ONE DESIGN OFFICE
Samson Tiew and Jon Liow
Arkitube creators, Samson Tiew and Jon Liow are the brains behind the holistic design studio, ONE DESIGN OFFICE (ODO). With a high set of credentials under their belt; architects, designers, visionaries and entrepreneurs, these guys are on a steady path to greatness. We sit down with Samson and Jon to discuss; design, taking risks and pursing your passions in their Richmond design studio.
In regards to your kickstarted campaign, who came up with the idea of the Arkitube?
Sam: That was Jon.
Jon: I came up with the idea, maybe 6 months ago when, I’m always looking for ways to make things look nicer and improve the styling of products. And I remember going to undergrad carrying my drawings in that plastic tube and I always thought they were really ugly and annoying and that’s kind of what sparked the idea.
So, a focus on better aesthetics.
Jon: Yeah, better aesthetics and just making things more beautiful if we can.
So let’s begin with a little background about yourselves, what degrees did you guys study in uni?
Jon: I started off doing finance for two years, then I transferred into industrial design, did four years of that. And now I’m doing my masters of architecture.
Sam: I have three degrees which was all part of my course. I did my first undergrad in architecture, and then I did my masters in architecture and bachelors in copy and construction. It was all concurrent, so I spent 7 years in uni.
In terms of architecture, was it always your intention?
Sam: I’m the third generation in my family that’s involved in construction. My grandpa was a carpenter and my parents are in the building industry. Growing up and playing up with toys like Lego and looking at construction sites, it sort of became the only thing that I was comfortable with. So I was sort of eased into doing Architecture.
Jon: I guess I started looking into architecture after I finishing my degree. When I was contracting out as an industrial designer and I found that my scope of projects started to blend into doing architectural projects. I have always been inspired and interested in spaces and experiences and that’s what inspired me. And Samson inspired me as well. *laughs*
Is it hard to stay motivated to stay in this field?
Sam: I think it you’ve just got to keep your eyes on the finish line.
What is that finish line?
Sam: The finish line is to see something built. If you see it as having enough importance, it will push and motivate you to keep going. In terms of architecture as a business and profession, you’re not going to make it to the Forbes list. But it’s fulfilling career when you see something built, and when you make something from nothing. But it’s more about the passion in designing buildings versus trying to get rich. But here, we’re trying to make both things work.
So how do you juggle the client’s needs as opposed to producing interesting design?
Jon: Design is always very objective. The client always sets the parameters and there’s always things going to be budget and constraints which will always limit how creative you can really be. But I guess that’s true of the whole industry, like industrial design or graphic design, you’re always going to be limited by certain factors. But that’s the challenge of being creative in those constraints.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s reality.
So, ODO (One Design Office) how did it come up and why?
Sam: While I was working at Make Lab I was working at an architecture firm and doing projects on the side and there came a point when the architecture side projects were becoming overwhelming. So I thought let’s finish up with the firm and become a full time freelancer. During this time I came into contact with Jon and we came across a design competition which was to design a pod for “glamping” (glamour camping). So it’s was temporary structure which needed to be easily assembled and provided shelter for tourists in East Gippsland. As we started working on the project, quite good work synergies formed between us.
What do you mean by that?
Sam: I like looking at the big picture type of things and I don’t get caught up in the detail, maybe I’m not gifted in that area of detail, but that’s where Jon would pick up a lot of the details in the joints and begin to resolve a lot of things.And that’s where our strengths and our synergy formed. After that, we talked about potentially setting up a design studio to keep that design relationship going. It sort of went more serious in July, so here we (are) two months later officially setting up the firm and we’ve had quite a few projects come in and now we’re always on our toes trying to churn the projects out.
And we ended up winning the people’s choice award for the glamour (glamping) comp!
Jon, in pursuing ODO, did you have to move away from your Industrial Design Freelance work?
Jon: I wouldn’t say I quit freelancing, we were both contracting and freelancing and we decided to combine our services under one umbrella. It’s almost like merging our two seperate freelance work. And that’s something that inspired us, because when you’re a freelancer it can be quite removed. But really working together we’re able to bounce ideas off each other and share different projects and push each other creatively. I think that’s what really inspired us and bring something together. It also gives us the ability to give a full service.
