Tiramisu – In Between The Folds. 2013.
Today we speak to Little Ong, co-founder and creative director of fFurious from Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
Little: My name is Little Ong, and I’m a founder and creative director of fFurious, a multidisciplinary creative agency in Singapore. Little is my birth name, which my grandpa gave to me. He told me that since I was his first grandchild, he wanted me to grow up being modest. It was hell going through primary school with that name, so I’m glad I found my way into the creative industry where this unusual name actually works to my benefit.
How would you describe your work in one sentence?
To better lives through design.
How did it get started?
It was 1999 when 3 good friends, Melvyn Lim, Joanne Tay and myself, got together and decided to see where creativity with no boundaries would take us.
Do you treat it as a job?
With all the responsibility that comes with it.
Are you having fun at it right now?
I can’t imagine there’s another job for me that allows me to do so many of the things I like while I get paid for doing them. The fun comes when I get to learn new things all the time, about the process of creativity, people and their work, new ways of seeing and doing things, technology and picking up new skills. All these keep me infinitely occupied and interested.
What do you actually enjoy doing?
Too many things actually, so this job suits me rather well since I’m able to explore different facets of creativity. For non-work fun, I enjoy photography through my trusty iPhone. I post my photos on Instagram, you can follow me @littleong. And I enjoy cooking quite a bit.
How often you spend time doing them then?
The great thing about mobile photography is that it happens anytime. I could be taking a walk, cycling, going to a gig, having a meal or away on a holiday, and there’s always something that I would find interesting to capture. I cook at night and in the weekends when I have time.
Have any daily routines you cannot do without?
Coffee makes my day complete.
When is your favourite day of the week and why?
Sunday because I get to sleep till noon undisturbed.
Are you seeking a work life balance?
Constantly, but it’s tough. I think it’s a major dilemma for most creative people that they seem to be working at any time of the day as we seek inspiration in so many things that we do. And being a business owner, that makes it even tougher. But I do try to keep my weekends free of work to catch up on personal things.
How important do you think it is?
I think it’s absolutely healthy to lead a balanced life. At times, you have to step away from the work to be able to come back to it with a better perspective.
What about seeking happiness?
All the time. One of my favourite quotes is by Walt Disney whose mission statement for the Disney company was “To Make People Happy”.
What is your definition of happiness?
Hot crispy prata with fish curry.
What are the things that keep you sane?
Blue sky, calm sea and an empty beach.
What do you do when you get time off?
I go to music gigs, dig for records, cook a meal, watch a movie, catch up on a TV series, or I try to get in some exercise which usually involves either cycling or skateboarding.
Singapore Biennale 2013.
What if you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
I’d probably try to clear more emails, which seems to be a neverending chore.
What about personal work? Do you think it’s important?
It’s important to enjoy what you do, personal or otherwise. That’s just time well spent.
What do you think about the youth of nowadays?
The internet changed everything. The youths today are very lucky to be able to access to so much information and get things done much more easily. I used to have to make a trip to the reference library just to research on a certain craft I wanted to learn, or just to read NME which was banned from sale in Singapore. Now you can learn anything on YouTube.
What about the education? Do you think your own academic education is important?
In some ways it is. Definitely for laying down the basics, and having people around you that you can bounce ideas off, be inspired by and kick up a fuss with. But nothing beats having a personal interest in wanting to learn and do beyond what the schools can teach you. Your passion will take you further.
How can it be better?
What I found lacking at the start was clear ideas about what the industry held for me after graduation. It would have helped to understand all the possibilities that a design education can offer, the roles I could take up and paths that I could develop in.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Not quite an advice but more of a quote that’s always at the back of my head. It’s one from Buddha that I’d discovered from a free books rack in Chinatown, which said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
How did you seek to find yourself when you were younger?
At times I feel like I was just poking around the dark trying to find my way. At other times, I just did what I enjoyed and crossed my fingers that it will lead me to somewhere good.
Can taste be taught or nurtured?
It takes someone to point you in the right direction but it takes constant walks that way to develop a good sense of it.
