Graphic Design



Started back in 2009 by Edmund Seet, Yeo Gee Khuy (Kai) and Yasser Bin Suratman, Bureau is a design studio that has been making its creative mark on brand identities, product, editorial and spacial design. Originally called Bureau for Advancement of Lifestyle and Longevity and Success, or more affectionately, B.A.L.L.S. Having worked on countless projects from Pyggy Bank for Singapore Art Museum curated by FARM, Fibonacci Bench for SFIC in 2015 and more recently, branding for Wonderlit. We explore Bureau’s changing rhythms of their artistic direction over the years and how to navigate relationships in the design industry,
  • Company Name

    Bureau Pte Ltd.

  • Company Founded in


  • Names of Founders

    Edmund Seet, Yeo Gee Khuy, Yasser Bin Suratman

  • Founders' Birth Year (Edmund)


  • Founders' Birth Year (Kai)


  • Founders' Birth Year (Yasser)


  • Education (Edmund)

    B.FA, Design, Swinburne School of Design (1999)

  • Education (Kai)

    M.FA, Central Saint Martins (Dropped Out, 2003)

  • Education (Yasser)

    M.FA, Graphic Design, Yale University (2009)

  • Previous Job (Edmund)

    Greenhouse Design (1997)

  • Previous Job (Edmund)

    FutureBrand (2002)

  • Previous Job (Edmund)

    BBH Asiapac (2007)

  • Previous Job (Edmund)

    LOWE Bangkok (2007)

  • Previous Job (Kai)

    Design Asylum (1999)

  • Previous Job (Kai)

    10AM Communications (2004)

  • Previous Job (Kai)

    VMOS Design Studio (2006)

  • Previous Job (Yasser)

    MTV Asian (1997)

  • Previous Job (Yasser)

    Discovery Channel

  • Previous Job (Yasser)

    BBH Asiapac (2007)

  • Previous Job (Yasser)

    Bureau (2009)

  • Previous Job (Yasser)

    LASALLE College of the Arts (2009-present)

  • Other Pursuits (All)

    GraphicTaskForce (1998-2000)

  • Other Pursuits (Kai)

    Hutan Tropical (2015)

  • 1st Office

    North Bridge Road

  • Period of Occupancy (1st Office)


  • Estimate Space (1st Office)

    750 sqft

  • Number of Staff (1st Office)


  • 2nd Office

    Chay Yan Street

  • Period of Occupancy (2nd Office)


  • Estimate Space (2nd Office)

    1000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (2nd Office)


  • 3rd Office

    Jalan Kilang Barat

  • Period of Occupancy (3rd Office)


  • Estimate Space (3rd Office)

    1000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (3rd Office)


  • 4th Office

    201 Henderson Road, Apex@Henderson

  • Period of Occupancy (4th Office)


  • Estimate Space (4th Office)

    1500 sqft

  • Number of Staff (4th Office)


  • 2009

    Bureau was founded

  • 2010

    Launched Pyggy Bank for Sinagpore Art Museum and showcased in Shanghai World Expo

  • 2011

    Launched MOE Chairs; MOE Chair Series received a bronze award for Furniture Design, Gong Show Awards 2012

  • 2012

    Launched the first edition of the Hpaper Series for HPL Hotels and Resorts

  • 2013

    Partnership with RJ Paper to create their Maple Series sampler booklet

  • 2014

    Showcased Fibonacci Bench for SFIC and produced Iskandar Jalil: Images of My Pottery Travels book

  • 2015

    Launched Packaging for Tribe Nation, Beijing. Kai starts his own label, Hutan Tropical

  • 2016

    Launched brand identity and visual collaterals for The Maples Niseko, Hokkaido

  • 2017

    Presented HHH: Anniversary Book for RDA Singapore and facilitated installation support with Anonymous for Uniqlo Singapore's Flagship Store. Created packaging for Adidas EQT Limited Edition Design for T-Mall launch in Shanghai

  • 2018

    Created branding and visual identity for Niometrics and launched branding for boutique hotel, The Boathouse Phuket

  • 2019

    Developed branding for GoAirBorne Macau

  • 2020

    Launched Phase 1 of Community Foundation of Singapore

  • 2021

    Developed and directed Wonderlit's brand identity design and spearheaded GoAirBorne Macau's marketing launch

  • 2022

    Created branding and visual collaterals for Tembusu Grand's property launch for CDL and MCL

Nobody Dies From Bad Design

By Low Jia Ying, 31 July 2023

Hello, everybody, and welcome to our episode of Studio SML. Today we have Edmund and Kai, from Bureau with us. Thank you for joining us. I want to ask, how are you for real?

