GIDEON & JAMIE

Graphic Design

gideon-jamie

https://gideon-jamie.com/

Starting out from a partitioned space with a modest area of just 9m2, Gideon Kong and Jamie Yeo adapted constraints into an attitude towards graphic design, and adopted temporary measures as sustainable systems. Since beginning their collective practice as gideon-jamie in 2017, the duo has expanded into the realm of publishing (Temporary Press) and conceptualised their current studio (Temporary Unit) as a versatile space for connecting with communities through events. From their background in product design to their inclination towards economical DIY methods, we learn about what shapes their sensibilities and how they collaborate as partners in work, creative practice and life.
  • Company Name

    gideon-jamie

  • Company Founded In

    2017

  • Name of Founders

    Jamie Yeo, Gideon Kong

  • Founder Birth Year (Jamie)

    1991

  • Founder Birth Year (Gideon)

    1991

  • Education (Jamie)

    B. Arts, Industrial Design, National University of Singapore, 2014

  • Education (Gideon)

    M.Arts in Research, Nanyang Technological University, 2021

  • Previous Job (Jamie)

    Designer, Singapore Polytechnic (2014-2017)

  • Previous Job (Gideon)

    Designer, Pupilpeople (2016)

  • Previous Job (Gideon)

    Lecturer, LASALLE College of the Arts (2017-Current)

  • 1st Office

    New Industrial Road

  • Period of Occupancy (1st Office)

    2017-2018

  • Estimate Space (1st Office)

    90 sqft

  • Number of Staff (1st Office)

    2

  • 2nd Office

    57 Commonwealth Drive

  • Period of Occupancy (2nd Office)

    2018-2020

  • Estimate Space (2nd Office)

    650 sqft

  • Number of Staff (2nd Office)

    2

  • 3rd Office

    22 New Industrial Road

  • Period of Occupancy (3rd Office)

    2020-Current

  • Estimate Space (3rd Office)

    2000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (3rd Office)

    2

  • 2017

    Founded gideon-jamie

  • 2018

    Started Temporary Press (publishing)

  • 2018

    Exhibited in Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, Sharjah

  • 2019

    Exhibited in Solidarity Spores - Common Interests: Conversation of Young East Asian Graphic Designers, Gwangju

  • 2020

    Exhibited under "Asia Art Publishing Directory" in Publishing As Method, Seoul

  • 2021

    Written "Please (do not) work with us" (studio statement)

  • 2021

    Worldwide distribution by Idea Books, Amsterdam

  • 2021

    Started Temporary Unity, an informal space for books

  • 2022

    Commissioned essay (forthcoming) for Sulki and Min

Pure and Simple Everytime

By Woong Soak Teng, 31 August 2022

For this episode of Studio SML, we are happy to speak with Gideon Kong and Jamie Yeo of gideon-jamie, a two-people studio designing and producing books, publications and objects in close relation to writing, publishing, teaching and running a small space for exhibitions and workshops. Welcome, Gideon and Jamie.

I want to start with the beginning. Can you share a bit about how both of you met, and what is the story behind setting up gideon-jamie?

Gideon We met when we were studying product design at Temasek Poly. I went on to do National Service and Jamie went to study Industrial Design at NUS, which I didn't manage to get in later on when I applied. At that point of time, there was a two-year programme from Glasgow School of Art in partnership with Singapore Institute of Technology, but that was in Communication Design and I did that.

We've always been talking about design, looking at similar things, sharing ideas, and so on. At some point, we got to work together at a studio called 'Pupilpeople', run by Sean and Nicole. There was one project we worked on together specifically — an object/product for children that we helped to design with them. After that, (we stopped working there when) Sean went to teach full-time. I tried applying for jobs in various places but did not get any, so we decided to start a studio together. This was already something that was on our minds before but there wasn't any reason or particular push. At that point of time, it seemed like that was the only option.

Jamie Just after we started, we received a book design project from his lecturer. No, she wasn't your (Gideon’s) lecturer but she was teaching in your (Gideon’s) school. That gave us the avenue to work together and start putting something out together.

It must have been a leap of faith to start something entirely your own. So, I did a little bit of sneaky stalking on your IG, because I kinda know you guys, but I'm also not familiar with your journeys. And I saw a post where... I think it was a picture of your first studio in 2017, when you first began collective practice in a nine-square-metre industrial unit. It's been five years now, and you guys have moved into a much bigger, sun-lit space. I am very curious to know, how did you design the studio physically to encompass the variety of work that you do?

Gideon Maybe I'll start with the small (first) space. In a lot of ways, that space was meaningful to us because of how small it was, with a ceiling height of about four metres. Doing up this space can be considered our first major project of working together intensely, because we had to resolve quite a few problems in terms of storage – There is a printing area, and there's an area for when we need to do some cutting of wood, and so on, as well as the desk with our laptops and computers.

