Skip to content
search
Close Up How Creative Director Yu Yah-Leng Is Helping Traditional Family Businesses Stay Relevant

How Creative Director Yu Yah-Leng Is Helping Traditional Family Businesses Stay Relevant

How Creative Director Yu Yah-Leng Is Helping Traditional Family Businesses Stay Relevant
By Hong Xinyi
March 01, 2019
Creation Nation Foreign Policy Design Group co-founder and creative director Yu Yah-Leng has high hopes for the future of design in Singapore

When designer Yu Yah-Leng first moved back to Singapore in 2006 to be closer to family after spending 15 years studying and working in the US, she knew she wanted to set up her own studio rather than work for someone else. “It wasn’t easy, because I had no network of designer friends here. I didn’t even know basic stuff like the printers to go to,” she recalls in her soft-spoken way. 
 
At the time, she had already been running a design agency specialising in websites and interactive interfaces in New York for several years. “I wasn’t interested in very template-based design that didn’t have much creativity.” Instead, she wanted to contribute to the burgeoning growth of independent design studios in Singapore. “I wanted to try and change the way things were being designed in Singapore, and break that stereotypical approach towards everything from wayfinding to packaging.”

(Related: Lo & Behold's Wee Teng Wen On His Business Story)

With that ambition in mind, she set up Foreign Policy Design Group with husband Arthur Chin, who now spearheads the studio’s business strategy while Yah-Leng is creative director. They started to build their network by attending DesignSingapore Council events, and landed some work from government agencies after learning how to use GeBiz, the procurement platform for the public sector. A key turning point for them was getting to know hotelier-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, which led to Foreign Policy working on design and branding for several of his establishments under the Unlisted Collection
 
In fact, forward-thinking entrepreneurs such as Loh and Wee Teng Wen of The Lo & Behold Group have been instrumental in catalysing a new golden age of design in Singapore, Yah-Leng believes. “They are visionaries who have been exposed to the importance of design through living, working and travelling abroad. So they knew exactly what they wanted when they started their businesses in Singapore, and their belief in design inspired other entrepreneurs, helped to set a new trajectory for Singapore design and really changed the landscape here. Without people like them, designers, however talented, would not have had the chance to work on projects that allowed them to stretch.” 

I wanted to try and change the way things were being designed in Singapore, and break that stereotypical approach towards everything from wayfinding to packaging.

Yu Yah-Leng

After all, as she likes to say, a project is only as good as the client behind it. And the impact of this golden age is still evolving. She has observed more independent design studios here, with younger designers deciding to set up shop for themselves straightaway rather than work for larger agencies. “That’s quite a healthy sign; it shows that there is enough business for everyone, enough interest in good design,” she notes optimistically. “It shows that Singapore is no longer just a hard-edged city interested only in finance and numbers. We now care about aesthetics, about how the softer side of things can help our way of life. That’s quite important.” 

Yah-Leng wears linen-blend dress by Lee Matthews, at Club21 Four Seasons; Magic Alhambra paved diamond bracelet and ring, both by Van Cleef & Arpels; sneakers, Yah-Leng’s own
Yah-Leng wears linen-blend dress by Lee Matthews, at Club21 Four Seasons; Magic Alhambra paved diamond bracelet and ring, both by Van Cleef & Arpels; sneakers, Yah-Leng’s own

Creatives are a bit crazy; we are the ones who can help to change the expected course of something, by tweaking the way things are done.

Yu Yah-Leng

As for Foreign Policy, the studio is now turning its attention to helping more traditional businesses as a younger generation of owners take on the challenge of making these family enterprises relevant to a new age. For instance, it’s helping to rebrand carpentry company Roger&Sons, whose second-generation leaders are keen to pivot to a more design-centric, bespoke business model and will be unveiling a public-facing showroom and event space for the first time in Jalan Besar later this year.  
 
It’s been really interesting to help such businesses transition into a new phase, says Yah-Leng. “These traditional businesses helped to build Singapore, and contributed to the identity of Singapore. I believe we should try to help them evolve, so that the younger generation can be reminded of our roots. It’s important to keep as much of our culture as possible, because culture is identity. And design can help to communicate that in a different way to a new generation, to engage and excite them.”

(Related: "I’m Just Not That Interested In Growing An ‘Empire’," Says Unlisted Collection's Loh Lik Peng)

These are issues that she feels strongly about, and that she probably wouldn’t have thought about if she hadn’t moved back home over a decade ago, Yah-Leng concedes. And there are plenty of new frontiers she hopes to explore this year. A key initiative in the works is a collaborative effort—Foreign Policy has formed a collective consultancy with lifestyle website High Net Worth and Mileage Communications. Named The Consortium, it aims to provide a more complete spectrum of business solutions through consolidated expertise that includes design, public relations and content services. 
 
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the transformation of the creative class in Singapore. People have become more informed about design, and I see the impact we can make,” says Yah-Leng.

Creatives are a bit crazy; we are the ones who can help to change the expected course of something, by tweaking the way things are done. 

Indeed, the potential profitability that results from creative thinking has been embraced by the public and private sector in recent years, in the form of a methodical framework known as design thinking, so named because it supposedly draws from the problem-solving approach of designers. But Yah‑Leng has a much simpler suggestion for those seeking to nurture some right-brain flair. “You can’t teach design thinking to a primary school student. It’s not a thing. If you want your children to be creative, let them play. Let them make mistakes, and have the freedom to express themselves. To me, that is design thinking.”  

Tags

Close Up Cover Story International Women's Day creation nation foreign policy design group yu yah-leng local design branding family businesses

clear
keyboard_arrow_up

In order to provide you with the best possible experience, this website uses cookies. For more information, please refer to our Privacy Policy.

close