The DesignSingapore Council speaks to beneficiaries of the SkillsFuture Study Award in Design, to find out more about their projects and pursuits.
Specialising in Typeface Design was second nature to Tan Ying Tong, a graphic designer for design books, publications and exhibitions.
“I deal with type and typography almost every day in the laying out of text and images, choosing typefaces for projects, customising typefaces for exhibition identities, publication and catalogue covers that need a little more character to complement artist’s works, or for a more distinct and impressionable logotype for brands,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed dealing with typography and typesetting, but type design is a whole other story. It transcends beyond using and arranging type to designing the typeface and knowing how it works as a system and language.”
In late 2017, Ying Tong received the SkillsFuture Study award which helped her to enrol in the Type@Cooper NYC programme, a rigorous five-week programme in typeface design at Cooper Union’s New York City campus.
In this interview with the DesignSingapore Council, Ying Tong talks about the projects close to her heart; her ambitions and struggles; and her goals for the future.
What did you gain from the Typeface Design certificate program from Cooper Union?
I definitely gained a deeper understanding how type design is about systems where each glyph/character comes together to work as a whole typeface. I also learned to balance between consistency and coherence for the system to work well against when the system should be broken at times in order to create something with more character without losing its main structures and principles. It is always difficult to question and decide if you are breaking the system for better or worse.
In your own words, what is your skill level like right now?
I would say that I’m still a beginner in this field of type design and am still working towards achieving more. My previous attempts on type design are mostly experimental display typefaces, with a more graphic or visual approach. I went to New York with the intension to gain a better understanding and core foundational training in order to deliver designs that are more useable and practical instead of visual.
A full and proper set of typeface takes many years to develop and till date, I’ve not developed a full set of typeface that I’m completely pleased with yet. My previous works that includes attempts of this are on my personal site yingtongtan.com and zyxt.info, an independent studio I’ve started with my design partner. They include projects that deals with both type and typography.
What is next for you?
Before completing my Type@Cooper Programme, I was lucky to be accepted to a Postgrad course in Typography and Language at ESAD, France. I will spend the next year and a half furthering my studies in type design there while continuing to freelance on projects to finance my studies.
In your experience, what was the biggest challenge you faced convincing your clients to recognise Design as a valuable asset?
I feel that companies or clients sometimes undervalue the importance of design because they see design as a mere visual artistic expression. Design encompasses much more than needs for expression as it holds the power to communicate. A good design is about having a good understanding of the client, their needs, and what they are trying to portray to the public. This shapes a good brand, and branding uses design as a tool to express its fundamentals.
Clients find it difficult to understand that designers go beyond illustrating words or beautifying images. We also play the vital role of helping you communicate and concretise your ideas in the most direct, visually coherent and effective way across all your channels, platforms, social media, campaigns etc. A brand is defined not only by its logo, advertisements or website design. The way they all work as a whole system when communicated clearly is what makes it a successful brand.
When your foreign contemporaries ask you, what would you say is representative of Singaporean typeface design?
Due to our multi-cultural upbringing and multi-script exposure, Singaporeans have a wider acceptance and eye for both Latin and non-Latin typefaces. We have a quicker understanding when it comes to the use and design of non-Latin types like Chinese, Japanese and Tamil which is a huge advantage. For example, understanding the basics of Chinese calligraphy will allow us to have a good grasp of the importance in the flow, rhythm and structure of other non-Latin scripts.
How will you contribute to Singaporean design?
I’ve always been a part, and still am! I’m continuing to work with artists and creatives in or from Singapore, and will also continue giving workshops in design and independent publishing when I’m back. I don’t think being away means I’m not contributing to the Singapore design scene. In an age where everything is connected online, your physical presence isn’t that crucial anymore as long as you are constantly refreshing yourself with updates from the scene back home.