The joy of building ‘smile in the mind’ obstacles, with OKOK Services’ My Kim Bui and Faris Kassim
By now, we’re all familiar with the working-remote approach within the design industry. How about working-across-timezones? For OKOK Services’ My Kim Bui and Faris Kassim, what could have been a tricky hurdle became a perfect formula for excellent teamwork, and the work speaks for itself. Curious to learn more about the creative minds behind their thought-provoking, clever and fun website and UX creations, we had a chat with the pair.
PT Hello My Kim and Faris! How are you both?
FK We’re good! Thanks for asking.
MK Okok :)
PT For those who aren’t familiar with your working practice, can you tell us a bit about your relay-style of working between time zones?
FK I’m based in Seoul, South Korea and My Kim’s in Amsterdam which means that there is usually around 7-8 hours of time difference between us. Initially, we thought that this would be an issue but as we adapted our working processes to it, we found that it’s been quite an advantage instead.
Instead of working collaboratively on most parts, we take turns to develop concepts independently or iterate on each other's works. So for example, if My Kim kicks off with concepts for a website, 7 hours later when my day starts on the other side of the world, I will then take over and continue working on them. And we end the day by having a call to discuss when our working hours overlap and this process repeats itself.
MK I think that we are fortunate to be working in a time where collaborative tools are the standard and these have helped us to keep our collaboration processes more streamlined. Faris touched on how we constantly pass the baton back and forth during the design process, but it’s applied similarly to the development phases of work as well where we take over where the other left in code.
Furthermore, our clients are based all over the world, so being in different time zones has also been convenient as one of us is always available to take calls.
We have similar interests but we do things in our own ways.
PT How did you two first meet?
MK I met Faris during my internship with the Singapore-based branding studio, Bravo. At the time, I had limited knowledge of coding and focused mainly on branding.
FK Interestingly, My Kim and I did not collaborate closely during her time there. Although she did frequently bother me with her Snapchats in the studio.
PT Why do you think your working style is compatible?
MK Weirdly, we have similar interests but we do things in our own ways. We both do the creative conception and development together. But for one reason or another, regardless of the project, we would somehow figure out a particular area of work each of us can focus on and divide the tasks accordingly depending on which ones we are more fluent in executing. Over the years, we have developed a knack of knowing which tasks need to be left for the other person and vice versa.
FK Also I would say that I am quite anti-confrontational with clients while My Kim is more firm and decisive. So sometimes it definitely helps to move things along when she plays the ‘bad cop’ when necessary.
PT Prior to launching the studio, what were your creative backgrounds?
FK I picked up ActionScript (remember that?) in high school and made Flash websites in my formative years. Thereafter freelanced and worked for a couple of advertising agencies and branding studios in Singapore in mostly hybrid roles of a designer and developer.
MK I studied graphic design in Belgium and actually didn’t have a development background at first. When we first met, I was working more on traditional branding. Later on, I took an interest in coding and kinda deep dived into them on my own, trying to mix and match code I found online until things sorta worked. Since then, I have worked at different agencies as well where I have learnt to work on-site builds in ‘proper’ production environments.
PT What was the a-ha moment that made you want to start a practice together?
FK For a couple of years prior to starting OKOK, we were just sending each other URLs of websites and random finds which we thought were cool and ones we really resonated with. This led to one of the first projects that we self-initiated – to design and build an archival site (called WebArchive) for exactly these sorta references. So you could say that the ‘a-ha moment’ was something that happened over a period of time rather than a particular moment.
MK Our WhatsApp chat history must be the biggest pile of ideas ever. And also one of those ideas that we shared eventually led us to design a site for Amos Yong which was our first client work, and the rest is history…
We want people to slow down, pay a little more attention when they use something that we’ve made.
PT Why do you think you were drawn to creating digital experiences?
FK I’ve had a fascination for intro titles and the pause menus from the SEGA Genesis/Megadrive video games ever since I was old enough to remember, like around four or five years old. And I’d like to think that that fascination eventually led to what I do today.
MK I have always found the intricacies and the way users interact with and provide input on an interface to be weirdly intriguing.
PT You’ve mentioned that ‘dis-fluency’ is a part of your approach – can you tell us more about that?
FK I think in recent years, consumption of content on digital mediums has been largely based on homogenous user experiences that were designed with efficiency and conversion rates as the ultimate goal at the expense of human sensory experience. If what you designed can't achieve something in two clicks, it’s quickly labelled as ‘dark UX’ and we’re all against that.
We want people to slow down, pay a little more attention when they use something that we’ve made, and we try to do this by adding little obstacles to the overall experience, but not to the point where it becomes a hindrance and makes the user experience frustrating.
MK We also found that these little obstacles are great opportunities to give the user a ‘smile in the mind’ moment when it is executed well.
I think we find inspiration in the everyday things that surround us.
PT Who or what were your biggest influences?
FK Seeing the works of Jan Robert Leegte and Rafaël Rozendaal and their interpretation of the web as a medium all those years ago really left a strong impression on me.
MK I can recall two particular experiences that led me to pursue the career path I am on now. Encountering the works of Cartelle, a studio that made crazy web experiences, particularly for that time, and Daniel Givens, a designer and developer that simply told me ‘you can do it.’ Those two instances inspired me tremendously.
PT Your work – such as the website for writer/researcher Alex Heeyeon Kil – often has very interesting and insightful concepts behind it. How long do you usually spend on this part of projects?
FK I think it varies greatly, some take weeks to sit on and brew, but for this one in particular, the main concept of the site came out of the very first meeting with Alex. We saw her actual writing notes which were largely made up of accumulative layers of annotations and research materials which had a very scrapbook-esque quality to them. The hardcover of the notebook also had debossed type all over and what we did thereafter was simply to try and translate those physical and tactile qualities to the digital screen.
MK I think we find inspiration in the everyday things that surround us, whether it's through noticing how a door closes or observing how a set of LED lights behave on a shop sign. We document a lot of these random things we come across. It could be anything relevant to a project we are currently working on or something to keep in mind for future projects.
PT Which project has been your favourite to realise from idea to finished product?
FK I don't think I have a favourite one per se but I think the circumstances that led us to work on a website for Korean photographer/artist Snakepool was an interesting one. We had this flip-book coffee table book sort of idea for a website that we had no real clients to use it for. And one day I came across by chance, one of his photobooks in a bookstore in Seoul and we thought his works were a perfect fit. So we cold-emailed him and proposed the idea and fortunately for us, he liked it and it eventually went on from there.
MK I particularly enjoyed working on ARE YOU OKOK, a personal self-explorative project that we initiated in the summer of 2021. We roped in our fellow creative friends from various fields like branding, creative writing, 3D and sound design to interpret what ‘OKOK’ could actually mean.
I am constantly amazed and grateful that we are able to work with our close friends and also talented people from all over the world and I’m really looking forward to having more opportunities for similar collaborations in the near future.
PT Outside of work, what do you enjoy getting up to in your free time?
MK I am obsessed with collecting ceramics these days. I also recently received a Nintendo Switch, so I have been playing Pokemon which reminds me of my childhood.
FK The winter in Seoul can be brutal (-17°C now as we speak) but when it's a little kinder, I play football and also do a bit of skating.