Projects such as the Grab HQ in Singapore reflect Fable’s individualistic and holistic approach to design.
19 September, 2023
Tan Jia Hui’s creative influence originated from his grandparents. His grandmother was a tailor and his grandfather became a kite designer after he retired from sailing the seas. “He was actually the president of the Singapore Kite Association and represented Singapore to win many international competitions. I grew up as his assistant kite designer. Both tailoring and kite-making were very intense, precise and demanding creative work,” says the founder of Singaporean design studio Fable.
Fable has an impressive portfolio, with clients ranging from luxury brands such as Rolex and Audemars Piguet to popular F&B names such as Lola’s Café and Matchaya. It has won many accolades from esteemed design bodies such as the prestigious British Design & Art Direction Awards (“D&AD”), Art Directors Club and the Tokyo Type Directors Club.
Tan, who studied Visual Communications, interned at architecture and branding company FARM before starting his own company. His wife Eugenia Chin is the studio’s business director. The name Fable reflects Tan’s desire to create authentic work, each telling a story.
“In the early 2010s, I saw many works being documented beautifully but artificially touched up. I yearned to bring a stronger and deeper narrative to my projects. Fable started out as a graphic design outfit but has since broadened to offer curation, strategy, type design, motion, spatial and other creative disciplines. Through them all, our approach to strong storytelling stays the same,” says Tan.
The diversity of the firm’s works is vital to its growth. “Cultural projects were the first to give us recognition. Commercial projects give us long-term stability. Slowly but surely, our portfolio diversified both widely and deeply. It is something that elates us as we get to dip our toes in many things we could not have done otherwise,” Tan shares.
An important work that embodies the firm’s cross-disciplinary skills is the Grab headquarters at One North in Singapore. Fable was tasked to create a visually captivating and comfortable workspace for both staff and visitors. The studio was already familiar with the company’s direction, having worked with it even before embarking on this project. Their response was a tongue-in-cheek approach to storytelling, etching the office in its context with local references.
“From graphics that showcase local food signage, to vibrant workplace graphics that promote workplace culture, it was vital to portray the company’s overarching brand narrative, as well as the details that make its business relatable and relevant,” Chin describes on bringing Grab’s brand identity to life through the space.
She highlights that the ability of the studio to create all aspects of experience – from branding and identity to spatial design – enabled a holistic outcome that avoids the pitfalls of traditional branding where the design of the logo, colours and type are disconnected with the interior design.
She elaborates, “We started by curating what I call a ‘sense of space’: how do we engineer a brand experience that comes alive not just through a brand guide, but also through touch points that are present during one’s physical visit to the space? What are the textures, paint colours, types of furniture, service experience and even scents that speak of the brand’s story and personality?”
For example, a space that anticipates high footfall is a natural spot for quick gatherings. It is enlivened with a customised Lego wall, which encourages interaction and is also a lively backdrop for group photos. “Brick by brick, we built the wall to depict the fabric of Southeast Asia, [pinpointing] exactly where the Grab Super App covers. This brings a strong contextualisation to the space while giving a ‘sense of space’ to every visitor that comes across it,” says Chin.
The design industry is a competitive one, so how do the leaders of Fable keep itself ahead of the game? Chin attributes it to her “dark horse mentality.” She explains, “Being a dark horse means I am that agile and nimble player that always surprises.” She also believes in the Blue Ocean Strategy popularised by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne that propagates the creation and capturing of uncontested market space to make competition irrelevant.
Observes Tan, “The industry is a malleable amalgamation of too many evolving things for us to keep track of. We prefer to stay true to our design approach personality and own ‘lane’. Other competitors may be better but it is important that we believe in our own [strengths].”
Some works the firm is currently involved in is the rebranding of several companies ranging from educational institutes to fund houses and real estate investment firms. “I’m also working on a huge change management project with a government-linked global investment firm,” shares Chin. “Design and branding always brings me to places where I learn more about the world.”
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