Yah-Leng Yu on Foreign Policy’s evolution as a studio, their Summer School and busy family life
Foreign Policy are an award-winning design and innovation consultancy led by dynamic duo, and life partners, Yah-Leng Yu and Arthur Chin. Based in Singapore, the team create story-driven identities that stand out from tired cliches, with a gamut of clients from jockey clubs to pet food brands. As Foreign Policy approached its 15th birthday – with a shiny new website to boot – we caught up with Yah-Leng about the studio’s jam-packed past, present, and future.
PT Hi Yah-Leng! How are you doing?
YY I am good! You caught me and my family travelling in Tasmania now; currently in a car heading off the grid for a week in the woop woop haha.
PT Sounds fun! How is 2022 going for you and the Foreign Policy team so far?
YY So far, things are picking up! We are busy with finishing up a branding and strategy project for a new art school that will be opening in 2024, and rolling on to branding work for some interesting new businesses starting up this year in Singapore.
PT How do you think the studio has evolved over the last few years?
YY We have been through quite an evolution over the years, with the team type and size changing and evolving to sync with the kind of projects we worked on over the years. We reached our 10th year in 2017 and had wanted to reflect on where we wanted to go or do in the next 10 years… but the next thing you know, it’s already 2022! We are 15 this year! So WOW! We have come so far! Team-wise, we are a smaller team than pre-COVID but I have always personally thought a 6-8 person team is probably the most optimal and efficient.
We usually look for someone who is hungry and willing to roll up their sleeves.
PT Which projects do you think best reflect the studio’s current DNA?
YY I would say Gallery & Co, Brand Guide: Singapore Edition, Design Pasar, Design Diplomacy, Foreign Policy Summer School.
PT How did you find running the Foreign Policy Summer School? Is there anything that you learned, either from the experience or the students themselves?
YY Foreign Policy Summer School has two parts to it. One is our intake of interns for the studio but with a more structured and intent goal with each semester. We are still trying things out and balancing the curriculum with client projects that come in and that they can contribute to. The other version is the Foreign Policy Summer Studio: Bootcamp Edition – which is open to the public. This is really in answer to those who did not fit the internship profile but still wanted to learn stuff from us. This is especially during the pandemic period when everyone was kind of locked within their towns, cities and countries, and business was kind of slow. We decided to try out an online system where we first asked our friends who are gurus in their respective design practice to come to teach and share. That’s kind of how it all started. We weren’t that ambitious and were just trying things out so we did not really plan for a huge intake but something that was manageable both for the studio as well as the instructors. To our pleasant surprise, there were a few overwhelmingly popular classes. We are really happy that we were able to connect the experts with those who were trying to learn a new skill and elevate their design knowledge. For sure there are a lot of takeaways, like we do need a dedicated team of organisers to make sure things run smoothly. It was an experience for the team who are mostly designers. We hope to do it again with these learnings of course, maybe next year. We will see.
PT When hiring interns, are there any particular skills or qualities that you and Arthur look for?
YY We usually look for someone who is hungry and willing to roll up their sleeves, hunker down and take the initiative to make things happen. Someone who is ready to step up to the plate when the situation calls for it. Of course, plus a good eye for design and immaculate typography.
PT Which fields of design would you like to explore that you haven't been able to?
YY I think we are probably the kind of designers who are interested in using and harnessing design in building new ideas and new businesses under our own brand.
PT Do you manage to find a good balance between work and life as a studio owner?
YY I try to. I have a 3.5 years old toddler who is running our lives… my business partner is also my life partner, so haha, it’s a double whammy. If any, it forces us to be more efficient with work and more decisive with design decisions as we try to pack our work within a 4-6 hours workday. Weekends are no longer a backup extra day to catch up with work as it’s now entirely for the kid.
Singapore is a very accessible city – it gets us anywhere very easily.
PT What do you enjoy about Singapore as a place to work in, as a creative?
YY Singapore is a very accessible city – it gets us anywhere very easily (sans COVID). So for me, it’s a good place for connecting with international clients as well as being able to be rooted with family here at the same time. Also, many businesses also travel to Singapore so I think it’s a relatively exciting place where new businesses are born and they always need design to support their ideas and growth.
PT What are you looking forward to this year?
YY We are looking forward to a team trip out to Bangkok, where we will be finally meeting our Thai teammates. Yes, we have a Foreign Policy Bangkok! So hopefully you see more projects and ideas soon from us.