Kai For real? I think we're doing quite good, because I am on a three month break from work. (laughs)

Edmund Kai's finishing up a sabbatical.

You guys are designers and what do you specialize in?

Kai I think as designers, we're a lot like producers, in a way, isn't it?

Edmund I think the definition has definitely changed. We used to live in a time where everything was quite singular, whereas now everything is kind of mish-mashed and mixed up. Everybody says that we solve problems, we help people communicate better, etc. I think we do a fair bit of everything, which is a privilege few people have lah... That's quite important. I don't think we specialize in any one thing and especially in these times, I don't think anybody can say that they have the luxury to choose the clients. So I think the interesting thing for us is that although all the projects are quite different and the clients. I think, curiosity is quite important and the process of working with different people.

Could you give us a more detailed introduction of yourself. Perhaps take us through how you started out with design and how you came to have Bureau in the end? Give us a run through of your history - your lore.

Edmund Come on Kai, let's lay the land.

Kai Me and Edmund, we met in Year One in Temasek Poly. We were classmates. Since then, on and off you know, you had class projects and all that. So we've always worked together once in a while, in some ways. But what happened after graduation, I actually had to go to the army. And I think you (Edmund) started work first. Wah... how far would you like to go?

Jia Ying You can give us a run through of what your previous jobs were or how you landed in those, perhaps?

Kai Okay... so right after I got out of the army, which was something that I actually considered going full-time. I did not lah... Because sometime right before I ORD-ed (Operational Ready Date), Cara from Asylum actually gave me a call. So, I started with Asylum right after NS (National Service).

Myself, Cara, Larry were the first lot of designers that Chris had been then for five years. I left for a one-year study in London and I came back (to Singapore) and after that, joined 10AM Communications for three years. After, I started Valuable Members of Society (VMOS) with another classmate for three years. And then we started Bureau...

Jia Ying What about yourself, Edmund?

Edmund Maybe I will start from Bureau? So Bureau started when Kai was finishing up VMOS and with Yasser initially. Yasser was coming back from his Yale scholarship, and I was coming back from Bangkok. I used to work in Thailand for 2.5 years. We were at the junction where we used to do GraphicTaskForce together. So when we were in school, we got invited back to school to help look at the final year students' works. We were just joking around and there was a saying among us that it'd be quite funny if we actually form a collective.

I think doing design work is like going to battle all the time, so, that's how GraphicTaskForce's name came about. And, that was a time when you're talking about a small indie design house or design collective. I think Phunk was also born during that time.

Kai That was in 2000?

Edmund Yes. So that's how we started. We started doing some side gigs, just for fun, you know. So we funded our holiday to Japan from our first freelance jobs. That was pretty good and tight. We were all in our 30s then and we were thinking, "Well, if we don't start now, we'll never start." So that's how Bureau started. We also had a lot of other names! Yasser came up with Bored Husbands.

Jia Ying (laughs) That is a good one. Catchy!

Edmund Yes, it is. He had other names like Way of the Mouse for another collective work. Bureau or B.A.L.L.S was another.

Kai Could you still find that list? Was it digitalised or scribbled somewhere?

Edmund I'm not sure...

I really like it when you mentioned to us that you were affectionately called B.A.L.L.S. That's a very catchy name. Why didn't you stick to it?

Kai It was never gonna be so obvious lah... It's a long name - Bureau for the Advancement of Lifestyle and Longevity and Success.

Edmund Sometimes you need the engagement from the audience for the discovery. It's not that people are getting it straight away and go "Oh, my God!" There is that hidden engagement, which takes time that people to get to know like "Oh! Okay..." And you discover the humour for yourself. Then, you have engagement.

Jia Ying I think that what caught me as well. You did a good job on that.

Edmund Our ex-lecturer did call us and asked "Are you sure you guys are using this name?" Because the website wasn't up yet, we actually found an image of an old scientific tool of a penis enlarger. Yes, so the splash page just said "We'll help you grow." And of course, we got a call from school. It was a gentle reminder - "Hey guys, you know..." (laughs)

Jia Ying "Keep it down...you know?" (laughs)

Kai I actually forgot about that... Did we do that? It was the holding page?

Edmund Yes, Kai. Unfortunately, we did. And now you're a dad.

Jia Ying (laughs)

Kai If you want to try to find it, where can we find it?

Jia Ying Maybe an archive of yours?

