The Designers: Right to Left’s Liz Huang and Jacob Chung talk us through their careers so far
Our interview series 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 the thirty-fourth entry into the series, we’ve got a double blockbuster for you! We’re joined by Right to Left’s Yi-Zhi Huang (Liz) and Chung Hin Ching (Jacob). As two designers who have been with the Hackney-based studio since its early days, they have seen their own talents blossom alongside the practice. In our conversation, Liz and Jacob share their pathways into the industry, what they’ve learned so far, and their strengths as a team.
PT Hi Liz and Jacob! How’s your summer going so far?
JC Hello Poppy, I’m doing well, thank you. I’ve been taking advantage of the good weather in London lately!
LH Hello Poppy, it has been great! I recently took a short break in my hometown Taiwan, marking my first visit in three years.
PT Sounds super! Let’s take a look back, what did your career path look like prior to joining RTL?
JC After graduating from LCC, I had an opportunity to work with a start-up as a freelancer, shout out to my coursemate and friend Homan for showing my ex-boss our uni showcase website. I was hired as an art director of merchandise and graphic designer. At the same time, I was tidying up my portfolio which always takes longer than we think.
LH While I was studying, our studio Founder & Creative Director, Samar, did a talk at Kingston University. The talk centred around working with multiple cultural reference points as well as writing systems and languages that differ widely; this resonated deeply with me as someone coming from a different cultural background. It got me thinking about how I can apply my language skills and background in design. Fortunately, right after graduating, Samar was seeking designers to join her new studio, and here I am!
I love merging different aesthetics and cultures through my work.
PT How did you land your role? What was it about the studio that stood out to you?
JC Once I finished my freelance project, I started looking for studios that focus on typography and branding projects. There are a lot of studios out there in this field but what made Right to Left stand out to me was Samar’s work and approach. She creates brands that integrate worlds, cultures, and languages which is a really fresh approach. Since I was born and raised in Hong Kong, surrounded by different visuals and a melting pot of cultures, I always get inspired and influenced by my surroundings, especially the 80s and the 90s films, visuals and music. I love bringing and merging different aesthetics and cultures through my work so I thought it was a good place for me to start my career! And so I sent out my portfolio and cover letter and luckily I got hired!
LH I started as a junior graphic designer at Right to Left right after finishing my MA studies. Since then I have been working on different projects covering brand design, digital and book design. As the demand for animation work increased in our studio, I took the opportunity to explore motion design. Me and Jacob took a course with the School of Motion, that we did on the days when we work from home, and we learned a bit more on each project, so it’s been great.
PT Since joining, how have your responsibilities shifted?
JC As a junior, I started by working on small bits from every project, cleaning up anchor points, doing artwork and preparing presentations, moodboards, small things. After several months, I started to work on bigger parts or even finishing a whole project with Samar closely. We just finished a brand guideline document, something I never imagined I would be able to hold so shortly after graduation. I am so grateful for how much I have grown in just 18 months.
LH In addition to the design work, I also took some responsibility for the recruitment process and engaged in various other aspects of the studio’s operations. Even though I was not familiar with the process of interviewing designers and reviewing portfolios, I tried to do my best and create a comfortable space for candidates to express themselves. One of the things I learned from this was that when applying for a job, apart from having a good portfolio, it is also important to do research to understand what the company does and looks for, because no two jobs are the same and we were looking for like minded people.
PT And how would you say you’ve changed as people?
JC Maybe I would say I became a little bit more versatile. By working with clients from varied cultures and backgrounds. I learned a lot by staying open-minded as well as working with scripts I am not familiar with.
LH I believe that I haven’t changed, I try to maintain being kind and helpful towards others. As well as keeping the same enthusiasm of a graduate even after working in the industry for two years.
We work collaboratively and have a hands-on approach to everything.
PT What makes Right to Left a special place to work?
LH As an independent studio, we work collaboratively and have a hands-on approach to everything that’s needed in the studio. Each day brings new challenges; one day I could be working on animation, the next it can be brand identity concepts or book design. This wide range of projects allows for versatility and keeps things interesting. We also leave room for experimentation, for example, our personal project Type Map allows us to play and explore typography in different scripts. One of the most special things at Right to Left was the Friday talks we hosted, where I got to meet many talented designers and got inspired!
JC Apart from what Liz said, we often get involved with every project in a wide range of fields. Working a lot with languages is also quite cool to me. We have a side project called Type Map: since we use a variety of scripts every day as designers, we wanted to explore these languages we work with, and learn from each other. We started by looking at fundamental rules of type, like leading, kerning, and modularity in Arabic and Chinese characters, sometimes we marry languages, sometimes we use the same shapes to create two letters in different scripts, we play with form.
