Foreign Policy is a design strategy & think tank bureau based in Singapore, helmed by Creative Director Yah-Leng Yu. Check out our chat with her below.
What’s your studio environment like?
Casual and cozy. Our walls and shelf-tops are filled with posters, things we made, tools we used and random things we collect. It’s an open office layout and everyone’s always chatting and interacting with one another during work hours.
We featured your identity design for Bottura. What is the concept behind it?
The key inspiration is the Italian Nonna (grandmother) and her food. Familiar fare passed down from Nonna is the backbone of the food served at Bottura. Bottura marries Nonna patterns with quintessential Italian patterns as an homage to the owner’s hometown in Bologna — a city steeped in culinary tradition. The logo juxtaposes old and new in a bold manner, giving Bottura its strong Italian voice. Colours are inspired by the warm hues of Bolognese food and its iconic brick roofs, forming a hearty palette.
What is the design scene like in Singapore?
The design scene in Singapore is getting exciting. We are a young design city and over the last few years we’ve seen an accelerated spurt of growth in the creative culture in Singapore. This is really encouraging and inspiring for our design community who has been consistently hitting and setting higher benchmarks. More and more young people are interested in joining the creative force. People are generally more appreciative of design and this is important to the design business as well.
As a studio, how do you approach a new project?
Story telling is at the heart of what we do here at Foreign Policy. We build stories around the contexts – context is the one essence we never ignore. Whether it’s the brand concept or the visual language that tells that brand story, it all begins with the context.
Do you think a strong social media presence is important for a design studio?
I think yes - as this is an important channel to get the word out – to showcase your works to the world literally. This is time and age where we need to do that in order to gain recognition and eyeballs. In this day and age, marketing and promotion is everything, and social media is THE platform for it.
How did you approach developing the wayfinding for The Working Capitol?
The Working Capitol is an atypical co-working office space - it is designed to be a confluence of dynamic conversations and rapid prototyping of ideas. We came up with the tag for it – The Knowledge Worker, Inspired.
The brand concept is based on the Euclidean Principle while the visual language is inspired by Euclidean’s geometric construction. The idea that something beautiful can be created with a given set of basic axiomatic system reflect The Working Capitol’s commitment to (A) creating beautiful spaces combined with the (B) right infrastructure and (C) community. With these basic building blocks in place, the sphere of influence can multiply and grow, just like the possibilities of Euclidean geometry.
So when we were designing the wayfinding system, we really took this to mind making sure the basic brand concept is farther developed. The juxtaposition of 2D and 3D form in a single signage is an expansion of the brand concept we’ve developed for The Working Capitol – the Euclidean sensibility of geometric forms. The Working Capitol is not just an office; it is a community of knowledge workers who operate at the intersection of creativity, technology, and business. The wayfinding system therefore expounded these ideals with a combination of 2D with 3D forms on one signage and various anamorphic and sculptural forms as well as quirky tag lines expressing directions and signs. We crafted the voice for The Working Capitol and it is succinctly articulated through wayfinding and various signs as this is the first thing a visitor will see when he/she steps into the space.
Do you have a favourite project you have worked on?
Every project holds a special place in our hearts. Perhaps Brand Guide would be a favorite since it is our own project. It is a book which comes in a form of a dossier folder, documents the creative labors that went behind 17 super brands in Singapore. A dossier, holding a compilation of reports, forms the basis of how the book is bound with file fasteners. The cover also inspired by folders used during our nation-building days. The design language reflects a young and vibrant city. We drew on cultural markers like the green marble pattern ubiquitous to our coffee shops, and pink wrappers used in our traditional medical halls, but fused it with modernity, expressing of the state of our city.
Can you talk us through your branding of The Clifford Pier?
Clifford Pier is a historical landmark in Singapore where it marks the beginning of Singapore as a bustling trading port from its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles. Yes we were a British colony. Now it has become part of a luxury hotel Fullerton Bay Hotel and they have used it as a restaurant and it was really exciting to be working on the branding of this restaurant.
Our first inspiration came from William Farquhar who was the First Resident and the Commandant British of colonial Singapore. What’s interesting to us is he was fascinated by the flora and fauna in the region and had commissioned unidentified Chinese artists to illustrate these paintings of biodiversity - of plants, insects, birds, reptiles, fish and mammals found in Singapore and Malacca. The result is a pivotal collection of 477 of these painting which has a very unique blended style of oriental and realism of western art.
And of course the food is really inspiring too - the restaurant serves high-end local delights and street food. These you must try if you are in Singapore!
So anyway, we used the Farquhar drawings as a source of inspiration and started to develop a series of patterns - ginger flower motifs, architectural motifs of the pier, sea faring instruments motifs inspired by the glorious voyages that set sail from this landmark. We created a palette in three colors relating to the ocean - the sea foam, coral and caspian blue. These all build up to become the visual language for the brand.
How did you approach putting together The Brand Guide: Singapore Edition?
Brand Guide: Singapore Edition – As designers, we are always buying and looking at design books for reference. My observation of these design books is that they are mostly image-driven without too much in-depth written information about the process, the story behind, the concepts and inspirations of these design. The Brand Guide is also a response from an observation of the opportunity to share the journeys and stories of how brand owners build their brands, typically starting with only an idea and a belief. At the same time, the past few years we’ve been a proliferation of great concepts, brands, shops, restaurants, hotels etc built by local Singaporeans who are have great ideas and taste. With that, and because of their respect and love for design, designers are putting out pretty good works out there whether it is branding, graphic or space design. There is no better time to be a designer in Singapore right now, which I would call the 'Design Renaissance'.
Finally as proud Singaporeans we are able to blow our own trumpets about good designs and good hangouts in Singapore. And, a documentation of these people behind the brands, and the people who help craft and design them should be celebrated and should continue to inspire the next wave that’s to come. This may be a beginning to be official about Singapore maturing into a design hub – which I know for a fact based on my interaction and experience from the people I’ve met, that a lot of the Southeast Asian markets are looking to our little island for design inspirations. I think it is super important be able to carry the flag and bang the gong for Singapore design as it has never before been a better time for us designers to exist in Singapore.
It was really 2 years ago that we had this idea but it was never executed until a year later because of the amount of client work we were swamped with. Even after we started, it was a daunting task to keep at it because we do have our client projects to answer to. A personal project like this takes a lot of discipline and tenacity to see to its completion.
We shortlisted the brand, contacted the brand owners, organised the interviews and photography sessions. After which we collate the interviews for writing while the design layouts were being done. Edits, more edits and even more edits happen for both the writing and design. In between we stopped - where we went to focus on client projects - sometimes the gaps are long and to come back to the book, we needed to switch our gear back really quickly. Back and forth, that happened for a year before we finally huddled together, bit the bullet and got it all done.
What does the future hold for Foreign Policy?
We hope to keep on innovating and creating new stories and ideas to tell.
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