Kai We need to dig up one of those old computers?

Edmund Yes, if they're not dead by now...

Kai At some point, we got tired of explaining it. So we ended up just calling ourselves Bureau.

Jia Ying Like "Sorry guys, we can't take this no more, we've just got to shorten it down."

Edmund I mean, the humour has always been subconscious. Also, I don't think you need to take ourselves too seriously. We are just designers, right? We're not curing cancer, we're not doctors and nobody dies from bad design. We were quite conscious about it all the time. It's also important to enjoy the work and the process. It had to feel natural, which was very important to us.

Back to the conversation, I was in Bangkok before coming back (to Singapore). Before that, I was at BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty). And before that, I was at FutureBrand. For me, the journey was pretty much having a macro perspective. Branding then was quite huge, right? And FutureBrand was quite new in Singapore. So when I joined them, I got to be exposed to clients who were willing to pay a lot more money for branding compared to now. After that, having the opportunity to go into BBH, I got to see how strategy gets translated which was a more macro view (of branding). So, that was the journey.

I don't think you need to take ourselves too seriously. We are just designers, right? We're not curing cancer, we're not doctors and nobody dies from bad design.

What would you describe Bureau's current signature style would be? Perhaps, the the look that you typically go for or the values that are usually incorporated into your works.

Kai I don't think there's a set look that we are looking for.

Edmund I think the creative process is very subconscious. Creative work, or whatever, I describe the word 'creative' or 'creative work' as anything creative. It should be invisible - it's like how you use the phone. There's a subconsciousness that we appreciate. And, intuitively you know how to touch it. The way we engage with design, whether it's 2D or 3D needs to be that seamless as well, it needs to be very natural. You can't force-feed these things.

Kai runs the creative in the office. Thoroughness is important so we know what content we're dealing with, what a client's needs are, etc. We also try to have a bit of tactility (in our work). Humour is dependent on the type of clients (we have). And, you really need time for people to discover it. It should not be straightaway "It's funny." You know? For me, there's a certain subconsciousness that is important. And it's okay if people don't see it, it's not its end all be all. So, I don't think we have a set value. But I do think that a lot of questions are intertwined and interlinked.

Our work needs to feel effortless and timeless such that a few years later, when you pick up the document or the work, you still feel "Oh, okay." And not like "Oh... it's it's a fad?" It might be because of our age, or where we are in our life stages. It's not something that we think about. There's a subconsciousness that is quite important. It's like breathing, right? All of us are breathing now, but you don't know your breathing, but you are breathing! For me, the work needs to exist on that level. There must be a certain honesty about it that sometimes you can see "Oh my gosh, this dish is overcooked!" or "This dish is undercooked!" Finding it to cook it at the right temperature? And every dish is different, right? So finding the right tempo is important.

Jia Ying I really like that analogy.

Kai It's also a very big struggle working with clients.

Edmund Ya lah Kai, work is struggle.

Kai I find that the biggest challenge is that the learning curve is very steep, each time you change a genre of client.

The way we engage with design, whether it's 2D or 3D needs to be that seamless as well, it needs to be very natural. You can't force-feed these things.

Okay, so like the branding works to me at Bureau are very distinct and well curated to your clients - very people-centred, detail-oriented as though as it paints a story for its viewers and its users. Practicality is met with aesthetics. So what do you think are your secrets to creating people-centric designs?

Kai Is there a particular piece you're referring to? (laughs) Maybe it'll be easier.

Jia Ying To me, when I looked at your works, I really liked how you can see its details. Even the small little things are being cared for. And it's very suited to your client's needs and wants. So that's the essence of Bureau which comes out from all of your works.

Kai Just picking on the bits... For being detail-oriented, I would think it's got to do with the designer's personality as well. Sometimes the client won't even know those details are there. But as someone who's creating the piece of work, very often when you think of the people who will see it finally, it gives you a bit of joy when you're slipping some Easter eggs here and there that people can discover for themselves as they look at the work. I find joy in that. That's why I say it's got to do with the designer's personality. Otherwise, the piece of work after you look at the information, you understand it, and that's it. To me, it's just boring.

Edmund I think there are many ways for us to look at this question. For one, I think subconsciousness is important. Why do I keep saying that is because you can't change the DNA of the person.