PT What is your current workspace setup?
LH I spend 3 days a week working here, it’s a cosy and comfortable space to be in.
PT What is the most challenging aspect of your job? And the most enjoyable?
LH The most challenging part of my job is maintaining flexibility and adapting to diverse projects, even those that are outside my comfort zone. Product design is an example! I had no idea how it works when I graduated from university but now I am learning how to think about prototypes and discovering more about user experience; I find it enjoyable to work with start-ups because we start from a blank page, and we have to make it work going through all the stages of a project from start to finish. I discovered that it’s not that simple to arrive at a clear user journey, it often involves endless iterations, amends, and improvements, as well as user tests, to iron out the complexity and keep the core brand message visible. That whole experience was new to me.
JC I agree! Adapting projects is definitely the hardest aspect but also the fun part. Today I am working on illustrations but the next day I will be working on editorials or motion. This kind of work tempo keeps me fresh and won’t get bored by doing the same type of projects, so I quite enjoy switching projects in a short time. By looking back, I do think this working environment helps us grow so much faster.
PT What kinds of projects do you get the most excited about?
JC For me, I like working on any typographic projects. If I have a chance, I always try to draw my own letters to create a wordmark for the projects I am involved in. By the way, we are building some typefaces as side projects, which we are looking forward to launching when ready. Stay tuned!!
LH I’m passionate about editorial and book design. I love the process of arranging texts and images and finding ways to connect with readers. In my time at Right to Left, I’ve also developed an interest in motion design, learning the techniques as well as the thinking behind them to add some dynamism to my work.
PT What lesson or advice has helped you the most throughout your career?
JC Don’t get lost in the details. Overthinking and being pixel-perfect bothers me a lot. I am trying my best to not spend too much time on details in the early stages to be more efficient in my work. I used to spend hours refining sketches, but then I realised that all the efforts I put into one sketch may not make it till the end. Tonnes of changes happen in every stage of a design project, so I always tell myself to put the appropriate amount of time and effort at the right time, making the first stage about ideas, and the last stages about refinement and detail.
LH Embrace the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and avoid limiting yourself to the type of work you typically prefer. Working outside your comfort zone is definitely harder but you will most certainly learn a lot more.
PT Do you enjoy working in Hackney? Any places you’d recommend checking out?
JC Yeah, we love Hackney! Lovely neighbourhoods and lots of creatives around. And we love spending our lunch break and happy hour in Hackney Downs Park when the sun is out. I spent almost all my lunch break there while Liz was on her holiday. Besides, I would recommend Pophams around London Fields! They served really good pastries and bread, definitely worth a visit!
LH Yes, I enjoy working in Hackney; it has a vibrant and fun vibe. We have local pubs and parks near our studio where we often go. I also like visiting Broadway Market on the weekends. It’s a great place to explore various street foods and discover unique independent shops. I would also recommend trying Jolene on Newington Green if you’re looking for a lovely dining experience. We had our Christmas dinner there, and the food was delicious.
PT How would you describe your approach to design?
JC I like to look at references like archives or something totally irrelevant to the project I am working on. Then after a proper research on the subject matter so I can understand it better, I will do a quick hand sketch session. This process allows me to bring things from different areas, and filter out what is not working and where the best ideas are. Maybe it’s not how everyone works, but this method works for me.
LH Before starting a project, I like to do some research about the project, it can be a city, brand or product depending on the job, this is to search for what has been done before, and learn from other examples. In the early stages, I also enjoy playing around with forms and letters roughly and quickly in black and white, sometimes with hand sketches. It’s all about exploring different possibilities and pushing boundaries to come up with something that is new, perhaps by combining unusual things together to make something stand out.
PT What would you say each others’ strengths are?
JC Liz is such a quick learner and she can adapt so well to all the new or diverse projects. In addition, she always comes up with some cool ideas and directions. She is a great multitasker, something I can never claim to be. Also, her people skills are so good, maybe that’s the reason why she is our honorary HR!
LH Jacob has a cool, funky, and slightly retro design style (and it totally extends to his fashion sense too!). It’s like no matter what he’s working on, he manages to infuse it with his own taste and flair. He has an amazing attention to detail, and likes to only share files when he has aligned everything; he is also very kind and attentive, with many hidden talents like photography.
PT What are you looking forward to this summer?
JC Sun, picnics and travelling!
LH I am looking forward to more sunny days ahead and being close to the seaside. And maybe have a small break on the beautiful Greek islands!