Red Dot Award: Communication Design

Interview with Kelley Cheng

“Good craftsmanship without a strong idea remains an artefact”: interview with designer and juror Kelley Cheng

Every year, designers, agencies and companies from around the globe enter their best projects in the Red Dot Award: Communication Design to put their latest achievements to the test. All entries are examined by the Red Dot Jury which comprises around 25 international experts. One of them is Kelley Cheng who discusses and evaluates each entry individually, live and on site together with her jury colleagues. In an interview with Red Dot, the design expert grants personal and professional insights.

Versatilely talented: Kelley Cheng

Kelley Cheng is a leading designer in Singapore who studied architecture and has been active in multiple fields ranging from magazine editor, public speaker and art gallery owner to designer. She runs her own publishing and design consultancy, The Press Room, a multidisciplinary studio designing books, brands, graphics, documentaries, spaces, stages, film sets and more. Kelley Cheng serves as adjunct lecturer in Interior Architecture at LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore, and as an advisory board member for Singapore Polytechnic School of Design. Furthermore, in 2009, she was celebrated as one of the “Great Women of Our Time” and, in 2010, as one of the “50 Most Inspirational Women” in Singapore.

Red Dot: What was your first project as a designer?
Kelley Cheng: My first project was “iSH” magazine, a design-lifestyle magazine which I self-published in 1999.

How do you stay innovative in the creative industry?
Being constantly inspired is the key to thinking creatively and innovatively, and inspiration comes from so many simple things in life – travel, watching movies, reading, surfing the net, going to art museums, going to a dance and theatre performance or simply taking a walk in the park.

Please complete the sentence ”Good communication design is …”
… the ability to distil complicated and multiple messages into something simple and elegant.

What is more important to you, the idea or craftsmanship?
I feel both are equally important. A good idea that is not well crafted can kill everything. And good craftsmanship without a strong idea remains an artefact, not a design.

How do brands come alive in spaces?
This is a tough question. Besides good interior design and strong environmental graphics that reflects the brand's visual identity, one has to design an experience that is unique to the brand, from how the staff should say their greetings to how they should behave. For example, if you go to Uniqlo worldwide, you will be greeted consistently by a cheerful "Welcome to Uniqlo" in different languages but all in the same melody tone that is the most primitive of sound design i.e. using the voice, but the most intimate at the same time. This makes your visit memorable and certainly makes you remember the brand.

What are the biggest changes in the field of online communication at present?
Definitely the proliferation of free and open-source CMS (Content Management System) that allows designers and non-designers to create websites easily. The virtual presence of a company via its website has become as important, if not more important, as its presence in the real world. Having a website has become the first step for anyone starting a company. And this is no wonder that setting up a website has never been so easy as today.

Why are print products still popular in our digitally influenced everyday life?
The experience of reading on a tablet or computer can never equate the experience of reading and feeling a real book. Not to say one is better than the other, but both could be designed to best express the capability of the medium. For example, a web magazine can be interactive and stories can come alive through inserting videos and sounds. But a book can be expressed as an object of beauty through its paper, texture, smell, print techniques and effects. Just like vinyl discs, print will always have its audience.

What do you find exciting about the work of emerging talents?
The young designers are very savvy in technology and somehow growing up in a digital world trains their eyes to see things a bit differently from the older designers. They are able to present things in the design language du jour, which can be very “hip” – this is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but in any case I enjoy looking at the youthful way of seeing things, which is very current and exciting; and I learn from the young too!

Red Dot Award: Communication Design 2019

On 4 March 2019, the Red Dot Award: Communication Design will be open for entries again. For all those who want to participate in the design competition, Kelley Cheng has good advice. In order to give a project a Red Dot, for her it needs a “good idea, good execution, and a touch of je ne sais quoi.”