Specific to our work, tension is important because the two of us are creative based. Kai is somebody who likes to stretch ideas and go "Okay, let's find something unique for the client to say" etc. Sometimes some details could be conceptual, some could be material. But it's that journey of discovery when we are testing out concepts or working with a team, and suddenly these little gems come on. It's also about us having the environment or encouraging people to try. And, you know, I think our job essentially is to push people. Sometimes we're supposed to make them feel uncomfortable. That's why I say tension. Sometimes the creative guys like to pull it very far, and sometimes we need to pull it back in. Each project is different in that way. Also, everybody will say that we need to understand the needs of the client. So, it comes back to what is the right dosage for each work?

For us, like other typical studios, we try to push the boundaries a little bit by a little, but the sensitivity is very different with everyone. We want each piece to be unique on its own. And we must not forget that the work we do is always communicative, so it's a two-way traffic. Different people will engage the work differently. Some people will take longer time to react to it, some people react faster. That's okay. But at least we cover all the bases and the grounds. So, thoroughness is quite important. And you don't do it for the sake of thoroughness. Like Kai said, it's the designers' DNA to a certain extent. I think our work has also evolved. In some of our latest work, like Wonderlit. The idea came from one of the guys we were working with, and with that, it kind of exploded. Kai created this alphabetical world and you could tell the tonality of the work was just right. We always want to create a creative space, where it's not about the physicality of it. Essentially, whatever pieces we do within the creative industry are about evoking emotion.

It's about how we love the phone because it does something for you and to you, and not because it's just a phone.

We must not forget that the work we do is always communicative, so it's a two-way traffic.

In that sense, what would you say, are your top tips and tricks for designers out there to create works that evoke emotions, spark conversations and drive a very central message across?

Edmund Regardless of work, they need to dig deep. And, learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes, you need to push the boundaries a bit more so that you're trying out different things, or look at things from different angles.

Also, try to defend your work a bit more. I mean, as creatives, you know, we're not good at talking, right? Everyone still gets presentation jitters. It's important to know how to talk about your work and believe in your own. If you can't believe in your own work, is very hard for other people to go "Oh my God, I'm so convinced your idea is good." So being open and knowing a lot more about the project than other people, meaning the background research, etc. And having a point of view - I think it's important to have a point of view in the work, a lot. If not, it's just cosmetic.

Kai The first-hand interaction with the client is quite important. Every often you get a lot of hints of what the client feels about his/her business or project is. That firsthand interaction that a designer has with the client is really important. I guess speaking from a personal point of view, I really admire works that are damn effortless. There's this brashness and nonchalance about it. But it's something so hard to do.

Edmund Wrong country!

Jia Ying (laughs)

Kai That takes talent leh... Whereas the kind of work that I tend to do... It's precise, maybe it's clinical. But as long as you spend enough time on it, you can get there. But the one I described earlier, that takes talent.

Edmund It's about certain emotion and reaction, right?

If you can't believe in your own work, is very hard for other people to go "Oh my God, I'm so convinced your idea is good."

Bureau has done many projects, past and present. What are some of the projects that you are most proud of and how do you overcome its challenges? For example, this could be understanding the brief, understanding the client or even executing it.

Kai Something that's a bit more epic to me and something I can still work on even for the next 10 years might be HPaper. I like doing editorial stuff. But HPaper gave us the opportunity with lots of elements. It allowed us to travel overseas with the client and go on shoots, see their projects, come back and plan out the kind of content that goes into the final print. So far, that has been quite an enjoyable piece of work. We are about to embark on the redesign of HPaper. Since COVID, I guess they (HPL Hotels & Resorts) couldn't travel, right? HPaper also took a hiatus for two years. I think they are finally going to restart it again now that they have added a couple more properties to their portfolio. So, we're looking forward to that.

Jia Ying And Edmund, what would you say is the project you're most proud of?

Edmund I don't think I've got one that I'm most proud of but there are definitely a few more memorable works. I think HPaper is a reflection of a really close working relationship with the client. And when good interesting work comes out, we must not forget the credit also goes to the client who are willing to go the distance. HPL is a longtime client that has been working with us since inception, so we've worked with them on different projects. HPaper was a platform where we wanted to engage people with content. And we appreciate their (HPL) openness in terms of willing to go the distance with it to say "Okay, let's not, let's not do a typical newsletter. Let's use stories to engage people. We're not trying to hard sell you, we're just trying to draw you in."

We appreciate that kind of relationship and the work which is why there's a longevity. It's been running for the last few years, and we're on issue 26 or 27? That's because of the relationships you've built, the work is just the work.