We had to build upwards. The space had partition walls and we can't fix anything onto them, and so we had to build some kind of stand-alone structure within the space that made use of long pieces of wood we bought for quite cheap. This was really a simple structure that we were building – maybe for an architect — but for us, I remember we had lots of arguments when trying to piece together that structure. This well describes how we started – building things ourselves and making things work for us without spending much cost...

Jamie There were still some costs…

Gideon Yes, in terms of raw material and time spent. I think those were the most ‘expensive’ things. After this, we shifted to work from a small three-room flat, but I'll just skip to the larger studio we are now in. With this much space compared to when we started, it was of course much easier to plan around. We know there needs to be a large area in the middle for all sorts of messy work, like when we print things and have many stacks of prints that we need to leave to dry or just arrange them. A lot of these things were done manually and we needed enough table space for that. When we were printing in the previous studio, the floor was just covered with prints and there wasn't even space to walk around. So, with the middle area settled, we allocated another small area for the working desks, and also storage and bookshelves.

How has moving into a much bigger studio space influenced your practice?

Gideon There is literally a lot more room for thinking and making.

Jamie And I guess we are trying to do more event-based things because the space allow for more people.

Gideon It gives us a chance to build a community, even if it's a small, fragmented one. That has been on our minds for quite a while—doing things like workshops, or just hosting informal conversations, or inviting friends to speak about their work, and all sorts of other things related to graphic design.

Still, this took two years. Maybe that is another thing I should mention – things don't happen overnight. Even after moving into this space, it took us some time to purchase or build the furniture we have now. We added on things one after the other and we also procrastinated quite a lot. It took two years for us to really start organising more things and have people over.

Do you see the studio space as a changing, morphing kind of space, which means that it actually never gets completed? So you will always be building upon it, changing it to your needs or moving things around?

Gideon Yes, definitely, the bookshelf for example has moved locations and extended in length. This space was meant for that kind of flexibility. Recently, some friends organised a book talk there and because they didn't need the tables occupying the middle of the space, we simply wheeled them aside — these had wheels fixed onto them. And so, we had this large empty area in the middle for more to sit comfortably. We wanted to have some moving elements. It is flexible enough to cater for different activities.

In your very beginnings, the both of you worked with economical approaches, trying to practice within your means to stay independent, and even till now. What does this importance of independence and reliance mean to your practice?

Gideon Again, maybe this was something shaped by the conditions that we were faced with and still face. Most of our commissioned projects are small in scale and low in budget. We were also not able to get funds or grants in the beginning for independent projects, but we probably didn’t try hard enough. With those kind of limitations, naturally we had to work with a lot of constraints.

A lot of the projects that we get as well, they are small in scale, not just in terms of budget, but also sometimes content. It's quite compact, simple. Maybe this shaped how we look at things – to be economical, firstly for the studio to be able to sustain itself. Actually, these constraints are also something we came to appreciate and now prefer. We don't like flamboyant things like spending a lot on achieving a special print finishing for the sake of visual effect. That is something we try to avoid. Of course, we would still hope to have a little bit more…

Jamie …budget. To do stuff. I mean, having not enough funds, it bleeds over to our mindset towards design and life.

Actually, these constraints are also something we came to appreciate and now prefer. We don't like flamboyant things like spending a lot on achieving a special print finishing for the sake of visual effect. That is something we try to avoid.

Do you feel like it has also conditioned your way of creative thinking into like… every time you tackle a new project, it's always: How can I do this most economically or most practically, with the lowest budget?

Jamie Yeah I think...

It's instinctive?

Gideon It is.

Jamie It is, right? It forced us to really go into details regarding production methods and processes so that we can save X-amount of money. Now, we have a clearer idea of: Okay, we can do it in this way. It's more economical, it's better, it saves the earth... I mean…

Gideon We probably won't know. We can't measure that. Aside from the practicalities, I think it's also an attitude towards design, rather than just something that we are responding to. Hopefully, the people that we work with also appreciate that kind of reduction. In some ways, it also helps us reach further into the essence of something when we try to work with lesser things.

Jamie Design in Singapore is always seen as a luxury.

Gideon Yea. that's true.

Jamie You involve design so that you can make it seem more... of a higher status...

Gideon More valuable...

Jamie For us, it's probably the other way around. We involve design so it makes things more efficient and less ‘luxurious’. Maybe we’re trying to look at it with a different understanding of what luxury means.

Aside from the practicalities, I think it's also an attitude towards design, rather than just something that we are responding to. Hopefully, the people that we work with also appreciate that kind of reduction. In some ways, it also helps us reach further into the essence of something when we try to work with lesser things. Design in Singapore is always seen as a luxury.

