what's this? Am I like tied to something for the sake of it, you know?

So, we’re coming to the last two questions. What are your plans ahead for Laank?

Well, regional expansion feels like something that makes sense for us. But I think I'm at a place now where I'm still thinking, is that what I really want as well? So I haven't quite figured it out yet, but if there are some opportunities to do work overseas, I would love to give it a shot. Near future plan for Laank is really just relooking at our processes, like how do I create this playground for me and my team and my clients that we work with. So I'm actually really excited about doing that.

Cool. Okay. Last question. The one that I always ask as the ending question - what's your advice to young designers who want to start up their own studio?

My advice would be to remember that you're running a marathon. To startup is so exciting and if you're not careful, you end up sprinting in the beginning, and then you get burnout really fast. You can be like 25 and you would probably have experienced 2 burnouts already.

But be prepared that it's going to be tough for sure. that's a given, right? But if you just keep doing, and never say die, and remember to be kind to yourself, and then just, ya, take it easy. What comes comes, what's yours is yours. What's not yours, is not yours. Ya, so hang in there I guess.

My advice would be to remember that you're running a marathon. To startup is so exciting and if you're not careful, you end up sprinting in the beginning, and then you get burnout really fast. You can be like 25 and you would probably have experienced 2 burnouts already.

Yea, good advice. We are done with the interview. Thank you so much for your time!

No worries!

I know you are very busy. Just hearing the amount of things on your plate, I already I feel 喘 (panting) for you… (laughs)

You also leh... You say I’m very humble, you also… (laughs)

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