That was our vision, we both love architecture, we both love products, we both love branding, graphic design. We didn’t want to be like a company that designs nice buildings but really lacks in the area of representing themselves visually. We wanted to present a company that can do that whole scope and understands everything.
And why is cross-disciplinary thinking important in terms of design:
Sam: I think cross disciplinary thinking is important in the sense that you find new ways to do things. Even in our short time of working together, we’ve actually referenced a lot of our own individual work and individual methods and techniques. So, I think that way, through applying cross disciplinary practices we can come up with the best outcomes possible.
Jon: I think that it’s very important, when you work by yourself you discover very quickly how much you don’t know. It’s almost like you think that you are quite capable until you work by yourself. It’s really hard to work by yourself, even if you’re very skilled. So especially in the creative field so many people have different strengths and I think that’s what our vision is to grow. We also want to hire the best creative talent out there. We both teach in university and some of the young guys out there just know and grasp so much more than we did at that age. So as we get older and technology gets better and better there’s so much strength and knowledge that lies in individuals.
How does this cross disciplinary thinking apply to One Design Office?
Sam: With One Design Office, it’s birthed out the idea of strength in numbers. It’s all about how we can begin to access each others networks, skills and ideas. So that’s how we thought two freelancers coming together could become a scalable business. We’ve actually developing that further to see how we can implements systems and work flows that will allow us to scale in time to come.
We also don’t doubt each others capabilities and fields and we try to look at ways to implement our personal skills and strengths. But the main thing in setting up ODO was to eliminate the personal sense of ownership by directors. Under directors, we feel that it’s hard for future staff and future collaborators to jump under the same vision if there is that continuos notion that they are always working for someone. So we wanted to build a vision and a company that anyone can jump on to and grasp the same vision and intent. And in the future, even part ownership
Jon: That’s why we refrain from calling it company something to do with our names. Cause when you do work for someone who does do that, it is hard to feel like you’re contributing something.
Sam: The name was important, because it enables us to scale the business in years to come. As a business we’re looking to scale to Asia and potentially Europe and so we’re just trying to lay the foundations of that now. Doing it right form the start and it enables us to grow.
That sort of answers our next question, where do you see your self in the future?
Sam: It’s hard to single up one ambition, but in an overall big picture sort of thing, we want to be multi-national in the years to come. And by doing so, I had a talk with Jon about the sense of relinquishing ownership and control, because that’s the way to train up new guys and empower new people to take on your previous responsibilities. That’s the type of direction that we’re heading into, and we started already doing that, we’re two months in and we’ve worked with various contractors and we also hired part time casual staff. And we’ve also got a graphic associate that’s on board at the moment. So from going to a two person form at the start to a work force to five, the growth is quite quick I would say.
Were there any risks involving in starting?
Jon: There’s always going to be risk, like nothing’s easy. But if I think, if you’re passionate about something, like Sam said, we’re not just trying to get rich over night. It’s something that you pour your blood sweat and tears into and it has to be a long term sort of thing. You have to get that motivation and vision behind, this is why we got into it.
Sam: There is that sense of us wanting to achieve our vision, but there is also the constraints that we are trying to make things work financially. We’re always trying to achieve that balance between, are we pushing the company in the right direction with the right ideas, versus are we becoming a casual based business? If you solely become a casual based business, it might be good for that point in time financially. But if you want to look at expansion, then you have to look further than what we see in terms of present cash flow. So there is that risk, but you have to just jump out and believe, that everything is going to be okay.
What’s a last piece of advice you would give to other people looking to do what you’ve done?
Sam: I think that it’s important to have good mentors to guide you along your way. To have good support, to know you have someone to fall back on. It’s about connecting with people who’ve done it before and learn from their mistakes.
J: Maintaining inspiration I think is good, to always have things that you go to that inspire you. Whether that’s people or other work or when it’s raining, it’s those things that when you sit there and when you look at it, you go, wow, this is why I really got into it.
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One Design Office (ODO) is a dynamic, interdisciplinary design firm that melds expertise inSpatial Design, Product Design, and Branding to create complete user experiences.
Designed to bring dignity and professionalism back to the culture of presentation, Arkitube is an aluminium presentation tube used for transporting architectural drawings, project plans, posters, or artwork.