The other project would be Mr Iskandar Jalil's book. I think very rarely, do you get to work with an artist on this level to know him as a person, not just a Cultural Medallion winner. We were fortunate enough to work with him for his last big personal show. So we did the book for him. We got his kids, his daughter and son to craft a letter, even his first ceramic mentor as well. It is through that journey of knowing him and dealing with his idiosyncrasies. And when you say that you get to know a person through his writing and his drawings, I mean, his calligraphy was just amazing! To be able to know, somebody on that level is a rare opportunity and to be able to produce a documentation that is reflective of that is quite meaningful.

Branding wise, I think Wonderlit was quite nice. There's a certain whimsicality from it. Maybe since Kai became a dad, that part kind of came out in the work. You could feel that the work is alive, that's important. And also, we worked with LAANK the ID (Interior design) firm on the interior and they did a great job in translating the internal spaces - the use of fading colour just draws you into this space and breaks the monotony of its physicality. I think these are those little things that make the project interesting. The clients also have been doing a great job on their socials, they've been using all the (graphic) assets.

When good interesting work comes out, we must not forget the credit also goes to the client who are willing to go the distance.

So given that Bureau has been in the game for a couple of years since 2009, how does one anticipate new trends and the changing demands of your clients?

Edmund Painfully. (laughs)

Kai New trends... that's like the Holy Grail for anyone. I don't think I can do that man...

Edmund So as a studio, I don't think we set out to follow the trend -- "Oh, is this the coolest? Is this the latest?" I think that's just the DNA of the studio, that we need to be accountable to the brief and to the communication needs lah... Of course, I think we understand the concerns that the trend wave is coming, or we might have missed it. That's something we're quite mindful of and we need to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.

Jia Ying And what are some of say, the changing demands of a client?

Edmund Woah... How much time do you have? (all laugh)

Jia Ying I would assume that throughout all these years, the demands of clients have changed tremendously. Are they more critical about the things that you put out or more demanding? How would you say this has changed since 2009?

Kai Clients of today definitely understand trends a lot better than clients 10 years ago. They are a lot more savvy now because of all the tools you have online. The challenge of all these design references that you can find online is that even if you definitely know you did not reference something else (for your work), sometimes you do find really similar ones out there. I find that quite frustrating with all the different online references that you have nowadays. That's something that we have to deal with as well.

Edmund Definitely the clients are more savvy now. Right? Because everyone's so connected. As cliche as it is, I think with great power comes great responsibility. It's how they use it. If clients have clarity about the requirements, efficiency works both ways. So that could be a good thing when used properly. Definitely, everybody has a fair share of difficult clients with difficult needs. I think we just deal with it on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately, you are looking at the bad news there - that's my job.

I think it's important for clients to know that our job is to safeguard the work because our job is to help communicate their needs. And we can't do this alone. We need the understanding of the client of where we are coming from. So, we are always trying to find the right balance between practicality, commercialization and aesthetics because we're helping you communicate. How we say it paints the impression of the business. What we do is not unique, we are not an end all be all, we are part of the business solution. So clients must understand that we provide that support. And hopefully, the client has a great product! Because without that, it doesn't really matter how cool the work is. If the product is shit, the product is shit.

We have a very straightforward approach at work. We will definitely try to push because that's our job to make sure each project is unique enough and timeless. So there will be needs and difficult conversations we need to have and it's part of our job lah... It's important to leave the worries at the door when you go back and not let it affect you.

We are always trying to find the right balance between practicality, commercialization and aesthetics because we're helping you communicate

From the gathering of my resources upon research of Bureau, I love this line on your website "We take things seriously most of all the coffee ritual." So what is that about, could you give us a bit more insight?

Kai Wah... the coffee person has left leh.

Jia Ying I would say coffee rituals are all about repetition and creating rituals in your life -- even brewing a hot cup of coffee. How does that inform your work?

Kai I think there was something that we wrote to make the website sound good. (laughs)

Edmund All of us have our routines. We're all creatures of habit. There's a way you wake up... then what do you do? If you're a smoker, you smoke first then you feel energized and for some, it's coffee or tea. Others might go "I'm not gonna touch my phone until I'm in my office" etc.

All of us have had habits and patterns. Subconsciously, everybody does that without knowing. It is so that you get yourself in tune to it. Again, it all happens on a very subconscious stage. Coffee to me is important. Black coffee is like life, right?

Jia Ying It runs in your blood?

Edmund It does, I drink too much! Everybody has a different routine. Kai plays basketball.

