Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru MAIN

Yah-Leng Yu says creative design solutions have to come from life experience

Singaporean graphic and industrial designer Yah-Leng Yu, is one of the country’s most respected and awarded creatives. Not only has she been an invited judge on some of the globe’s most important design award juries including the D&AD 2022 – one of the most respected design awards globally, second time judging, this time judging for the Branding category – she is also the source of some of the coolest design concepts in Singapore and the region.

Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru FIGMENT 1
Image from Figment project by Foreign Policy Design Group

As the founder and creative director of famed Asian design studio Foreign Policy Design Group, and a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), Yah-Leng has been involved in a wide variety of cross-industry design projects, and is the chairperson of Singapore’s Design Society.

We sat down with Yah-Leng to discuss her personal inspirations, her life as a creative in Singapore and abroad.

Tell us more about the similarities you draw with Rei Kawakubo, in terms of philosophy to life and design principles?

I am always inspired by how she can take something conventional, take it apart, deconstruct it and re-design/re-engineer it and the piece would look so amazing and unexpected. And you would almost always be WOWed at this ingenuity. I feel like this has been my way of looking at design as well, I use it as a guiding principle as much as I can with my own work. I am also always constantly looking for something new, something new to create, something new to discover and always creating something for each season and all aspects of my life as well. 

This is what Rei says: ‘What I’ve been doing all of my life is making a business out of creation, using creation as a way to do business, always looking for something new, always trying to deal with creation, different aspects of life’.

Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru FIGMENT 2
Image from Figment project by Foreign Policy Design Group

Also she takes her inspiration from life, not just fashion design itself – this i hold dearly to heart as well. I don’t design based on merely inspirations from graphic design. I don’t just read graphic design books. Design solutions have to come from life experience and through living life itself and these inspirations could be everyday mundane things as well. This is the case especially when I do a lot of brand design work. My design approach has always been based on the context and how visually we can use something from our everyday life and turn it into something that makes someone go wow or brings joy/excitement to the person using the design.

What are some of your most memorable design experiences?

I think it has to be one of our first projects where we had a super limited budget for a small but important branding project for Table Nº1 in Shanghai. Because the budget was limited, it forced us to be more creative and I know it has to be a very simple way of expressing the brand which will cost very little to produce and make. Eventually our solution was a business card that is a card when folded becomes a table. And we used the same cardboard for the cover of the menu. Everything was just in one colour print, just black on brown cardboard paper. The menu sheets in the brown folder were super cheap newsprint paper also printed just in black. For the logo on the cover, we got them to use ink stamps to stamp on. That totally worked perfectly for the restaurant that was a bit rustic, no frills and down to earth.

Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru ROGER SONS 1
Image from Roger & Sons project by Foreign Policy Design Group

Why do you think you were chosen to be on the panel of Golden Pin Design Awards and what are you most excited about as a panel judge?

I have been judging a couple of major design awards in Europe and the greater China the past 2-3 years, perhaps they knew me through those channels. I am excited to see the spectrum of submissions from Asia again since this is a slightly more Asian-centric award (that is still open to the rest of the world but submissions tend to come from Asia). I am really inspired by the up-and-coming young designers’ works as well as some veterans’ works coming from the region.

What advice would you give to your younger working self?

I wish I was a bit more aggressive – workwise – and more outspoken when I was younger.

‘Good design is invisible’. Share with us what this quote means to you and how would you explain to a layman the difference in working with a professional designer and a graphic designer on Fiverr. 

Good design … when something works well, it should be seamlessly part of your life. 

Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru ROGER SONS 2
Image from Roger & Sons project by Foreign Policy Design Group

Has it been important to follow design trends (e.g.hip new typographies) to be taken seriously in the design industry?

I think it’s important to know the design trends and not necessarily follow them. It’s ok to apply the trend if there’s a need for it depending on the context of the project. You need to understand trends in order to create something that’s different and also to break the trend with a ground-breaking one.

Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru DUMPLING DARLINGS 1
Image from Dumpling Darlings project by Foreign Policy Design Group

What are friendships like within the design world and how has the community supported each other during this crisis thus far?

Just within Singapore alone, the design community is really tiny; everyone knows everyone. We are a friendly community who I would say are quite helpful and supportive of one another. On the global level, everyone’s also very supportive and there has been lots of sharing over the internet and lots of collaboration especially during these trying times.

Yah-Leng Yu Singapore design guru DUMPLING DARLINGS 2
Image from Dumpling Darlings project by Foreign Policy Design Group

To see more of Yah-leng Yu’s work, go to foreignpolicy.design

To discover more interesting creative people, check out our People Section.

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