What do you do at Kontinentalist?
I’m a visual designer and a trainee (on a 9-month Singapore traineeship) here to learn about UX and UI with how Konti narrates their stories; I also help with social media, doing slide layouts and illustrations with Griselda; and I’m helping out with Konti 2.0 — the company’s rebranding project — trying to figure out their new logo.
What projects have you worked on so far?
I’ve worked on the 100 years of healthcare (Bicentennial series), and I’ve helped Gris on some illustrations. Currently, I’m working on general graphic and web design for a collaborative story with Spice Zi, and web design for Difference Engine for their website (with Amanda), and the Han Names story. I also did the card illustrations for the Global Poverty story, as well as the notes from the equator rebranding.
Amanda’s more experienced than I in UI and UX, so it’s been quite a fun experience. It’s been a great learning experience for me, because I’m quite a traditional designer, having done print design and illustration work, for example.
What’s your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
Favourite part: I joined Konti to learn web and info design—that’s my favourite part, learning how to visualise information, like in the Han Names story; our job is to make sure that readers can have a condensed understanding of things. I find it a very interesting part of the job, making things simpler and user friendly.
I don’t really have a not-favourite part! I like that we’re working from home! WFH doesn’t bother me, because I’m a very introverted person.
Yes, with your cats (laughs).
I like that we’re all remote, but if I need any help we’re just a call away; I like that we don’t have to look at each other on video calls.
(Laughs) sorry except me la I always ask to video call!
I like the culture, no people looking over your shoulder.
So your background is very graphic and print design, the work you’re doing is branching into UI and UX — has someone on the team been guiding you to resources and telling you the principles, or are you figuring things out as you do? What’s the learning process like for you?
When I joined Joce definitely sent me lots of resources on Airtable; and when people give me projects I’ll learn as I go; no one hand holds me about how things should be. On Figma you can look at other people’s projects, so I’ll look at old projects and see how others have built the website; I learn through copying!
Is it quite technical? Cos I don’t know if graphic design has similar jargon, but UI/UX has wireframe and padding, all that stuff — is that confusing for you?
It’s okay la we do learn some web design, HTML, CSS and wireframing — It’s just that I’ve never been exposed to this level of web designing. Some things like, if I want to do a certain effect on a website, the developer may tell me that’s not possible due to certain limitations. So I can’t do whatever I want in a sense; I need to be more realistic, and it’s more technical than if, say, I were to be a book designer, because there are certain limitations online.
What’s your confidence level now about web design — getting comfortable? Still unfamiliar?
If out of 10, I’m like a 5. Motion graphic maybe 7. Illustration, quite comfortable, even if can learn a lot more.
Why did you apply to us? Why Konti? I mean, you knew you wanted to learn UI/UX, but why us?
It’s more than just web design. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Konti existed until I saw it on the traineeship. I thought the name was very interesting, very historical and geographical, Southeast Asian-like.
You mean you thought it felt Southeast Asian?
It’s not a Western name, that’s what I felt! So I went to search on Google, and saw they were trying to do this for Asia. It made me interested because my personal interest is within the SEA region, maybe not in regards to social issues but more to historical and heritage stuff. I like to look into precolonial history and whatnot, so I thought I’d be interested since Konti covers these topics — it’d be cool to be part of it! And Asian stuff needs to be in the forefront more than ever now!
So, it’s more that Kontinentalist covered Asia; it’s not so much about the info design and scrollytelling stuff?
Yes — that’s a bonus, but what pulled me in was that it’s all about Asia!
So previously where would you have worked that also covers Asia in this way that you like? Like publications-type organisations or very different types?
Previously I interned at Studio Vanessa Ban; it’s a one-person studio where we did lots of publications and branding for lots of art galleries in Singapore or SEA. Some of the topics that we covered include the homeless in Singapore and other social issues. I also did other design work about Southeast Asia — all this made me more interested in focusing on this region instead outside.
Has your interest in Asia always been the same? Or have there been shifts in the relationship between you and Asia?
What started this interest in Asia was my uni days. Before this, I wasn’t even really aware of colonial issues or race or culture in Singapore or the Nusantara region. But I was exposed to a few lecturers who educated us about these matters and why it’s important to reclaim your position within SEA.
