In certain ways, design, especially graphic design, is about taking many different elements and making them work together to create something cohesive.
This is similar to the way that music composition and recording is about combining melody with rhythm and harmony to create something distinct.
On a literal, immediate level, those design elements could be color, text, and composition. But in a more abstract sense, those elements could also be pieces of a pre-existing brand identity.
Today, we want to look at the ways that one talented designer by the name of Roslyn Fok takes many different cultural elements and uses them to make designs that feel fresh and interesting, even to viewers who might not be aware of all those cultural influences in the work.
Designer Roslyn Fok
In case you’re not already familiar with Fok and her work, she is an in-demand art director and graphic designer currently based in New York City. Some of her past clients include enormous fashion brands like Nike, Converse, and Chanel, and she’s also worked with the innovative fashion publication Hommegirls.
Through it all, Fok credits her Korean and Singaporean heritage as leaving an important mark on her design sensibilities. Because different cultures often have very different ideas about what makes for good design and appealing visuals, this diversity led to Fok’s unique view of design.
Fok was also heavily influenced by American media from an early age, especially some of the animation coming out of the United States when she was a child.
“Growing up, one of my main design influences was Nickelodeon cartoons. I loved how immersive the worlds were, and the title cards for the various shows really showed me the different narratives that could be told through simple design elements.”
This isn’t to say that Fok has stopped taking in new design elements throughout her career, but her foundations were very much rooted in her culture(s) and the media she fell in love with.
Let’s talk some more about how a multicultural design philosophy has played a part in Fok’s career.
A multicultural design approach
You often hear that travel broadens the mind. It gives you a chance to get a very small glimpse into other cities, other countrysides, and, yes, other cultures.
But actually living in several different countries amplifies the opportunities to learn more about these other cultures and how their way of life differs in those countries.
Fok knows that her international experiences throughout her life have enriched her understanding of those cultures as well as how they use design for various purposes.
“My background and my experiences overseas allow me to understand and think about the different cultures that I speak to through my design. I have also learned the different ways that design is incorporated around the world through signage and storefronts, and that has had a big influence on the way that I think about design.”
In fact, if you’ve never taken the time to look at how signs differ in countries all around the world, it can make for a very interesting afternoon’s worth of Googling.
There are certain standards and trends, of course, but there are also wildly different approaches and color palettes that help to make cities feel vibrant in their own way.
This is just one small example of how ideas surrounding design differ a great deal.
Designing for brands
Based on what we’ve said so far, you might be thinking that Fok’s graphic design work is a very clear mashup of disparate cultural influences and contemporary design elements, but this isn’t the case.
First up, we recommend taking a look at her website, which does a great job of showing Fok’s incredible versatility.
But during our conversation with Fok, she also talked about what it’s like to complete design work or art direction work for brands. As any good designer will tell you, it’s never about forcing your own style into the work.
Successful graphic designers and art directors know how to adapt to each project so that the ultimate goals of that project can shine through.
When working with brands, Fok works very hard to respect and amplify design elements they’ve used before. When completing commissioned work, the client always has specific goals in mind. Meeting those goals is the most important.
“My design approach overall is to be as thoughtful as possible. Since each project’s requirements are so different, I have to take those deliverables into consideration, and the meaning behind what I’m designing for is always different and I definitely take that into the core of my design process.”
Good design is about knowing which tools to use for each given project. This is comparable to songwriting.
If you set out to write a moving love song, you probably wouldn’t go straight to distorted guitars and dubstep bass wobble as the groundwork for the song.
Taking note of what the moment calls for and serving that moment is extremely important for designers, and losing sight of that can cause problems.
The most challenging project to date
Now let’s take a moment to talk about challenges in design work. If you don’t work in design yourself, then you might be thinking that, after getting the hang of composition and color, each job would more or less be a breeze, but that isn’t true.
As we mentioned above, each project has its own set of goals, and sometimes it takes real creativity to achieve those goals while also making something visually appealing and engaging.
When we interviewed Fok, we wanted to know what her most challenging has been so far. Here’s what she said:
“I think my most challenging project to date was creating graphics for the launch of Michael Kors’ Wonderlust fragrance campaign with Gigi Hadid. Since it was an experiential project, I had to think of how the graphics worked together spatially. I learned a lot so it was definitely challenging in a good way.”
Part of the challenge here was that the campaign itself was trying to challenge more traditional fashion marketing, and that required Fok and others working on the project to be very creative while going about their business.
As Fok added at the end, she saw this as a very positive kind of challenge, one that made her rethink her usual approach.
In creative work, stepping outside of your usual techniques is a valuable move, and it’s also a method that has been achieved in many different ways, by many different artists, over time.
Some may try to give themselves only a limited amount of time to develop a new idea. Others may limit themselves in other ways, for example, by not using the same tools they usually do or taking on a completely different color palette.
Yes, even exposing your mind to other cultural influences, as we’ve discussed here in detail, can do a lot to open you up to new possibilities and compelling new ideas that you might not have discovered otherwise.
Challenge is just one more way to inspire yourself to do some exciting new work.
In closing, we talked to Fok about collaboration. Specifically, we wanted to know whether collaboration was an integral part of her work.
Of course, at the time, we had a more narrow view of collaboration. In the music world, collaborating often means sitting down with another musician and playing instruments together. In some cases, it might involve a producer sitting in on a recording session and giving their thoughts on the creative direction of the track or the album.
In our minds, graphic designers seemed to always work alone, sending visuals to clients and completing revisions as needed.
But Fok enlightened us, explaining that her collaborations can happen in many different ways. Sometimes she might get some outside thoughts on a design while she’s still working on it.
Other times, the collaborators are the clients themselves, giving suggestions for how to achieve the goals they already had in mind for the project.
Regardless of the form it takes in each instance, collaboration has been very important for Fok during her career, and it helps her gain new perspectives on design.
“Collaboration is very important to me as I love bouncing ideas off people. Additionally, being inclusive of multiple views is something that is really crucial to me and my work and it gives me an opportunity to learn more about others and how they see design, ultimately impacting the way that I design as well.”
If there’s a single lesson to be taken away from this discussion, it’s that varying perspectives can be extremely helpful in design work, and in many other creative fields as well.
Whether it’s a single designer who has taken in various viewpoints over the years or a group of people all sharing their ideas in support of the same end goal, more ideas mean more options in the end, and more tools for achieving what you want.
All photos in this article were provided by Roslyn Fok’s website.