I really appreciate that because when I look at the works that the both of you have put together, it's evident that this kind of reduction and DIY approach is very consistent. Like what Gideon mentioned, it's an attitude towards design. And it's very effortless, because it feels like your brains have developed this way of approaching every project in a modest, humbling way. That's my observation.

Gideon Actually, although it comes naturally, every time we have a new collaborator, there may be a little more things to work out, especially with a collaborator or commissioner who do not know our work. This makes things difficult because we might not offer what they're looking for. So although it may seem effortless, it is also challenging when it involves external parties whom we don't know well. It might be even more challenging, as compared to if we were to take another approach.

To that point, have you ever had to, because of what your client wants, change your attitude towards the design?

Gideon Yeah, for some projects, and then we stopped working with them (or they never called us again).

Okay. So you have encountered people who do not appreciate this type of more modest approach in designing.

Gideon Yeah, but maybe not in those specific terms, but just a different understanding of what design is and what it can do or should do.

My next question is actually a curiosity about the word 'temporary', because from gideon-jamie, the studio has also branched out into a publishing house that's called 'Temporary Press', which also hosts an exhibition and workshop space that is called 'Temporary Unit', and also a gift shop that's called 'Temporary Catalogue'. More recently, 'Temporary Unit' has also announced a residency with Catherine Hu, who is an amazing artist, and she is known as the Temporary Artist-in-Unit. I'm very curious about the choice of word 'temporary', and how it relates to your approaches or thinking.

Jamie Maybe I can start with why we named the press 'Temporary Press' because that's the first thing that we started. We started it in 2018, one year after the studio. We bought a Risograph machine and we just wanted to make some books on our own to save on printing costs. And so, we didn't know how long we can run this. We thought this would be a temporary press, and we'll see how it goes.

Gideon We've been asked that before and we don't really have a reason in the beginning. I like the sound of it – how it is not very serious. It describes something that is perhaps fleeting in nature, and so if this disappear, it is okay. We find comfort in this name that does not promise much.

Thinking further, of course there's this temporal nature of things that we kind of have to accept in our practice. Precarity is also something we often think about or experience. We've come to realise that this may not be something inherently good or bad. Like the conditions that we were talking about that shape our practice and output, this can also be a productive or meaningful way for us to work.

When we're making visuals for social media, the visuals can be designed in a very makeshift and efficient manner. There is no need for much graphics or visual layers. We save time in quite practical ways.

Precarity is also something we often think about or experience. We've come to realise that this may not be something inherently good or bad. Like the conditions that we were talking about that shape our practice and output, this can also be a productive or meaningful way for us to work.

I thought it was quite a philosophical name, because like what you said, things in life are always very temporal, very transient. It almost feels like no matter what the work that we do, it will always be temporary. I guess it also relates back to your beginnings. With the uncertainty… and you took over a risograph machine… and then naming it 'Temporary Press' was very instinctive. So how do you demarcate between gideon-jamie, and everything else that is packed under Temporary Press?

Gideon We don't do it consciously. Of course, in terms of definitions, or for the sake of clarity, gideon-jamie is the studio that encompasses all the activities that we do. As part of it, Temporary Press publishes content in the form of books, collaborates with artists/writers and publishes their work, or sometimes our own work. Temporary Unit is the studio space, there is a makeshift bookstore (and it holds exhibitions or events) for programmes. In terms of, how we spend time on different aspects of the work, there isn't much of a distinction. We simply work on whatever needs to be done at any point of time.

In terms of funding the programmes like artist-in-residency and exhibitions, is it also free-flowing between these two entities?

Gideon Maybe this is not the best way to do it. But yes, it's like that. When we have a book to make, we put in money to make that book. After that, maybe there's a pause and if we have something else to do, then we spend on that.

Would you say that gideon-jamie is like a moneymaker, and Temporary Press and everything with it is what you guys want to do for passion?

Gideon No. In fact, gideon-jamie is precisely what we want to do, and everything else falls under what we want to do (publishing, exhibitions, etc.). Of course, the studio takes in commissioned work, and we get paid for that but even then, it's not really money-making. In fact, recently, the activities of Temporary Press has helped quite a lot in terms of sales and distribution of books to different places beyond Singapore. That, sometimes, on the other hand, helps support the studio. That's the intention. We don't want any of our studio activities to be a side hustle. We want everything to be part of the primary practice.

gideon-jamie is precisely what we want to do, and everything else falls under what we want to do (publishing, exhibitions, etc.). We don't want any of our studio activities to be a side hustle. We want everything to be part of the primary practice.

It's interesting that it's the other way around. In my head, publishing books is always a loss.

