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5 Minutes With… Kelley Cheng

The award-winning editor and creative force behind publishing and design consultancy The Press Room gets candid with

5 Minutes With… Kelley Cheng


23 August, 2012

Describe your work philosophy.

I’ve always believed that it is most important to be a good person first, then a good designer.

The Press Room puts the ‘multi’ in multidisciplinary. How do you do it all?

I believe that design is about having a good idea. It doesn’t matter the medium or the end product we have to make, once you have the idea, it is about finding the right resources to create it, whether [it is to be found] in-house or [through] working with other suppliers.

We are much sought after in publication design and conceptualising probably because of my previous work with ish and Page One. But we are starting to get quite a lot of jobs in exhibition design and wayfinding/environmental graphics, and for these jobs, it really helps that I have some architectural training.

Describe your team.

We are an all girls’ team. I didn’t deliberately plan for this but somehow it happened. It is funny how women designers often have the same reputation as women drivers, but I hope that The Press Room is proving that theory otherwise!

I have a team of very talented female designers and editors. I tend to choose people with different strengths so that as a studio, we can collaborate and complement each other. Most importantly, I always look for people with great personalities. Since we have to spend so much time together, I would like to work with nice and humorous people.

The Press Room

The Press Room

Exhibition graphics and wayfinding for Paradox-ity in Yeosu, South Korea

What projects are you busy with at the moment?

We are wrapping up an exhibition design for the Maritime Port Authority gallery, and are currently working on exhibition design for the NEWater gallery and an exhibition design for the Esplanade. We are also very busy working on The National Art Gallery, Singapore’s exhibition, wayfinding graphics, books for two Hong Kong architectural firms and a branding project for a China luxury brand.

Name your top 3 influences.

The three main things I cannot live without and that greatly influence my work are books/magazines, movies and music. I read or flip design books/magazines every night before I go to sleep. It is the most relaxing and enjoyable moment that I look forward to every day.

the Press Room

The Press room

Collection of Essays on Asian Design Culture

What’s your favourite local landmark/building?

I wish they had kept the National Theatre on River Valley Road. I think it is a truly iconic building. Most of all, I have a lot of memories of the place as I used to participate in a lot of on-the-spot art competitions there when I was young, and my parents used to bring me there to watch Teochew opera. I like buildings with personal memories (whether they are my memories or others’). Without memories, buildings are just empty shells that house things; they have no soul.

What’s your dream project (real or imaginary)?

I always believe that there is no dream project, only dream clients. I look forward to the day where a client will pay us well and give us carte blanche in designing their things for them.

Name one person you’d love to collaborate with (real or fictional).

Definitely Irma Boom. I think she is the greatest book designer alive. I attended one of her talks before and I was so blown away.

The Press Room

Exhibition graphics for the Youth Olympic Games 2010

Name your favourite decade of design.

The ‘80s. Not because it was nice but because it was so bad it’s become memorable. It’s the decade of bad taste as we all know, but looking back, it was also a super fun decade and looking at the old photos still makes me laugh like hell.

What’s one project you’re secretly passionate about?

It’s not a project per se, but I secretly really love teaching. I have a part-time position at NTU teaching visual communications and it makes me feel good that I am at a point in my life where I have accumulated some valuable experience and am able to share it with the younger generation of designers. Maybe because I never had a mentor myself, I think people who have mentors are really lucky. I’m glad that I am able to give that mentorship to kids who need it. And hanging out with the students really makes me feel young!

What are you pet peeves?

When I check through my designers’ work, I really get annoyed when they don’t pay attention to alignment. I also get all itchy and irritated with bad proportions and lousy compositions.

The Press room

the Press room

Negotiating Home, History and Nation

Tell us your number 1 concern for the design industry in Singapore.

The lack of respect for copyrights from clients. And government organisations really have to wake up their ideas and have some respect for designers. Almost all the government jobs demand that you sign off your copyrights to them so that they pay you miserably once and they can use your works for everything and forever. This is ridiculous because you end up not even owning the things you create. This is literally daylight robbery – robbing designers of their livelihood and their creations. We work hard and we deserve to keep the copyrights to our work.

What is the 1 item in the workplace you can’t live without?

I am a very old fashioned person. Even though I have my iPad, I still like to scribble notes with my pen. Every year, I buy myself a diary on which I scribble all my appointments and jot down my notes. I cannot live without it.

The Press room

The Dubai Mall

What is the most interesting thing about the way you work?

As I’m always running from one appointment to the next, I spend a lot of my time in the car thinking and conceptualising ideas. A lot of my ideas and sketches are actually scribbled on used coupons at traffic light junctions when I am waiting for the green light.

If you had one word of advice for young designers, it’ll be…

Be patient and just keep going, keep designing. We will never be perfect, but we can be better every day.

The Press Room

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