Kai Yeah, my routine comes and goes. Now, it would be to wake up at six and send the kids to school every day. By the time I come to the West, it might be eight o'clock. So I'll have around two hours to play. And by the time I start work, I will be sleepy already. (laughs) By 11, I'm ready to go to bed! (laughs)

Edmund Rituals are just patterns in your life that prep you ready for work.

Jia Ying Does that influence your work and how you carry them out?

Kai Yeah definitely my productive hours are much lesser right now! (laughs)

Edmund I'll link this back to studio culture. I think we have a very open culture. We tell the guys that they have to do what they need to do and have the proper check-ins, but we're not going to mother you. So if you want to swim, then you're better learn how to sink. So we don't impose what they do. It's more important to align their thinking (to their work). That to me, it's quite important and essential. Whether you like it or not, we're all connected, meaning who you are in your personal life will affect who you are in your professional life. We do not leave it at the door. We're in a business where, unfortunately, you can't do that. If you're not in the right frame of mind, you cannot write.

You really need time to think so that the quality of your work does not suffer. So, I think it's very important that we always tell the guys that if you want to do the work, "To do good work, be a better human first." You've got to make sure that your other shit is taken care of and your mind is in the right place. Then you're able to perform your role. Everybody has different roles in their lives. So we don't want people to work late unnecessarily. And if you feel that you've slacked off, then you better jolly well pull up. The good and bad thing is that we're quite chill about it. But sometimes it also means that everything could be a test, right? Because you are really accountable for yourself and we treat you like adults to give you that freedom. You need to honour it and respect that it's been given to you.

To do good work, be a better human first.

I want to explore is the creative direction for one of your work which I completely adore, which is Pyggy Bank, a whimsical coin receptacle in the shape of a pig's trotter. Could you take us through your thought process of it? I'm so intrigued about it.

Edmund FARM curated an exhibition for Singapore Art Museum and FARM's brief was to pair graphic design studios with graphic design briefs. So when they came to us, we asked if could we try something else. Because you know, that's kind of expected... So when we saw the brief, we wanted to tackle a 3D product, a piggy bank. And the answer was already staring at us. Pygg is a type of clay but just because of the sound and all, then we said "Why don't we just make something real?" So there is that realness and honest representation of it lah... So far, we haven't seen it and we don't know why.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are staring at us. So, we just took the opportunity to dig it out.

Kai How it turned out like a dismembered pig's leg... I guess part of us also wanted something shocking. Had we had the time or given the right budget to do it, we actually wanted to assemble the entire dismembered pig but we just couldn't do it. So we ended up with just a pig's trotter.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are staring at us.

Would you say you went through a lot of rounds of experimentation with the form?

Kai We thought we had to! We ordered a whole pig's leg... We got a big piece, we referenced it, I created grids out of it for the person who was going to get it done for us. But in the end, do you know what he did? He went to buy his own big trotter in China and moulded it himself and that was it! (laughs) So we did all of that for nothing! And they were already good at it. So we should have known that earlier, that would have saved us so much trouble!

Jia Ying And would you say that through this rapid experimentation, how do you quickly vet through these products or drafts that you have to come up with the final look for Pyggy Bank?

Edmund Honestly, I think this project was a very fast burn. Straight away, it was like "Let's tackle it this way." We didn't have to go through the rounds. When we bought the whole pig leg... literally, as you know, it's massive lah! It was quite heavy and came in a white styrofoam box! (laughs)

Kai There was this part we wanted to make... The ribs, right?

Edmund Yeah! So, we want to make the ribs. But from a functionality perspective, it doesn't look good as a piggy bank.

Kai I think technically, it was gonna be harder to make as well. Because it's supposed to be porcelain mah.

Edmund Once we did the drawings, the schematic, we sent it to China through FARM. We trusted that they were professionals so they interpreted it that way (the final look of Pyggy Bank). We agreed that it works too. Because when you're going to produce it by the hundreds or in bigger quantities, there's a practicality to casting it. But if we ever get a chance to revisit the piece, more like an art piece, the details could be different. But I think the idea is still the same.

Kai Those were days before 3D scanning and 3D printing. So I don't think that same project would be so would be as interesting now, because of 3d printing. Ironically.

Jia Ying I like the idea that you've just casted the entire leg. There was a good one, I think it's more tactile.

Kai I don't think it was cast.

Jia Ying It was not cast?

Kai Yeah, he probably did a clay model. Then he made the cast for it.

Edmund I mean, its ceramic.

Kai The initial ideation had to be very fast because we had to give him enough time for production. We had a deadline to meet which was when the museum shop was going to open. Was it three months' time?