Jamie I think this is also because we print it on our own, and that brings the cost really down.

Gideon At the moment, we're really still trying to make things work. Sometimes for Temporary Press, there are collaborators/authors who also have funds to put into the book (for production). That helps us to increase, let's say, the print run and we can offset print them. We really hope to create a cycle where things feed into each other, not just in terms of content and interests, but also (for things to financially) sustain each other. For example, the informal sessions that we organise (in the space)… they're free, but maybe the bookstore is the one that would help sustain.

Well, since we're on the topic of books, I want to go more into this idea of publishing as a major part of your practice. Some of your recent publishing works include ‘Striking! Advertising Matches from Singapore’, which is a really cute and colourful palm-sized book that brings together Yeo Hong Eng's collection of vintage advertising. We've also seen the 'Street Report' publication at the recent Singapore Art Book Fair, and that's in collaboration with Atelier HOKO and Faiz Bin Zohri. That series looks at reporting of public bins and on hooks and holes of Sungei Road that are found on the streets.

Aside from these recent books, you have also developed artist books with Lai Yu Tong, Robert Zhao, Xiangyun, Xavier Antin and more. In some publications, both of you undertake the role of the artist, photographer, designer, and publisher. How has the act of publishing under Temporary Press expanded your design practice?

Gideon We started publishing because we wanted to make books, we are not only concerned about how books look — the construction or design — but also in their content. Publishing brings about another aspect of the practice, which includes editing, writing or even simply deciding what to publish and what not to. That forms a core part of our practice as designers who think about what we do and its role in society.

There is a loose connection across all the things that we published. Most of them I think, if not all, touch on (or question) definitions of design. To give examples... and if we start with the first few publications we did... There was one with Sheere Ng who writes across food, culture and histories. Although she was the one who approached us, we found the contents really interesting, there were many aspects that are very much related to design. For example, she collected and looked at 'tze-char’ stall menus, at teaching illustrations in Home Economics textbooks from the past, at ‘redesigned’ cooking utensils that hawker stall owners improvised or adapted to their specific needs. I'm sure these things may appear as objects of interest in design discourse elsewhere, but they are likely not seen as (points of interest worth looking at in design here given) the dominant definition of what design is in Singapore if we consider the general narratives in Singapore (that drives the profession here).

There was another one with Xavier Antin, an artist whose work deals a lot more with graphic design (than we may think). He studied graphic design, and his work responds to the visual or graphic tools of production we have today, or maybe do so by resisting conventional ways of using machines like the desktop printer or the inkjet printer, which are tools that somehow have a role in conditioning how we produce or even what we produce. One of his works involves hacking a large format inkjet printer and changing the way it prints. That in itself relates to graphic design production and overlaps with our interests. And so we approached the publication from that angle (which is further discussed in a conversation within the book).

And if I were to give another example...

We started publishing because we wanted to make books, we are not only concerned about how books look — the construction or design — but also in their content. Publishing brings about another aspect of the practice, which includes editing, writing or even simply deciding what to publish and what not to. That forms a core part of our practice as designers who think about what we do and its role in society.

The recent matchbox one?

Gideon That was done with Justin Zhuang who runs Singapore Graphic Archives. He collects (and archives) local graphic design history in different forms. For me at least, because of my age, I am unfamiliar with many of these visual histories. When I look at his archive, and I look again at graphic design now in Singapore, there's a huge difference. I don't know what happened in between (those two periods). That for me is enough a reason to put them out as an object for circulation, to get ourselves to look at materials or graphic design that are from the past, and see what happens from there.

Overall, we were not conscious of drawing these connections across all the titles. But maybe because these works stem strongly from our interests, and the making of the books often involves us speaking to the authors or the artists (and having our voices in them), we can’t help but bring in our perspective or a certain angle (either through words or design), and converse with them.

Which I think is very important because it's a dialogue between yourselves as the designers and publishers and the artists or the clients with their content. It almost feels like you are able to see design in almost anything. So if today I were to give you a different subject matter, you will bring your perspective of design within this realm, and be able to have a dialogue with it.

Jamie Yes, that's what we hope for. Or maybe that's just our interest. That's why things naturally gravitate towards a certain direction.

Gideon But of course, not everything we do might fall under our interest and sometimes we have to just take steps back, and hear more from someone else…

Do you feel like your background in product design also lends itself into a very nice mix of approach… that you will actually be able to see design in objects, graphics, 3D, 2D… and that then results in this very keen eye for 'things'?

Jamie I would think so. Recently, I realised that a lot of people who studied graphic design for their Diploma… there's some kind of 'baggage’ that they carry.

Gideon I mean, we have our own ‘baggage’ too.

Jamie Yeah. But... I lost my train of thought.

