The Designers: Campbell Hay’s Wai Ming Ng on working in different cities, photography, and more
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For part nine in the series, we spoke to Wai Ming Ng, the Design Lead at London-based brand consultancy Campbell Hay.
EM Hi Wai Ming. How’re you?
WMN I’m good thanks. How are you?
EM Pretty well, thanks. How did you develop an interest in graphic design?
WMN I remember as a child there was a packaging design contest at our local supermarket. Both my sister and I entered with our own packaging designs using our colouring pencils. Ironically, my sister came first and I came second.
Later on, during high school I got really into photography and drawing. So, I started drawing all sorts of stuff, including existing brand and band logos. For some reason, I got really obsessed with the Nike swoosh. I then started designing our high school event posters and in my free time I would design and code my own personal blogs.
I almost didn’t study graphic design, but mathematics instead. I was good at it and thought it was a very asian thing to do. My art teacher told me to apply for art school instead, which I did.
For some reason, I got really obsessed with the Nike swoosh.
EM What does your journey into the industry look like?
WMN After my graphic design bachelor in The Netherlands I worked on a couple of projects for various cultural clients in The Netherlands, but after a few years I got bored. I moved to London to study experimental filmmaking at the Royal College of Art. After I finished my masters degree, I worked on a couple of film projects before I decided to move again. This time I moved to Hong Kong and started working for various design studios out there. After a year I decided it was enough and moved back to London again, where I started working at Campbell Hay.
EM How do you find the design culture in London compared to the other cities you’ve worked in?
WMN London is actually a very good city to be in when it comes to design and branding. There are a lot of good studios out here, from smaller design studios to bigger agencies. I think there is less choice in design studios in The Netherlands and Hong Kong. The design culture in both places is smaller and more concentrated I would say.
EM You’re now in your second stint at Campbell Hay. What about being there makes it a good fit for you?
WMN Both Charlie and Elly are really nice people. You must know, as we worked together there as well! I guess it’s a good combination of trust, responsibility, creative input, ownership and freedom.
EM Can you highlight something you’ve learnt from them during your time there?
WMN I’ve been here a while now, so I’ve learnt a lot. I think one of the things I’ve learnt here is to think about how the client perceives the work you are presenting to them, that they are most likely not interested in what sans serif typeface you have chosen. We also tend to work with strategists and copywriters often, so I’ve learnt a lot from working together with them.
Think about how the client perceives the work.
EM How did yourself, and the rest of the team, find working during the lockdown?
WMN I actually find it more productive to work from home, less distractions than you would normally have in a studio environment, but communication with the team is a lot trickier when working from home and days do tend to feel the same, especially six months in now.
EM What does your setup look like?
EM How do you approach days where you don’t feel so creative?
WMN Probably by taking a break from the project that I’m working on, giving it some breathing space. Or if time doesn’t allow it, talk to my colleagues, keep looking for visual input and make things work.
EM It’s clear from your Instagram that you’re a very sharp photographer. Do you think having a sensibility towards that informs your design work, and vice versa?
WMN That’s quite a difficult question to answer. I’m not sure if my photography informs my design work directly, but most of the projects I have worked on do include an element of photography or art direction, which I really enjoy doing as well. I guess my photography is quite graphic, but it’s hard for me to tell how and if that’s informed by my design work.
EM And being good at mathematics, as you mentioned earlier, do you think that’s helped you to understand the more technical aspects of design such as baseline grids?
WMN I’d like to say yes, but I don’t think so. My work isn’t necessarily mathematical or grid heavy. I do enjoy doing calculations in my head and remembering specific numbers, whether it’s about the grid, dimensions, type sizes or proportions.
It’s important to have a solid concept or brand narrative for each project.
EM How would you describe your design ethos?
WMN I think it’s important to have a solid concept or brand narrative for each project that you work on and that everything you design comes from that. I also think it’s important to not keep using the same style of design everytime you work on a new project, but to define a style that’s most appropriate for the type of client or project you are working on.
EM Are there any studios or creative people, in any industry, that you particularly admire?
WMN I really like the work of director Kore-eda Hirokazu, his films are beautiful and poetic and he has a very good eye. I’m a fan of Sonya Dyakova’s work, she pays a lot of attention to detail, materiality and type. Her work is very considered and there is a sensitivity that you don’t see often.
EM Do you see yourself starting your own practice one day?
WMN No, I don’t think it’s for me.
EM Why so?
WMN I think I’d be too consumed with work if I started my own practice. I like the idea of taking a step back at the end of the day.
EM What can we look forward to from Campbell Hay throughout the rest of 2020?
WMN We are working on a few web projects at the moment. We are chasing a few new leads that I can’t talk about, but 2020 has put a lot of things on hold for obvious reasons.