Edmund I can't remember. But I think it's interesting looking at other product designers interpret the piggy bank. You could tell that they were a lot more practical than us.

Jia Ying The whole entire idea of a piggy bank would be just being a receptacle for coins, right? And I think that's what Pyggy Bank did.

Edmund Yeah! Saving for that pig leg!

Now, I would like to segue into our other portion of the pod, which would be navigating to relationships. I think we touched on this previously when we were talking about clients.

I would like you guys to indulge us on your two cents and personal take on navigating to relationships in the design realm. So with your clients, with your team, and yourself, and society at large. We all know that navigating through these relationships is quite tricky. A designer's job is pretty elusive, to most, including myself, until I started working a bit more then I started to understand what it really truly entails. Could you give us an insight to the invisible parts of what a designer job entails?

Kai Never came across my mind...

Jia Ying Because in school, when I design, I do everything - I create in my work, I create my copy, I create the designs, I go out to find materials...

Edmund I think the reality of school is very different when you come out to work. And I will say I think one of the key things we do is to manage expectations with clients, with the internal team and with our suppliers. A lot of time is spent on deciphering the brief, how does the team interpret it, etc. So I think managing expectations will be a good phrase to kind of like sum it up that way.

And, managing the client relationship. I think managing people is more important, because only when you can manage people's expectations, then you can manage the work. If you only think about managing the work, sometimes you tend to get a bit more reactive. I think that human-ness is something you can't ignore.

Kai The design work is easy, right? The managing part is the worst.

Edmund It's a cliche that works across all industries -- people say "work is easy, human is hard." And we can't deny the fact that we got to interact with people. We've got to, I mean, we're in the people business! That's a given.

Jia Ying When you first started working in the design industry, who do you think you didn't need to work with but you end up being a very close partner to? Would you say that it was an invisible part of your job as well to interact and to go hand-in-hand with people of different niches and industries to create a work that can be commercialized?

Edmund I think depending on the scale and size of the project. If we're talking about, for example, a mid-tier project where you're working with the client quite closely, you actually play the important role of helping the client manage the creative and production expectations. Not only internally, but also to the vendors. You become the creative idea guardian, so all the key people will need to talk to you -- "This is our messaging. This is how we're going to interpret it as a space" etc.

So, depending on the scale of the project, the role we play changes. If you're talking about typical production, then it will be more of the printers to help the client manage their expectations, because the likelihood of them going down (to the print centre) will only be only for the key pieces. Apart from that, they would just leave it to the designers to manage. So depending on the type of project who we work with varies. This could be off track - you're helping to put up an installation, then you end up talking to safety officers that you never think you would talk to. Like, "Why is this my concern?" But then, it's part of the project. There are a lot of other hidden things that you wouldn't know until you embark on the work. And some of these things you can't foresee when you're sharing a thought.

The design work is easy, right? The managing part is the worst.

When we are navigating through relationships, a lot of them are with our clients. We all know that the relationship with our clients are of the utmost importance because there has to be trust between the designer and the client to create a piece of work. When was an instance when you disagreed with a client? And how do you navigate through it?

Edmund I sit on the client.

Jia Ying (laughs) You sit on him?

Edmund So far, we've not experienced major pushbacks. I think for us, we need to learn to pick our battles. Once you know that the general idea is bought through, then certain details that we need to give in, those expectations we will manage. We have not had a total pushback where hell freezes over. We haven't had that as yet. I am a strong believer in having side conversations because it's about respecting and managing the client's expectations. So helping them navigate through those is something that, unfortunately, I do have to do at times, but it's not life-changing.

In that same vein, how would you say, is the best way we should pick the fights that we need to fight for the ideas that we want?

Edmund I mean, everybody's bearing of what's worth it is very different, right? I think if you've pushed through a general idea, I think you've won, don't you think so?

Jia Ying I feel like sometimes...

Edmund Don't sweat the small stuff!

Jia Ying Because I'm relatively new to design...

Edmund So are we!

Jia Ying But I bet you guys are more experienced. Maybe I'm not a very confrontational person. That's why...

Edmund Most humans are not but sometimes you don't have a choice. But I think it's important that as much as we respect the client, I think the client needs to respect us as well. So only if those boundaries are pushed, then we need to have difficult conversations. But apart from that, I think there's really no point sweating over the little stuff.