What kind of baggage are you referring to?

Gideon It was something very apparent when I started working as a graphic designer in a commercial studio. I realised that it was really hard for me to quickly generate visual ideas (based on styles). In product design, at least from what we were exposed to...

Jamie More conceptual, is it?

Gideon Kind of, things follow a process. There needs to be a reason behind how an object turns out, whether it is based on the technology or its function. This is a very conventional way of approaching design I would say. So, to look at and generate 2D visuals in a variety of styles was something really unfamiliar for me. In fact, it was uncomfortable. I wasn't good at it. I wasn't as versatile, or dexterous in graphic design. Maybe that was a limitation. But thinking back, studying product design changed the way we look at things.

One clear example of this is how we see books as reading appliances. They are objects of use. This is why we sometimes get a little bit agitated when discussing about the grain direction of paper in books (many here do not care), because that affects how the object feels, how we use it, or even how the object changes according to humidity, and so on. In general, that kind of education or background has more impact on how we approach design rather than looking at things purely in terms of two dimensions or three dimensions.

But thinking back, studying product design changed the way we look at things.

One clear example of this is how we see books as reading appliances. They are objects of use. This is why we sometimes get a little bit agitated when discussing about the grain direction of paper in books (many here do not care), because that affects how the object feels, how we use it, or even how the object changes according to humidity, and so on. In general, that kind of education or background has more impact on how we approach design rather than looking at things purely in terms of two dimensions or three dimensions.

I'm really glad that I'm speaking to you guys because now, I feel I understand better the different types of influences – whether it's product design or economical constraints when you guys first started – and how all of that adds up to the way you design today. Where did your love for publishing and books stem from? All these ‘reading appliances’, out of every other product...

Gideon I think Jamie doesn't like books, is it?

Jamie I used to read books...

Gideon What do you feel about books? I'm always buying books and...

Jamie I'm always stopping him from buying books… Why books?

I think the most obvious answer will be: Oh, they're a vehicle for content and you can broaden people's minds through that. That's a really typical answer.

Gideon I remember something you said in a previous interview. You mentioned that when we were product designers, it's quite hard, or at least for us, to have an independent practice. To design and actually manufacture products involve much costs, and a lot more capital...

Jamie a lot more... investment.

Gideon It definitely has to involve external parties, and we’d have to provide design purely as a service rather than for it to become an independent practice. This relates to why we bought the Riso, because we can have control over production and its costs. After investing the first amount of money to purchase the machine, everything else is quite manageable, like materials or labour. We can do it at our own pace, we don't have to run the machine all the time. We can produce, in a sense, ‘products’ that way and it works out for pursuing an independent practice.

It also goes back to the whole idea of keeping your practice sustainable and manageable between the both of you, right?

Gideon Yeah

And a book form is portable, and it's not too excessive to make with just the both of you in your studio space. Therefore, it makes a really good space to be developing creatively.

Jamie I guess, because it also encompasses our skill sets in graphic design, book design, and product design…. Then maybe the last will be the handcrafted part (that involves manual work), where sometimes we have to make parts of the books ourselves... the ability to prototype things. It all falls nicely into this book medium.

Speaking about making things with hands, both of you are very into DIY. I think some of your furniture or aspects of your studio are actually handmade. What is it about DIY that appeals to your practice?

Gideon Just in case listeners are wondering, the DIY projects we do are very makeshift and simple. Like a table made out of flat pieces of wood, cable-tied together (in different ways to form different sizes). It's not the most comfortable table, but it works really well for, let's say when we just shift into new places. This will be the first thing we set up, the first object we use. It's large enough to put a lot of things or use as a temporary work desk. It's not the kind of DIY work that is quite polished.

For us. it's again about making things work for ourselves without buying, let's say, a large table. We actually just build them with very simple, handheld tools. We don't need a workshop, we can do it within the space. Drilling holes, buying bolts and nuts, and fixing things together in extremely convenient ways.

Jamie I think sometimes the problem is… when we look at a certain object, we’re like: ok we should buy it, and then we quickly realise, why not just put three pieces of wood together and will work (and achieve the same function)?. Then we’re like: ok let’s just not spend this $25 on this thing and…

Gideon But no, most of them, its few hundreds for…

Jamie Ah ok, just drill it together you know…

Who is a better DIY person between the both of you? Who does more of the DIY?

Jamie I think I’m more gung.. Not gungho… like put your head…

Gideon Ya, she jumps into making things straightaway.

Jamie Yea, and then he’ll be like: No, it doesn't work this way! And that’s when we argue. Oh it’s structurally not strong, you know…

Gideon Yea, whether the structures we’re building will wobble… but Jamie has a lot of patience to fix things properly. For example, the Riso machine is something that we have quite a lot of problems with because it’s second… Eh no, I don’t know how many. It’s secondhand, but it went through many people. and so we had issues with it. We called for help from the headquarters, but there wasn’t really much they could do and Jamie was the one who fixed it. That is something that I cannot do and don’t have the patience for.