What about hunger?
My hunger was defined by the articles, biographies and stories that I’ve read that instilled and inspired me to always seek and be never satisfied.
What do you do to keep educating yourself?
Observing, reading, questioning, listening and trying.
When was the last time you felt challenged?
This moment. I am a slow writer. Sorry it took forever to answer all your questions. And thank you for making me think about many of these questions that I have never been asked before.
What makes you guilty?
Idling. And not getting back to you sooner.
What do you think about designers that are designing for designers?
You could be designing graphics for a fashion designer. Or designing for another designer who doesn’t have the time or simply needs help beyond his expertise. Just depends on the context.
Are you guilty of spending too much time on internet or social media?
Yes, I do spend a lot of time on the internet and sometimes social media. But in this day and age, the question would be why aren’t you?
How are the clients of now as compared to the past?
Pretty much the same in many ways when it comes to things like needs and attitudes but perhaps more educated and savvy in design than a decade ago.
Do you think the society plays a big part in the change?
I would like to think that we grew together. Societal mechanisms, such as media profusion and internet accessibility, have made the change much more dramatic in a shorter time than in the past. We have much more immediate access to our society nowadays. When information can be gained quicker, change comes faster.
Do you think design should be for the niche or for everyone?
Good design ought to be for everyone. After all, the basis of design is to produce a better quality of life.
Any heroes? What do you admire about them?
There have been different ones at different times. When I got interested in design, David Carson was a huge influence. He was such a punk to base his designs on intuition and gut-feeling. Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko of Emigre made me look closer at typography. I was also a huge admirer of the imagery and visual structures of Vaughan Oliver, who designed many of my favourite music albums on the 4AD label. And Peter Saville too, for so many radical designs that he did for bands like OMD and New Order. Dave McKean for pushing me to explore Photoshop extremes through his work on the Sandman covers. And in photography, there was Christopher Doyle who opened up a new world of colour, style and approach for me.
Do you try to compare to anyone then?
When I was studying design, I had a packed schedule juggling learning software and design experiments, part-time jobs and getting pissed drunk at Zouk on weekends. I was too insulated in my own world to bother to compare myself to anyone. It had never been an interest of mine anyway. I do something because I enjoy doing it and not because I want to be better than someone else.
How do you set your benchmark?
I accept that I’m not there yet. As such, I’m eager to learn, stay curious and always seek to better what I do.
Tiramisu – In Between The Folds. 2013.
The Great Spy Experiment – Litmus.
Good design won’t be complete without good marketer. Agree?
Absolutely. It’s takes a longer time to find out what you’re doing if no one tells the world about it and tells it well.
Which place in the world inspires you the most and why?
I was totally amazed at the complexity of La Sagrada Família during a trip to Barcelona. To think that it started being built in 1882 and continued to be built through the years by different architects, engineers and artists is testament to how well-conceived Gaudi’s vision for it was. And it’s not even going to be completed for another decade or so. Beyond the towering magnificence of the structure, the different thematic concepts of the various sections of the church, the strange sculptural depictions and the wondrous details are simply mind-blowing.
What about in Singapore?
I grew up in Little India so it’s always been special to me. I still spend time now and time to walk or cycle around the back alleys and streets. I love the hand painted shop signages and the graffiti in the backlanes, the grimy peeling walls and the rusty gates, the chaos of Mustafa Centre, the rich smells of indian, Malay and Chinese food in Tekka Market, and the vivid colours of the garland stores and temples. It’s inspiring in the sense that there’s this place in Singapore that’s rather chaotic which gives you a sensory overload, where you feel like the culture constantly takes shape at it’s own wonderful pace.
What are three things you are obsessed with at the moment?
At any time, it’s discovering new music, iPhone photography and food, both cooking and eating.
Lastly, what websites do you surf or books you would like to share?
I tend to check out creative sites regularly, such as www.thisiscolossal.com, www.designworklife.com, www.creativeapplications.net, www.fastcodesign.com, www.notcot.org and www.typographie.tumblr.com.
Thank you for reading and check out more fFurious here.