12 Questions: Meet Denis Wong (Singapore)

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Denis Wong (crowdSPRING username: entz) today. Denis lives and works in Singapore.
1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Denis (aka entz) and I’m a 27 years old male, born in the island of Mauritius. I bet you guys don’t even know where that place is. Well, it’s on the planet Mars, and I’m an alien! Actually, it’s a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is a pretty laid back place and yes, that’s where the DODO (extinct bird) lived. It’s a great place for a getaway or honeymoon.

I’m currently living and working in Singapore. It’s been quite a drastic change. The pace in Singapore is ten times faster! How did I end up in Singapore? I came to Singapore to study Visual Communication (advertising and graphic design) and stayed because the design scene and opportunities are better than on Mauritius. I started in an ad agency, am now doing freelancing and I’m loving every second of it! I don’t need to apply for annual leave if I want to go on a holiday! To sum it up, I’m living a much better lifestyle now.

2. How did you start out as a designer?

I think I started when I was 6 years old. No! I think it was 9! Hold on a minute! Or was it 10? hmm..  I can’t remember exactly when but I drew a lot. I really like those robots comic movies like Transformers, Bioman and so on. I used to draw robots in a 3d shapes, boxy style.

Here’s my story about how I started professionally. I learned about graphic design just one year before coming to Singapore to study. I always wanted to be an architect. I dreamt about designing skyscrapers. In 1999, a very good friend came back from South Africa with a Masters in Design. At first I didn’t know what graphic design was. So he tried to help me understand and from what I understood, a graphic designer wears t-shirts and jeans or shorts and goes to work in an office to draw on a computer! That’s the career I wanted!  My friend taught me how to use Macromedia Freehand and Adobe Photoshop. Those were very useful during my study years. So in 2000 I enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic Design School to pursue a Diploma in Visual Communication. That’s when I really discovered the world of design and enjoyed my 3 years of studies. That was the only time that studying was fun for me.

My first job was in an ad agency. I still remember the interview with the creative director. I specifically told him that I didn’t want to be on an advertising team as I wanted to do graphic design like logos, brochure and so on. With all the stories floating around about the advertising industry, I was reluctant to go through all the overtime with no pay, toothbrush in the office for overstay, you get the picture. And guess what? I got the job and before I knew it I was on the ad team! Well, I had to cope with it and it wasn’t all that bad, I must say that It was quite fun in the end. Brainstorming on ad campaigns, thinking about headlines, taglines, visualization, storyboards and so on. The best part was TV commercials. We started from storyboards to casting of talents to shooting to post productions and finally to airtime. I had a blast as I was involved in the whole process! The creative director who hired me was very nice and taught me a lot. He gave me a lot of freedom in whatever I did.

Freedom of expression is very important in design especially when you are a fresh graduate. I stayed there for almost 5 years.  I know, most designers will hop around in different agencies. But I wanted to stick to one and try to make a difference. I’m not sure if I managed to do so but I finally got bored doing work that I didn’t really enjoy. So I called it quits and started doing logo competitions online. It all started when I was looking for some local competitions to take part in and stumble upon logosauce.com. That was the first logo competition site that I took part in. And I still remember my first win which was only like $100. The name of the brand is Kitz n Thingz. One of my happiest days! I considered it as beginner’s luck as I only competed in 2 competitions and won 1. That’s when I started to go full throttle for those competitions. And so far, my best experience is with crowdSPRING.

Now I really have a passion for branding and designing logos. Are you in need of a logo design? I’m your best man for the job!

3. Please tell us a little about the graphic design industry in Singapore.

I think it’s quite good here. It used to be better from what I’ve heard. Maybe it’s because now I’m living here…lol. Seriously, I think nowadays young designers, especially fresh graduates, don’t know how to draw. I mean really take a pencil and draw. I think it’s very important to learn how to draw when you start your career as a designer. Young designers now work directly on the computer. I think you need about 4-5 years of work experiences before you can directly draw on the computer screen. If you want to hire a good illustrator here in Singapore, you’ll have to dig deep and of course deep in your pocket as well. But the graphic design scene here is pretty good. Singapore is a cosmopolitan city. So you have a lot of famous brands here and lots of opportunities to design for them. Personally I think the standard is quite high.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

Well, everything around me is a big influence. I actually like to go overseas to clear my mind. That’s where you get to see new things and experience new cultures. That’s how you get a lot of ideas and inspirations as well. All work no play makes Jack/Denis a dull boy. I always try to have fun in everything I do and that goes for work as well. I’m not really an art guy. So I don’t really appreciate art paintings like Picasso, Renaissance era and so on. It’s not that I dislike those. I think they are nice, but it’s just not my thing. I’m more of a zen type. I like simple thing – minimalism is my moto. If you look at the logos I have created, most are quite simple. So, I think the way you design sometimes reflects who you are.