Wow, you’re a handywoman. Between the both of you, how do you negotiate the different roles within each project?

Jamie Ideally, we should work as one. But if you really want to be specific, most of the graphic design is done by Gideon because he was trained in that when he went to university. And I mean, how many people can work on a single file right?

Gideon Ya, and sometimes doing it together makes it slower and more complicated…

Jamie So sometimes as the project progresses, we just each take up the roles that need to be filled.

Gideon Yea, the roles fall into place.

Jamie Sometimes we create group chats so that we can both can input whatever whenever. Usually I will take on the artwork preparation, that means preparing files for production. I guess it is also boils down to my studies in industrial design, or maybe it’s just this interest in production, in making things, or making things work…

Gideon I would say that the stage where we conceptualise things is often worked out closely together. Most of the time an idea can't surface without us talking about the work. This has been the case since the first project we worked on. The idea comes when we talk to one another about the approach or contents and look at it together.

Jamie Maybe it’s just having someone to bounce ideas off each other.

When does work and practice end, and when does it start?

Gideon Whenever we want to.

So you can be at home, you can be in the studio, you can be out for dinner and you can still be talking about all these things?

Gideon Yea, it’s also because it’s part of our interest. That’s why it’s important to keep this work independent. It shouldn’t become purely a business. If it is, it wouldn’t be fun anymore. If this work is part of our daily life and general interest, then we need to protect it (and the autonomy it has). That also means we rest whenever we need to.

Jamie It’s really not like saying: Ok I’m going to work now. I don’t think that works for us.

Gideon Most of the ideas happen during off-work time, when we’re not intentionally working, like what we do when printing, laying out pages, typesetting…

Have you guys ever wanted to hire other designers, or even bring in interns, especially when work is too much for the both of you to handle?

Jamie We occasionally have help to deal with production, maybe more for Temporary Press’ activities.

Gideon Yea, we have assistants here and there. Very low commitment. Whenever they are free, they will help. We’ve talked about hiring. Ideally we don’t want to hire someone as part of the studio. We would want to collaborate with someone who wants to start an independent practice and who share similar interests, that’s important. And then, collaborate on things, sharing projects if we can. They help us, but with the intention of starting their own practice eventually. That’s where we would like to head towards. I don’t know how long it will take but…

So it will be more collaborative, not so much as like an employer hiring an employee…

Gideon Yes, I’m not sure whether it’s feasible. Maybe some would say it’s not practical, but I’m not sure until I try it.

Hmm, it almost sounds like some kind of incubation programme, where there’s a bit of funding to help someone kickstart, but at the same time also mentorship and guidance. Eventually the hope is that this person or collective will be able to take off on their own.

Gideon Maybe this has been done, in different ways…

Jamie …and in other outfits that we know.

Gideon Of course, that can also happen if someone just works purely as an employee in a company.

In terms of collaborations, what kind of projects and ideas excite the both of you the most

Gideon Most of these projects are with friends we already know, or do works we are interested in. Whenever such friends or people look for us to work on things, we’re excited.

Jamie Even if the initial brief didn’t sound as exciting, we’ll get excited about the ideas that are possible.

Gideon Ya, you’re right. There was a project we worked on where we were asked us to design a conventional booklet, a straightforward project brief. Just a booklet, over 30 pages. Of course, the contents are interesting, but it’s not particularly exciting as a design brief. But once we found the idea that works for that context it became really exciting.

Right, because you love what you’re doing, so you make it exciting for yourselves at some point. And then you have the both of you to bounce ideas off each other.

Jamie I don’t think we intentionally make it exciting, but… it just…

Comes to be…

Jamie It’s like: Wow, this idea is quite cool uh. Like, when you do it…

It’s like self-assurance.

Gideon It’s also dependent on the person we’re working with. They give room for ideas to happen and they themselves are excited about this unusual or unexpected… (not all the time, but we often try to find unexpected solutions or ideas) and they become as interested and excited as us about it. That helps and is important for us.

I guess the energy from your collaborators or clients is also quite important. As designers who work extensively with artists, do you think there is a fine line between art and design? Are these categories distracting or helpful? Because sometimes your role may not be that clear, right? Because you take on so many hats.

Jamie I think increasingly it gets blurrier, or we find that there’s no…

Gideon …need.

Jamie …need to differentiate. We like parts of the artistic mind, and we also like parts of the design practice.