Where did you go for university?
Glasgow School of Art—it’s a 2-year course in Singapore, an undergrad degree in communication design. It’s not really even just SEA; it taught me gendered politics — this lecturer called Nurul Huda— she exposed us to gender politics and feminism within SEA and Asia, which opened my eyes a lot to these heavy and important topics that we kind of have an obligation to know at least a little bit of.
So, through the 2 year experience at university, you went from not being too interested — to leaving university feeling, “I want to work in this direction of understanding my culture and region more”?
I left university with that sort of mindset; that even if I go through the commercial route — ’cos I still need to survive — I want to work in a company that aligns with my values and what I want to learn. That’s also why I chose Konti to intern at!
Mmm, at the time I was an intern, so I had no say, but I recall people definitely took notice of your interest in Asia and SEA in your portfolio, so it was a really nice match. But how about specifically the interest in Nusantara history and political issues — where did it come from? Was it also from university?
We had lecturers who exposed us to this sort of topic, but the topic within my project about Malay history — this was with the people I circled myself with, who talk about Sejarah Melayu, a book that dictates our entire history as Malays in the region. It’s interesting — us Malays in the region, our roots come from that book, we originate from this mythical saga — it interests me, how my heritage feels so mythical, how colonial rule overtook that and split all of us into different races — it was a lot of discussion between my friends and I, and then the lecturers exposed us to different perspectives.
But I’d say my turning point was in university. Before that I wasn’t that into it, it was more like I was going to do this because I like it, but it didn’t have much thought behind it. Whereas now, there’s more thought about the nuances behind what I draw or create.
So what is it about Nusantara that really interests you? Why does it fascinate you so much — like your Hikayat Nusantara project imagining the region in 20,000 BC — is it kind of about a sense of unity before artificial divisions?
Yeah — I just think that the fact that… because when I look at different countries that exist right now, it makes me wonder why do we have — what happened that created these borders, imaginary or materialised. I was just wondering if we could turn back time; maybe we came from similar roots, so the idea of unity — it’s not like I want Nusantara to be unified (now), but it’s a what if idea, what if we were all truly unified? What would it look like? It’s just historical imagination for me, I’m just a very curious person in that sense…
So interesting — I love it! When did you graduate university, again?
2019, before COVID.
Did you work before university?
Yep — after Polytechnic, I went to work at Love Bonito in a commercial role, for two years plus. I was a junior graphic designer, so I did Facebook and Instagram posts.
You were still illustrating on the side?
Yes — for myself and for the company. So after two years at the company, then I went to university for two years, and then after uni, I interned with Vanessa Ban Studios, then freelanced for a year or so, then Konti.
How is it as a freelancer in Singapore? Do you enjoy the freedom?
Freelancing is pretty tough; it depends on what kind of full-time job you have. At the studio, we like to overtime a lot, so after I quit then I got more time to do freelance work. At Konti, the good thing is that we understand work-life balance quite well, so I can accept more freelance projects on the side. Just that freelance also, clients can be demanding, don’t care if having freelance now, need it by this evening [then expect you] to work during lunch time. The key to freelancing is having a network with the right people and selecting the right projects.
What tools do you use?
Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign. When I joined Konti, finally I learned how to use Figma.
Are there any skills/tools you’d like to learn in the near future?
I see that Konti uses quite a lot of Mapbox. I want to experiment with Mapbox a bit more; it seems very fun to play with. Maybe a bit more on video editing and 3D motion graphics — maybe Blender.
What do you imagine being able to do with those tools? Some kind of graphic design that’s more immersive or something else totally, like a game?
My dream for now is to create a bomb-ass website that has 3D and so many interactive features, and tells a really cool story, that is about one of my interests.
Like a Konti story but on its own website?
Kind of like a hardcoded Konti story, but I’m just imagining the other non-code components now. I do learn a bit of coding but I’m not developer level. But I think it’s important to know your basics, even as you’re a visual designer; when you visualise it needs to be consistent with limitations, if not you can’t materialise your visuals. So I need to know how to code at least a bit.
So what do you know now?
Before I joined Konti I paid some money to learn from SuperHi, which has pretty good tutorials about how to code—quite trendy for current web designs. I know simple basic stuff: Basic Web Design 101. I can create different pages, what’s a landing page, menus and hierarchies, desktop to mobile — I know it’s important to design both separately.