5. What’s the very first thing you do when approaching a new design?

The first thing I do is read the project brief 2-3 times so that I get a sense of what it’s all about. If the brief is only 2-3 lines, you have to take a look at other things like the company name. Sometimes the name of the brand itself is enough to be considered as a brief, at least to me. For example let’s say the brand is called “spankthem.com”. 1. You already know it’s for people and it involve spanking; 2. The target market is not for kids, so my guess is it’s for people in the age group of 18-40 years old; 3. It’s going to be an online community because of the word “them”; 4. It’s not corporate, not luxury, maybe something humorous and loud instead; 5. Colours will be bright and colourful.

Based on that I have my brief without asking for it. But I have to add that if you have a well written brief, then the outcome will of course be much better. Then I will start to create a think map. It’s something like a bubble chart where the brand name is in the centre and expands to different other bubble/levels using single keywords. For example “spankthem.com” expands to a group of words like hand, star, people, community, online and so on, and I try to expand each of the word to another group of words (e.g. hands – clap, fingers, palm, lines and so on). I try to do this for about 3-4 levels. In the ends it’s quite a big bubble chart and the key things is right in front of you to use. I know, bubble charts are so yesterdays! But try it and you’ll see the difference. The next step is to start designing on the computer.

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

Have to be “Kitz n Thingz” because it was my first ever logo competition win. A bit of emotional attachment you might say. But I think it’s a very fun and versatile logo. It was designed for a Quilt and Patchwork supplier back in Australia. They are located on a farm. So, nature and fabrics had to be part of the logo. My idea was a tree with patchwork as leaves. The best thing about this idea is that it changes patchwork leaves every season. It’s like the tree is alive. They have plans to expand into café as well. So, I think this logo is versatile enough to fit any business that they will venture in.

I love typography! I think you can tell by just looking at my work. I like to play and mess around with the letters. One of my favourite logotype is “TackSales.co.uk”. I think it was clever the way I integrated the leaves inside the letters and not lose the legibility.

And there’re Monograms. Those are really hard to achieve. One of my best Monogram is for AMC Technologies. The icon is viewed as an “a”, look closer and you’ll see the “m” and “c”. I got a glimpse of the letters while trying to create something entire different. It was an accidental design.

Master Electricians is also one of my favourites. The ME plug icon is really simple yet it describes what the business is all about.

I always say that design is subjective. Some people will find those examples not to their liking. If so, try to visit my online portfolio at www.entzcreative.com, pick the nicest or ugliest logo and let me know about it. I’m game for a little feedback from anybody.

7. When designing a logo, you always offer a version on a white background and one on a black background. Why do you offer both versions?

That’s pretty obvious I think. But some buyers/clients don’t really understand the logic behind why I do this. Let me explain then. A logo will have to work on both light and dark backgroundsm even though you are just starting a new business and only need it initially for your stationery and website. What if your business grows and becomes famous? Your logo will be use everywhere from posters to other people’s website to as sponsors and so on. And those people who will be using your logo will not accommodate your restriction of using a logo on only one type of background. Imagine your logo as a sponsor on a poster where it just blends in the background. You would barely see it! A logo needs to be versatile in terms of applications. To me that’s the basic requirement. If a logo works on a white background and doesn’t on a dark one even after you reverse the colours, then it will not get my stamp of approval.

8. How has technology affected your work?

I started on Macromedia Freehand and it was love at first sight! I knew every shortcut key. I mean you could ask me anything about it and I’ll give you an answer. During study years my buddies called me the Freehand Master! Gone are the days of Freehand, so I am now hung-up on Adobe InDesign. The transfer was very difficult, but I had to learn fast if I wanted to survive and succeed. Many people tell me that Adobe InDesign is for publishing only and not designing. I think I’ve proved them wrong. Another software that I use is Adobe Illustrator. Usually I will combine the two as they are compatible. I can just copy and paste from either. I try not to upgrade version as long as I can do and create what I need. Every year, software companies like Adobe will release new versions and I think it’s just a waste of time and money. Personally, I think new versions are just the same as the old ones but with more gimmicks. Unless you can’t live without it, my advice is to stick with what you already have.