Gideon Instead of a fine line, I guess it’s a grey area that we kind of enjoy being in. But of course I don’t identify myself or ourselves as artists. I think we are still designers, and I also like to use the word ‘graphic design’ because it’s outdated. Nobody uses that anymore.

We see ourselves as designers that have an expanded or broader practice that bleeds into other areas. Those distinctions are helpful in a way because (although we try not to consciously think about it) it shows where we are coming from in terms of the things we read, the people we reference, the ideas we interact with… They are very much rooted or situated in design discourse, rather than the field of art, which is actually sometimes quite intimidating for me. I have a preference for the term ‘designer’ but that’s just because of what I’m more comfortable or familiar with.

We see ourselves as designers that have an expanded or broader practice that bleeds into other areas. Those distinctions are helpful in a way because (although we try not to consciously think about it) it shows where we are coming from in terms of the things we read, the people we reference, the ideas we interact with… They are very much rooted or situated in design discourse, rather than the field of art.

I think that’s a really good answer, when you say it helps when you give a sense of where you’re coming from, like what kind of references you’re making. To add on to whatever we’re talking about just now, how do you then negotiate the creative boundaries and integrate design thinking that complement artistic intentions, especially when you work with artists, artist books, or even exhibition designs for artists?

Gideon To be honest, that’s still something we’re figuring out along the way. With every step we take, we hope to push the boundaries a little bit more. Maybe at one point where it’s really too much and it crumbles, then we know. At the moment, we’re still unsure of where that line is or if there is even a boundary.

A lot of times, it also depends on the nature of the project. If you’re working with someone who has got a very clear idea of what the output is like, and we feel that there is no need to add anything to it, then we don’t do anything much to it. It’s really just practically putting it together in the simplest way possible. An example will be Yu Tong’s recent book.

‘Tom’s Day Out’?

Gideon Yea, that one we really did nothing… I mean, it’s an invisible labour. It’s thinking about the format, and also with practical aspects – how to achieve a book just with one uncut sheet of paper, and achieving the most with the least, in terms of cost. Yu Tong is interested to develop a series of those books and we just made the grids/guidelines in the working file so that he can use it to put together future titles. That is an example where we don’t interfere as much because there is no need to.

Whereas, in other projects, the brief may be quite open-ended, like the one I was talking about previously, the booklet with 30 over pages. Here, there is reason for something unexpected.

You mentioned the idea of ‘invisible labour’ just now…

Gideon Maybe it's not the right term.

I think it’s very interesting because sometimes the best design is not visible. It exists to work on a subconscious level. It’s so good that you don’t even know it’s there. But it facilitates the way you read, perceive or understand some things. That kind of invisible labour… it appears to me almost like a deeper level of thinking in creating systems, in creating some kind of ‘user interface’, if you would.

Gideon Just adding on to what you’re mentioning, a lot of that for me comes through typesetting. Because typesetting is what directly affects the reading experience, not page layout, but just how texts sit together in lines and on a page… looking at the proportions between what is printed and what is not.

Still, on the other hand, there are also a lot of occasions where we interfere in design, and these are clearly visible.

What’s one of the biggest risks? That crossing of the boundary… what’s one of the biggest steps that you’ve taken?

Gideon Recently… Maybe this one is not so much visual, but in terms of idea, there was a project that we did for Shu and…

Jamie Oh, Shu, Berny and…

Syahrul? That’s curated by Berny.

Gideon Yes, ‘How We Learn(t)’. For the exhibition graphics, we proposed to use stock photography. They are stock photos of blank canvases or frames in a gallery setting that is meant for photographers or artists to superimpose their work to make it look realistic / legitimate. And there was not much design actually, it’s just the title header and then the ‘key visual’. Maybe that’s the ‘worst’ we did…

The worst? I thought that was super clever.

Gideon I mean, in terms of something unexpected.

Pushing the boundary…

Jamie Most visible…

Gideon In a sense, the one that interferes the most.

And that was developed by taking a spin on the idea of learning, relearning, unlearning?

Gideon There was one very obvious, literal, almost superficial connection/reason Because the exhibition was a photography showcase without photographs, the stock images literally portray that. They are…

Jamie …photography exhibitions without photographs.

Gideon This was something we realised only at the end. At first, we were considering systems of knowledge (in graphic design), because both artists were questioning systems of knowledge in the areas they were interested in. One is in orchestral music, the other one is in…

Jamie …land-mapping.

Gideon Yea. I’m not an expert in those areas, so I looked at graphic design – what is considered a system of knowledge in our field. One of them is the use of stock images (the system found in stock image libraries). They condition the way we think about reality. For example, if you search ‘success’, you get a stereotypical portrayal of that.

