The co-founder of the branding and design agency behind well-known projects such as A Design Film Festival shares observations and local tips after spending time working in Bangkok.
December 4th, 2023
At the start of his career as a designer 20 years ago, Felix Ng came across an article in Theme magazine where Japanese designers Kenya Hara and Naoto Fukasawa interviewed each other. “On the question of what is good design, they answered that ‘good design is when you don’t even realise that [something] was designed. When you sit on a well-designed chair or drink from a cup made to fit your hand perfectly, it feels natural.’ This changed my entire thinking of what design could be,” says the co-founder of Anonymous.
Ng founded the company with Germaine Cheong in Singapore in 2005. Among its works are well-known projects such as A Design Film Festival (DFF). Started in 2010, DFF was the first film festival in the world dedicated solely to design and its subcultures. It travelled from Singapore to nine other cities such as Bangkok, Berlin and New York, reaching over 100,000 attendees during its run. Ng stopped running the festival when the increasing popularity of online movie streaming services made it non-viable.
Another important project by the firm is the branding of the Nikon Photo Contest – the world’s oldest photography competition. “This project was the first time we collaborated with partners across the US, UK and Japan for a global brand, and it changed the way we work as a design studio,” Ng shares.
Anonymous is now well versed in working with global teams. “We’ve been collaborating with Uniqlo on special projects in Southeast Asia since 2016, such as the opening of their global flagship store in Singapore and go-to-market strategy for Vietnam,” Ng dishes out another example. “The launch of their global flagship store in Manila was special for us, as we did it together with a team of collaborators we gathered from Singapore, the Philippines, United States and Japan.”
A niche the firm has found is helping brands that want to expand to Southeast Asia – particularly in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Singapore – or aid cities or districts in tourism branding projects.
Ng cites Chris Riley, a strategist in Portland, Oregon, on being a pivotal inspiration regarding this. “Ten years ago, we started collaborating with him on branding and marketing projects for global brands like Uniqlo, Shiseido, Nikon and Paypal. He has been the biggest influence on thinking strategically about the role and responsibility of design in culture, and how to work collaboratively and globally,” explains Ng.
In fact, Anonymous has expanded its office beyond Singapore last year. It now has a Bangkok office, where I am speaking with Ng who splits his time between the two cities. “After 17 years of being based in Singapore, it felt like a good time to explore another city where we could work and learn from a different culture. Bangkok has always been special for us; we’ve held A Design Film Festival here twice, and there’s always something new happening or popping up in the city,” he remarks.
One of the projects Anonymous is working on in Bangkok is the brand strategy and identity design of a new development in Siam Square, which has been a hub for Thai youths for decades. “This is the first phase of a brand development project that Anonymous is collaborating with a retail property developer in Thailand,” Ng highlights.
He has always been a big fan of travel so the sinking of new roots in another city is a welcomed move. “Being able to live and work in different cities, to learn about their cultures, has been the biggest influence on the way we think about how we work and the work itself.”
Last December, Ng launched a personal book project at Bangkok Art Book Fair. It is the first of five books in a series done in collaboration with Singaporean design and architecture writer Yvonne Xu. The first, ‘水; shuǐ’ (meaning water in Chinese) was initially created as a prelude to a water bar he ambitioned to open in the future. “The idea was to create a space to visualise new possibilities with water as a medium and material,” says Ng.
Each of the five books will be designed around a basic element of the material world, exploring how they influence and inspire art, design and culture. Water will be followed up with wood, fire, metal and earth, with the second launching in January.
When asked what his ambitions for the firm are, Ng responds, “I used to think about ambition as being about working with certain brands or on certain types of projects, but that goal keeps changing as time passes. So now, we think of it simply as: Where can we be of most help? How can we work on the most interesting and challenging projects anywhere in the world where we can be of value?”
To end off the interview, we asked Ng to share three places he likes to go for design inspiration in his newly adopted city:
“This is the only bar I visit regularly. It’s a rare place that’s good for when you want to think or not think about anything. In fact, the location of our office was chosen because it’s just a five-minute-walk to the bar.”
“This is one of the few art, design and photography bookstores in the city.”
“This is one of the few contemporary art and design galleries in Bangkok. It also has a nice little bookshop with titles from around the globe.”
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