What goals do you have in life? :O It sounds broad. but it could be as simple as having a cat in your own space, or a dog that you can cycle around with…
So very fundamental — maybe I want to have my own house? In Singapore it feels almost impossible unless you get sponsored by parents, even if [you] get married [you] need to wait for years; I want my own house with my future husband. I just really value having my own space.
Anything else in this vision for life? How would you like your life to look like? Are you in Singapore?
I’m happy in Singapore! I imagine myself travelling alone again, I like to travel to far places by myself; I envision myself being this free explorer without any care about their budget; I want to visit all the museums in the world, especially historical museums; I’d like to learn about their history and people.
You’re happy being based in Singapore but want to travel a lot?
Yeah I don’t want to move away, I don’t think I can survive migrating — I’m not an extrovert, I’ll die (laughs). I like the familiarity, but I also want to dive into other places… but I want to go back to that familiarity.
So, you like going alone to very far places — what’s the farthest?
Amsterdam, Netherlands, when I was 22. I went alone because I wanted time for myself and to expose myself to other things in the world. I was only there for two weeks; I didn’t really make friends, just with AirBnB, but I’ll walk to lots of places and watch people and go to the museums.
If you could spend one day shadowing someone from Konti, who would it be and why? Someone whose life you’re curious about?
To be honest, Pei Ying — because she worked for the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM). It’s really stupid, but I want to know if ACM is haunted.
HUH? What? Did you say haunted?
Yah, because there’s so much historical stuff like figurines, so I feel like it’s haunted.
But why do you have to shadow PY to find out? You’re shadowing her to see if she’s haunted from working at ACM?
No! I want to know her stories and what she learnt from ACM, including any ghost stories…
Laughs — what the heck, I didn’t expect this answer—
It’s been in my mind for a long time.
What’s your favourite bubble tea brand?
I like Koi — hazelnut bubble tea.
If bubble tea isn’t your drink of choice, what is?
Maybe matcha latte — Coffee Bean is the best! Or Percolate!
Describe your typical clothing style?
Feminine and basic; I always like to insert a bit more Malayness (e.g. subtle batik print, long skirt); it just looks nice to me! Rather than just Uniqlo stuff…
Oh my gosh literally the last person I interviewed is Amanda and her style is Uniqlo! (And so is mine)
Oops, sorry (laughs).
Do you have favourite colours — I notice in your work you like to use gold, which is interesting to me, because I feel like people struggle to play with bold colours!
I like to use very bright colours, especially within the RGB spectrum — it’s just an aesthetic thing for me. People will tend to look at something very colourful; it’s not much deep thought la, it’s just because I personally like it.
Digital drawing or traditional (pen and paper, etc.) style?
Digital — I very lazy to draw from scratch already. I use Wacom or iPad. I prefer iPad cos you can see directly what you’re drawing, whereas Wacom needs you to refer to your screen.
If you are a kuih raya, what would you be?
Laughs — I like honey cornflakes with colourful dots on top.
But is that you?
Oh I don’t think I’m that sweet though — possibly I’ll be something that you bite then there’s something…
Ok so you’re like something with something inside that people can’t see — but is the inside like very unpleasant or just surprising?
Laughs — yeah, oh I’m the kuih popiah, got sambal inside!
So you are internally very savoury and spicy?
Laughs — okay can.
What are your design and artistic inspirations? Because your style’s very bold and graphic—
I don’t really have one name, because they’re all over the place! If I could name an illustrator I really love now — Rune Fisker. A lot of what he does is editorial illustrations in a very dynamic and metaphorical way. This is the kind of illustration that I strive to create. His works are all over, he’s very famous.
Do you have book recommendations?
It’s more of a biography: the Travels of Ibn Battuta from the 1800s. It’s about this scholar who is from his hometown — the Moroccan version of Marco Polo — and I find it interesting because he is talked about a bit less. So I think it’s a travel book we should delve into a bit more. He talked about how he travelled in SEA and met different kingdoms and royalty. I read this quite recently; I went to Wardah Books last year, and, flipping around, found this book and picked it up and started reading it.