Brand New Conference 2023: Ade Chong’s story as a brand designer
On the second day at the annual Brand New Conference, Studio Chong’s founder, Ade Chong, gave a passionate talk to a jam-packed Harris Theatre in Chicago about her career and two favourite brands she has crafted over the years.
Starting life in Singapore, Chong had a rather unusual beginning to her career as a designer, at least by modern standards. Not attending university, she joined local design studio Manic in 2007 to help fulfil her wish of learning by doing.
It was here Chong came to appreciate her love of crafting brands as a young twenty-something. This learning process resulted in working with hip cocktail bar 28 HongKong Street. By having a degree of creative free rein, Chong utilised clever design features to push the brand towards its potential, and has been rewarded ever since with 28 HongKong Street retaining the brand design she helped create.
Moving to London for the opportunity to work with creative agency Impero brought about the glitz and glamour of partnering with enormous brands. A particularly fond highlight for Chong was integrating the Beefeater Gin brand with urban culture.
By 2019, after nine years at Impero as design director, Chong found herself burnt out. The natural solution? To become a dog walker for the next six months before jumping back into the game, which she did by setting up her own agency, Studio Chong. Based between London and Amsterdam, the business operates as a design collective which hires collaboratives for each project.
“I’m proud to say 90% of our work is passion projects,” she says. “None of our clients are dicks, which is quite nice!”
How the studio operates is important to her. The three key rules are that it’s fully remote, offers flexible work hours and, crucially, does not believe in free pitching – a point she hastens to direct towards anyone in the Harris Theatre today who works client side.
And only by being honest about what she really is (“I am not an artist!”) and what her role in the world really entails, can Chong produce the highest quality of work possible for clients. When designing, she finds it helpful to work within constraints rather than having unbridled freedom. For Chong, design is not really art, it’s problem solving.
The first of her Studio Chong projects discussed is Known Source, a second-hand fashion brand which aims to be a first-class ecommerce experience. By closely studying customers and sellers within the category, the idea of circularity kept emerging, which could then be fed into designing a new wordmark that alludes to the idea of closing the loop on circular fashion. The wordmark designed was loud enough to be appreciated but stripped back enough that it retained simplicity.
The second project mentioned, The Public Spirit, looked at how a UK-based rum brand could be successfully transitioned into becoming a more encompassing spirits brand. Chong’s research indicated consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the impact brands have on others and the environment, so why not lean on the fact that a quarter of The Public Spirit’s profits are donated to charity? The tagline ‘Liquor with a conscience’ was born and paired with a stripped back design, making it a totally unique proposition in the market. Refined and full of intrigue, it is a quintessential example of Chong’s brand design work and leaves the Harris Theatre audience thoroughly inspired.
One of Chong’s final remarks offers an insight into her creative process: “We believe in creating brands that love people. People are discerning and know if a brand gives a shit about them.”