Interview with Designer/Art Director — Ezra Yew Wah Ng
Ezra Yew Wah Ng’s bold projects are visually stirring, and it is no surprise that he has already won a lot of the industry’s most prestigious top honors including the Creativepool Annual 2017 awards (Winner for the Publishing Category with A Decent Magazine, Winner for the Typography Category with Labels).
Both projects consists of pieces which stand beautifully on their own yet, stand next to each other to enhance and act cohesively to deliver Ezra’s story for Labels, and the art of the modern gentleman/gentlewoman for A Decent Magazine.
His use of an extensive array of materials is further accentuated by his hand-lettering, and brings an element of craft that makes Ezra’s work distinctly recognizable. What really seems to make both projects stand out, is Ezra’s art direction. He has a unique capability to use text, design, images and objects not only to make the pages beautiful to look at, but more importantly, to communicate the soul of who he is as a designer — something we all strive for in our personal projects.
We are excited to have Ezra here to talk about his wins at the Creativepool Annual Awards, his work, and his career as designer/art director so far…
For those of us that don’t know who you are, can you introduce yourself?
My name’s Ezra and I’m a graphic designer currently based in Malaysia. I design magazines because I wish to help change the world for the better with them one day.
How did you become a designer?
Considering of how I stumbled into design, and to see my career developed to this stage, it never fails to astound me how far I made it. I was pretty clueless when I first started out. With no idea what I was good at or what I can offer to people. I was only 18 after all. Can’t even take a proper selfie back then without introducing my phone to the floor. It was around the end of high school that I had to make a decision of what to pursue, and I kind of drifted into business school as my dad suggested.
As I said, tragically clueless.
It all started alright, I buried my head in books and studied. But in truth, I don’t have what it takes to have anything to do with business. Needless to say, my performance was notoriously bad and my grades went from average to a complete joke in no time.
Until one day, when I was designing some slides for one of my presentations, I found myself editing and moving around the words, colour and pictures much longer than necessary. In fact I think I spent more time on the slides than the actual thesis itself. After the presentation and the submission of my obviously failed paper, I was only most satisfied with the slides. Then I asked myself, if only there’s a job that lets me create pretty things for a living.
Then it’s 3 years of design college, and a year abroad for my Bachelors of Graphic Design, which I graduated with first class honours.
What inspires your work?
My life experiences mostly. I realised one thing about design, is that the more sheltered you are, the less likely you’re able to generate good ideas easily. Being exposed to various life experiences and meeting new people is the fuel to creativity.
If you could describe your aesthetic in one sentence, what would it be?
My work so far can be described as vibrant, clean cut, drizzled with subtle eccentricity and flair. Expect plenty of colours, bit of humour perhaps, simple yet sometimes quirky illustrations, and always an affectionate human touch to all.
What sparked the concept for Labels and A Decent Magazine, your two winning entries for the Creativepool Annual Awards?
Labels was birthed by a sense of rebellion against the opinion of words showered by the generation of designers before me and other people who decided that they have know me well enough and start putting in boxes that they formed in their head. Labels is a direct rebuttal to that.
As for A Decent Magazine, it’s created as a template in mind for the future magazine that I wish to establish. I’ve always had an affinity for photography, illustrations, and discussing my ideals and values when it comes to feminism, equal rights and the idea of being a modern gentleman/gentlewoman in the current age. Magazine is the perfect vessel for my vision. The editorials are done with modern feminism in mind, to create a respectful and understanding environment between two genders, and invite discussions and further understanding between one another. The illustrations are done in a style that pays a homage to the design visuals of the past that’s associated with this topic.
What were the challenges you had to encounter to complete Labels and A Decent Magazine? How did you do so?
Labels was the first project that I spent the least amount of time in front of a computer. The idea was to take a step back from technology, from the facilities and technology that my generation of designers equipped with when we first entered the industry. It was a refreshing change working on this project. Every step of the way was a new venture of graphic design methods that I’ve never tried before. Creating mediums from scratch and art directing it was a challenge that I relished and enjoyed.
That being said, the process of creating the medium itself was painstakingly difficult. For the smashed bottle poster, I was wearing gloves at first to avoid getting cut from the glass shards. But it was too difficult to navigate the delicate process of pasting the glass pieces, hence I forego the gloves and endured a number of cuts while putting the whole thing back together. As for the rice poster, I underestimated its difficulty as I allocated only 2 hours to finish it. The rice pool was extremely uneven to a point, when place a single painted rice on top of it, it might sink deeper or unable to stay still at the position I’ve placed it. Hence it took me the whole night just to put the few words on it. The wooden log and food typography was relatively easy compared to the earlier two. But the idea and development department took its fair share of time. It took me a while to choose the right food to feature in the food poster that’s relatively uncommon and haven’t been done before and a few hours in-front of my notebook, creating the perfect copy to put on the log.
