Book for Sandwich Fall/Winter 2012, 2013
Branding and Collaterals for Amsterdam Museum, 2013
Today we speak to Yew Kee, founder, creative director and designer of Matte, a brand communications boutique based in Netherlands.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
Yew Kee: My name is Yew Kee and I’m a Singaporean based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I run a small and intimate design boutique in the city center specializing in retail and brand communication.
What do you do first when you get up in the morning?
Turn on the radio/Youtube and check my e-mails.
What daily routines you cannot do without?
Going on Youtube and blending vegetable and fruit shakes in the morning.
For readers that might be unfamiliar with your design, how would you describe it?
Intuitive, concise, communicative, relevant and crafted with a touch of willfulness
What are you having the most fun at right now?
Looking at people running in the rain
Why did you choose design as your profession?
I didn’t choose design. Design chose me. I know I’m a designer since I was maybe 10. I was creating silly newsletters in primary school for my classmates. I didn’t know I was already a writer, editor, designer and publisher. Something told me I’m gonna be a designer and I know exactly where I should study after finishing my national service. I am very grateful for that ‘something’. Maybe it’s called ‘intuition’. I followed that till today.
When did you actually left off to Amsterdam? Was it tough setting up your own shop there not knowing much people and resources?
I left for the the Netherlands in April 2001 to the Hague for a full time job at 2D3D. I officially started my own shop after leaving the company and freelanced around in Amsterdam for a few years. I owe it to many good people for giving me very precious opportunities and the ABN-Amro bank for providing me a loan to start my own dream factory. The toughest part was to convince the Dutch government to accept me in the country as an entrepreneur. I’m grateful for the many recommendation letters from all my clients especially from the Theo Thijssen Museum and my immigration lawyer for all the help and support.
What has been your best design experience so far?
Working on “Nieuwe Wonderland” with my friend Meike Ziegler on her dream project to create a pilot social interactive cafe with lots of creative, artistic and surreal impulses.
We worked with the most amazing and creative people making a great experience out of a tight self-funded budget and the result was unbelievable.
My personal self expressive work in the project was about memories. I had a quote from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ stenciled in baby powder on the carpet at the location. The quote disintegrated as the visitors walked over it. I think everything fades in time. Nothing remains in the end even for memories. I also had many scents I collected in a room filled with coffee beans on the floor. Scents evokes different memories for different people. I wanted to create very different responses from people who used them.
Check out the site and tell me what you think.
That’s nice. I used to have a project whereby we have to stain the backdrop of a canvas for a photoshoot ourselves. We had a lot of fun experiencing coffee spa in the end cause we have to stain it using our hands and feet with warm coffee. Don’t you enjoy or prefer working off from a computer instead sometimes?
I work a lot off the computer too. Working in the retail and lifestyle industry means that I am always on the lookout for interesting trend signals, locations, packaging, scents and experiences. We can easily work and communicate anywhere on any device through the cloud but the future is also very analogue. I think the sense of smell, taste and touch has yet to be fully explored. Also, we still appreciate a real handshake, kiss or hug offline.
Which is your favorite piece of work you have done?
Not being politically correct: I have no favorite piece of work as they are all very special to me whether it’s big or small.
Any most memorable one then? Doesn’t have to be the work. It could be behind-the-scenes, meetings or the screw ups.
It must be winning the pitch for the brand identity for Amsterdam Museum. We were the ‘wild card’ in the pitch and we are responsible for the logo, visual communication strategy and materials. The other agencies chosen were some of my dutch design heroes who are veterans in the cultural design sector. We were chosen for our retail and lifestyle background instead. Being able to contribute back to the Dutch society which has been very kind to me in this way is still very surreal for me.
You must have been thrilled and honoured cause museum seems to be one of everyone’s dream job to work on with. Any others genre you would love to work for?