I’m a PC! I could not afford a Mac at the time I started working. So far, I haven’t really experience a crash or any of the other problems mentioned in the I’m a Mac ads (knock on wood). I’m sticking to PC as I’m so used to it now. But I think I may switch as the years go by, you never know.

Technology is moving fast. Computers and the Internet now run much faster than 8 years ago. It used to take forever to render graphics in Photoshop. What took forever now only take a few seconds! I like to work as fast as humanly possible, so it really suites me.

9. When working online, how do you decide whether to participate in a project?

I am the kind who will try his hand at everything and I mean everything! I don’t have any preference in terms of participation. I just choose whatever my mouse pointer clicks on or which is on top of the list and I’m off to the design process. I try to be versatile in my design style. I don’t want to have only one style. Once this style is gone, then you are gone as well. Personally, I think I’ve passed the stage of always sketching before starting on a new design or logo. I start straight away on the computer and if it doesn’t look good, then I’ll go to the drawing pad for some sketches. But usually I try to do everything on screen. I always experiment with what I have visualized in my mind. And often, the final outcome is totally different from what I’ve envisioned which I think is a good thing. I call this “The Accidental Design” as you never know what will come out of it.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a graphic designer?

The most challenging part is that today, everyone considers himself or herself a designer. With inexpensive graphic softwares easily accessible to many, you don’t have to go and study design to be a graphic designer. Many are self taught and are much better than those who spent 3 years of their life studying. A graphic designer will have to compete with the rest of the world to be able to survive. Many people who are starting a business will say why do I need a designer when I can do it myself? I’ll just buy Photoshop and do my posters and logos. But there’s a big difference. If you compare what a real designer’s (whether formally educated or self-taught) to a wannabe, you’ll straight away see the difference. A designer has an eye for details and layout. So, to fight the world, you always need to do stuff that ordinary people wouldn’t expect or can’t create themselves. But we live in a world where almost everything has already been created. So, to me, a designer is an innovator. We take bits and pieces from existing materials, put them together and voila! You have something that is out of this world! That to me is very challenging.

The most rewarding would be the compliments I get when I create something. It doesn’t have to win anything. Just a simple “nice” is enough to make my day. I especially love it when another designer emails me with compliments about my work. It shows that I’m doing the right thing. I myself, I will email those designers who did impress me. I think it’s a good way to show appreciation and get to know new friends.

11. What advice would you offer to someone considering graphics design as a career?

Graphic design is not as easy as it looks. If anybody want to venture is those waters then be prepared for the worst as it’s going to be a rough and bumpy ride. But once you get use to it, it is really a lot of fun. Always design something with meaning. Even a simple dot can have a very powerful message behind it. It’s just how you want your target audience to interpret it. So, don’t design for the sake of designing. Think first! Think twice even! Meaningless design with a lot of cosmetics will get compliments yes, but a simple meaningful design will get a lot of praise and recognition.

One more thing that I think will be useful is don’t just flip design books for inspiration. I was taught that the hard way during my internship with a local agency. The creative director ask me to explain my design and I did. But the message my visual carried didn’t fit that particular product. He told me that he saw me flipping a lot of design books for inspiration and ask me what do I look for in those book? I told him nice visuals and ideas. He gave me two books, and told me to go and read them. Two books with few visuals and a whole lot of text! But after reading everything, I saw what difference it really makes to your design skills and the way you approach a problem. You learn how they manage to find the solution. You learn the process, thinking behind it, strategies and so on. This little piece of advice really helped me a lot and I think it will help others as well.

12. What do you do with your free time?

I sit on the couch, beer on one hand, chips on the other, and watch football on my TV!..lol.. just kidding! Whoops! That’s my weekend routine. Seriously, I will play some games on my computer. I’m a sports freak, so you guess it! Fifa08 is currently my favourite game. Besides that, I play basketball. I’m a huge Michael Jordan fan! I like special effect movies like Matrix and Lords of the Rings. I can watch those movies over and over again. I like to shop! I know, guys are not supposed to like shopping, but I do! I shop for electronics, clothing and so on. I recommend this to all the dudes, shopping therapy really works!

Thanks so much, Denis.