A Decent Magazine was a challenge in its own right. By the time I created A Decent Magazine, I’ve already done multiple magazines in the past. Hence to creative something that is distinctive in terms of art direction and photography was definitely a challenge. Tons of research went into it and experimenting with different style of illustrations until I’ve landed on the right one. Also, to stay true to the magazine’s ethos of equal rights and feminism, all questions and articles written has to obey the the tact and responsibility of being true to its voice. Hence I’ve conducted plenty of audience research and honing my knowledge on feminism, so I can produce a work that’s respectful and informative at the same time.
How did you feel being a winner in both the Publishing and Typography categories for the Creativepool Annual Awards?
Pretty insane actually. I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony in person so I asked two friends of mine in London to attend on my behalf. As for me, I was viewing the ceremony’s live-stream from my iPad during the dead of night at Malaysia. I was pretty gutted for not being able to be there myself as these are one of the very first awards I’m honoured — party, trophies and all. But having two of my closest friends to accept the award on my behalf, and hear their exclamation of pride for my achievements, is definitely the second best thing. I was also very pleasantly surprised to hear from them that the crowd was curious of me and who I am when my name came up twice during the ceremony — there weren’t a lot of two-times winner that night. So all in all, extremely proud and thoroughly honoured by this fantastic design platform and my two best friends for being there for me.
What do you wish you’d have known starting out as a designer?
That it’s always the hardest when you first venture into design. Typography’s frightening. Illustration’s impossible. Layout’s a nightmare. And they will stay that way for a while. Until one day perhaps, while tweaking a drawing or layout you did, in hopes to make it better, you’ll realise it’s not that scary anymore. It’s actually quite comforting and fun doing it. That’s when design will be slightly easier to proceed and you’ll start falling in love with it. So I wished I knew that. Know that eventually I’ll fall in love with design. Insecurities and doubts will eventually be less overpowering. And most importantly, to not give in to the fear of failure and let it take over you.
It is often said that it is hard to make a living as an designer. How long was it before design became your primary source of income? And how do you keep a constant stream of projects coming in (how do you promote your work)?
Well no arguments there — design aren’t exactly known for their money-magnet allure. It’s true that it could be quite difficult for one to manage a living solely out of a junior designer’s salary, straight after university. That being said, it’s not entirely impossible. I’ve lived a year in London on a minimum wage salary. I lived in a cardboard box of a room and constantly made tough culinary choices such as choosing wine or food. (Booze. Always booze.) But there are choices with drawbacks that pale quickly in comparison with the fact that I’m living in the city that I love and the artistic scene which vibrancy feeds my life. Basically, if you manage your finances appropriately and be patient, money will be less a problem sooner than you think.
Also — staying active in design platforms such as Behance and Creativepool and making sure my work is constantly updated is a must. So that potential employers and such who views my profile will know my creative status instantaneously. They can get a quick look and know if I’m freelancing/working, and the range of work on deck for them to view and decide if I’m suitable for a job position they’re trying to fill or a creative job to source out. Keeping in contact with all your designer friends is one of the best way as well. As sometimes if they’re busy or find a job they’re offered are not to their liking or abilities to complete, you could be suggested to take up the job instead.
Besides hard work and talent, what other traits has led to your success and longevity in the industry?
Learning to ask for help. Definitely an important lesson that I’ve learned so far. Learning to snuff your ego out and start asking for help. It helps me to understand the importance of making difficult choices that will ensure that I will get to keep going and bringing my self to places further that I could even dream off.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Keep trying. A common advice, but a hard-earned lesson. By telling ourselves and others to keep trying whenever a failure arrives, we so often fail to acknowledge the strength and hardship it involves to actually try again. To regain some form of strength after enduring a hear aching disappointment is by no means, easy game. Instead of breaking down about it, put those feelings on the back burner for now and immediately look for a solution. Work on the solution till its complete, and while waiting for news, you can breakdown then.
You have worked with amazing clients and have achieved great success in the industry, how do you keep this momentum, whilst always trying to climb to greater heights?
Keep trying. Fail. Breakdown. Move on. Try again.
Looking back at your career, what has changed since you started, and what has stayed the same?
My naivety. Both professionally and personally, has diminished or changed drastically over the years. Perhaps it was privilege, or the lack of real life experience. I used to find the world an easier place and less complicated. As the years go by, when the rejections you receive begins to pile up and the wins are arriving less and less — you tend to be more cynical and wary about the world.
Anything you would change looking back?
Yes and no. Looking back at the plenty of decisions that I’ve made; some seem bad; some seem rash; some seem downright ridiculous. On a good day, when things are going well, I’ll say that things happened for a reason. And I’ve grown and learnt from it. On a bad day, I wished the exact opposite. So for the most of my days, I try to make each day a good one as much as I can. When the a really bad one hits and I lose my cool, red wine it is.
If you could let people know anything else about you, what would it be?
That I aspire to be as carefree and dead-ass cool like Badgalriri herself, Rihanna one day. Care one less thing about the insignificant, more room for the things that actually matters.
Any projects coming up you would like to share with us?
For now I’m working in a publishing house in Malaysia, under its special projects branch. So in the near future, probably some themed cookbooks and stuff which I’m currently working on.