Naturally, when you work long enough, you tend to find your own bearings and you know your parameters and the sensitivity will grow. You will know the certain touch points that you die-die need to enforce. So if those things are ticked off and other things can be negotiated depending on the needs of the client. And it depends on who you're talking to. If you're managing a mid-tier client, and they have certain requests, you don't have a choice to make. Sometimes you just need to help them get through that hurdle. And with no skin off your back then why not? We're only doing cosmetic work. We're not changing lives. Nobody dies from this.

Kai Is it fair to say that the clients are generally not against creative ideas unless there are cost implications?

Edmund Welcome to life, Kai. Reality bites!

Kai In terms of money, you have a better chance of pushing something great through. Sadly, sometimes it's like that.

Everybody's bearing of what's worth it is very different, right? I think if you've pushed through a general idea, I think you've won, don't you think so?

So with that, how do we gain clarity from the people that we work with? How do we gain confidence to actually push through with the ideas that we have?

Edmund We have to work on ourselves. I think it's very important to keep learning and being open-minded to new things. I mean, we're all like sponges, right? But it doesn't mean that you see these things and you can just churn it out immediately. No, it may be stored inside for a long time or a short time, you never know. I think it's so important to learn to be critical and to be uncomfortable. I mean, everybody says that. I think executing it is the challenge.

It's so important to learn to be critical and to be uncomfortable... Executing it is the challenge.

As designers, how do you think we can bring design closer to people?

Edmund I think it's very linked to culture. We are a very young country. Design education and design appreciation will keep evolving. We may or may not see the change in the movement. But what's not going to change is that it must always feel effortless and almost invisible. Because that's just how we consume, you don't change that, right? Even trends can change, etc.

But again, the communication needs -- even though the client is different, the brief is different, the essential thing is that we're always trying to create emotion create engagement, regardless of what form of creativity and it's definitely linked to culture. So as the culture deepens, the appreciation of the arts will change. So it's not going to happen overnight. It takes time.

What's not going to change is that it must always feel effortless and almost invisible... The essential thing is that we're always trying to create emotion create engagement, regardless of what form of creativity.

And how do you think Bureau is bridging the gap that we have in Singapore?

Kai I feel like it's not our job, it's up to the individual if they like something. That's for them to go and seek out. For us, we are responsible for our paying clients to roll out the good work that they come to us to do. But I don't know if I find it my job to go out there and inspire.

Edmund I think all design studios play a part in helping the world communicate better. And maybe from a Bureau perspective, every studio is different, every studio has a certain approach to things. We are definitely a bit rough on the edges, every studio will continue to grow, change and evolve. Everything needs time.

We want to see that we provide an alternative, timeless voice in our works that people can enjoy. We know that we may not be for everybody. And not everybody's for us. It's always finding the balance. End of the day, you got to enjoy it. If you don't, it's very hard to work.

End of the day, you got to enjoy it. If you don't, it's very hard to work.

So what can we expect next from you guys?

Edmund Being open.

Jia Ying Maybe some of the upcoming projects that we can keep an eye out on?

Kai I spoke about Hpaper but that is not cast in stone either.

Edmund Hpaper and there's a hospitality project that we're finishing. So that will be in the next six months.

Jia Ying We'll be looking out for it. It's all that we have today. Now we can move on to the quickfire round.

What are each other's favourite kopitiam drink order?

Edmund Ice lemon tea.

Kai Kopi O Kosong.

Would you rather have a nice car or nice home interior?

Kai Both. (laughs)

Jia Ying You only can choose one.

Edmund Nice home interior.

Kai I would have a nice home interior that has a really nice car in it. Because it's part of the decor.

Would you rather: emails or letters?

Kai Emai-- Aww...

Edmund Emails.

Kai Emails lah...

If you had to spend one day in somebody else's room, who would it be?

Kai Wow... I want to answer this properly... Somebody else's room...

Edmund Roger Federer.

Kai (laughs) Roger Federer? Oh man, I want to answer this properly.

Edmund Come on Kai.

Jia Ying Come on, you can do this.

Kai I might say... Jonathan Ward?

If you could be an expert in something overnight, what would that be?

Edmund Teleportation!

Kai Car mechanic.

If past lives were real, what were yours?

Edmund I'm a cat!

Kai I don't know, I don't think about these things eh. (laughs) Past lives! Err... I would say I'm a girl in my past life. (laughs)

Jia Ying Okay, that's all that we have today! Thank you for joining us!

Kai Oh, that's all ah?

Edmund Okay, thank you!

New Interviews

Graphic Design


Interior Design

Ministry of Design

Related Interviews

Graphic Design


Graphic Design

Foreign Policy

Product Design

Atelier HOKO