Yes, it’s an honour to create an identity of a museum. At the moment, I would very much like to work with high fashion houses such as Prada, Comme des Garçons, Dries van Noten and Hussein Chalayan. It’ll be a dream come true to work with them on their event communication, catwalk experience, perfume packaging and promotions.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Mainly from talking to people. Hearing their stories and accents… Finding out about their cultures, daily rituals and passions fascinates and inspires me a lot. Also, staring at blue skies helps…
What influences contribute to your work?
Mainly my clients’ input. The more they can articulate their marketing and communication message clearly the more obvious the solution becomes. We can then able to creatively express them visually or experientially.
Do you think your own cultural academic education is important?
Yes. It gave me a firm foundation and own cultural point of view to judge design or an expression.
How do you keep educating yourself then?
By ‘uneducating’ myself. Having more industry experience can be a hazard as I have tried many things and know what will very likely work or not. Working with less experienced designers challenges me to see every project in a less ‘formulaic’ way.
How do you set your benchmarks?
My benchmark for a good communication project has to be end-user effectiveness, client satisfaction, the ‘magical’ expression of the message and personal creative fulfillment. I set them up by listening closely to my clients communication objectives and my company’s mission to be honest, contemporary, creative and relevant.
How do you think it is to your work or dealing with people in a place outside your birth country.
It’s a great experience so far. I had a very open mind when dealing with people outside my own culture. Being respectful and sharing cultural differences is always a good way to break the ice.
Do you think personal work is important?
I think it’s good for exploring new expressions. I’m not sure if it is important.
Branding and Identity for Bureau Stoer. 2012
Nieuw Wonderland — a Mind Twist Café. 2013
Not important but perhaps are they essential for your personal growth or to keep your soul sane?
A: Doing things other than design fuels my personal and career growth. I think many designers live in a fantasy bubble. To me personal work is self expression. I prefer to understand somebody else’s expression. They add depth and relevance to my concepts as we do not only communicate to design-literate people.
Who are your role model and heroes?
I don’t have specific people in mind but I do highly admire people who are humble while being single-minded at achieving their personal goals.
For design I really like Madethought’s craftsmanship and delicate sensibility.
Can taste be taught or nurtured?
Absolutely! Both good taste and bad.
What about hunger?
Depends on how cushy your life is.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
In design? It’s got to be from Theresa Yong from Immortal: “Keep asking questions.”
What have you learnt from Theresa then and how do you know it’s the right time to be on your own?
I was an intern at Immortal when I was in the 1st year of design school. Theresa was a great creative director in my opinion. I hardly know anything about ‘real’ design then and I felt welcomed at Immortal’s warm yet professional working environment. Theresa’s ‘strict’ leadership while staying personal and approachable was very impressive. I’m still learning to be ‘brilliant yet humble’ from her. I know it’s the right time to be on my own when my crazy adventurous streak kicked in and left my ‘comfort zone’ of working for a company.
Besides doing what you are doing, what other hobbies do you have?
I love to travel and taking salsa dancing lessons. Now I’m looking into making edible jelly sculptures.
What place in the world most inspires you and why?
People’s homes. The interiors are the most intimate expressions of a person. The curation and placement of every object in the home tells so much about his/her story.
What are three things you are obsessed with at the moment?
Health, wealth and love.
What do you do when you get time off?
Connect with friends offline.
What if you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it?
Sleep or working out at the gym.
What is one thing you want to see or do before you die?
Search for the Northern Lights while staying at the Ice Hotel in Sweden.
Is there something that fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Do I have fans? Wow. What do they know/not know about me?
I guess they’ll be surprised that I can’t speak fluent Dutch after living 12 years in the Netherlands and I love watching Taiwanese programs on YouTube.
What websites do you use for inspiration?
Brand Book for Sandwich. 2013
If you have a chance to change a public space for the better, what would you do to it?
A: A care-taking institution like a hospital. It’s one of my dreams to provide the public with a thoughtful and non-intimidating space to nurture and recover from our inevitable birth, sickness or death. By bringing in more natural elements like light, plants and scents indoors is a good way to soften the austere medical environment.
View more of Matte’s works at http://www.matte.nl.