There were also a lot of art exhibition identities where artworks are used as ‘key visuals’ and we wanted to deliberately do the opposite of that, to use something else that is entirely different but yet at the same time, quite literally point to the work, or the idea behind the

I went to the exhibition and I thought that the booklet was really clever, and very fun. It almost felt like I was a child again and I was given this sticker sheet with squares and I can choose whatever image I want to paste into it. It changes the meaning of the text on each page. You then become an active agent in deciding the meanings across this booklet.

Gideon That idea came about when we were trying to not show any of the works in the catalogue (it made sense to have blank frames that was found in the stock photographs we used). A sticker sheet seems like a solution where we can choose not to include any images in a catalogue but have it at the same time. Of course, the reader can also choose to paste the stock images instead of the artwork. I’m glad that they (the people we worked with) didn’t… kill me for it.

I think they love it!

I guess this question is more personal. What have you learnt from each other over the years, working as partners in work, creative practice and life?

Jamie I think I learned to let go a bit. To not look too much at the small things. Because I’m not a very big-picture person, I like to look at small things, and I get lost in them. Sometimes, I have to step back and like: Ok this is the big picture, and we should not be so ‘yim zhim’ (particular) about the small things.

Gideon Maybe it’s certain operations of the studio that you’re quite particular about (like overseeing money)… Whereas, I tend to suggest a lot more ideas. Sometimes, a little bit too much and then we cannot keep up. We end up disappointing people because we said ‘Ok, let’s do this’ and it doesn't happen.

Jamie Oh yea, he’s too excited.

Gideon I learn about my limitations, the things that I cannot do, which are very real and apparent, and she would know. Most of the time, I’ll just pass it to her.

Jamie Pass to me?

Gideon The things that I’m not good at.

Jamie Oh, ok ok. Learn to let go of the things you cannot do?

So it’s similar… learning how to let go of the smaller things, and learning how to let go of things you cannot do.

Gideon Yea, and also learning to be more open to criticisms, if I were to talk about it in terms of our relationship working together.

Jamie But we always criticise each other.

Gideon Yea, so that’s why we’re learning.

Jamie Ah, ok.

Gideon And to be more open about it (critique). To not always assume that the way a certain thing is done is always right (or the best way to do it). Actually, the way we’re talking about this is quite abstract.

I’m sure that being partners in so many areas... It’s not a straight-forward answer, because different aspects of life get mashed into one. I’m also curious whether there are any changes you would like to see in the design industry in Singapore?

Gideon We try to make the changes that we like to see. I know this is a very big statement, but it is what it is. For the longest time, we’ve been frustrated, also with ourselves (being stuck in certain place of practice). If we want to see things happen, then we should be the ones at least trying to do it. It need not start out in a very grand manner, and can even be just getting people to share information about their own practice that helps one another build their practices. We try to make these changes one step at a time.

Temporary Press is also about that. We wanted to see our friends producing content because we are interested in those contents ourselves. And so why not publish them together? A lot of them are very simple, sometimes there is almost no graphic design involved. It’s really just putting content together in a way that makes sense, and to distribute and circulate it.

Is ‘Open Book’...the series of discussions, part of this effort?

Gideon Yes, that is. We often look at books produced here. More than half are… have paper grain in the wrong direction. So why not just get people to talk about it and…

Jamie I guess we just hope that there’s more care, right?

Gideon Yea, more care… It’s not to say that we are putting a lot of care, it’s just…

Jamie To get people to share about whatever they’ve done… We learn from them as well. It benefits not only the people who come, but also us.

Gideon Yea, it’s (the intention behind this is) quite selfish in a way too.

Jamie It’s like we learn all the trade secrets. And It’s not recorded and not published anywhere, yet.

Is there going to be a final outcome from this series of discussions?

Gideon No promises, but we’re trying to make a catalogue of information where the different designers will share, for example, a paper stock that they often use. Even something like this can be a barrier for someone just starting out, like if we don’t know the prices behind certain stock. Of course, we can ask the paper merchants but if that information is more immediately accessible, it will make it a lot easier for someone move into making books with a more confidence, understanding and knowledge. Something as simple as that (was a challenge). It’s we faced in the beginning. We were looking at papers, and we were not sure how much the different papers cost…

Jamie You can’t be calling the merchant and like: I want to know the price of this, this, this…

Gideon Actually you can, they are more than helpful to help. It’s just we’re… yea.

It’s also in a way, knowledge sharing, passing down what you figured out and…The change that you guys are working towards is also making the design industry a little more nurturing, making time to stop, share and exchange. Not always rushing deadlines and giving that kind of space and care for each other’s works and processes.

Gideon Yea, hopefully it’s that.

Jamie Hopefully.

Gideon I can’t say that about what we’re doing, but hopefully it’s that.

Looking forward to that. We will stay tuned to your works! Thank you so much!

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