How did you discover your passion for design? I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, surrounded by arts and culture, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an artist. Fast forward through high school, I came across a provocative United Colors of Benetton ad created by Tibor Kalman that inspired me to pursue graphic design. In my first post-college design job in Washington, DC, I started as an intern and quickly worked my way up to senior art director, eventually managing a 60-plus creative team. I was the only female in a management position at that time.
What led you and Jake Lefebure to cofound Design Army? During my six-plus years in the design trenches at that DC creative agency, I met my now husband, Jake. We learned a lot about the creative business, and the dot-com era took us on a crazy journey of company mergers and acquisitions. Then, the dot-bomb hit. That’s when we decided to go for our dreams, do things differently and launch Design Army.
Per our previous feature on Design Army, most of your clients seem to be in the arenas of fashion, entertainment and the arts. What kinds of challenges are unique to designing for these kinds of clients? Working with creative clients is always a bit challenging but also amazingly rewarding. Fashion and art are very of-the-moment. Our design team must always stay in the know of the latest trends while forecasting what’s to come. Thankfully, we work with a wide variety of clients (hospitality, real estate, fashion and entertainment), and many of our projects have long lead times, so we get a good glimpse into the future. We’ve also been fortunate to rarely get client pushback when we push boundaries, perhaps because everyone wants to stand out. I always tell my team that our job is to produce wow during a first client presentation; it’s always easy to turn the volume down if it’s too loud.
Would you recommend that up-and-coming designers specialize in a niche area of design? Design Army started as a “traditional” graphic design agency, but today, we’ve created films, fashion collaborations with brands and 360 campaign advertising. However, we still create and communicate through the specialized lens of design. So, I think it’s OK to have a specialization, but you need to be adaptable and have a broad creative skill set to progress. The future is coming at us faster than ever before; be prepared, and embrace change.
You’ve been working as vice chairman on the board of directors for the One Club since June 2021, and you’ve served on the board since 2013. What do you enjoy most about this position? It’s been a long, rewarding ride with the One Club. Working with a board of directors who are passionate about giving back to our global creative community, we’ve created annual programs like Where Are All The Black People Diversity Conference and Career Fair, The One School Portfolio Program for Black Creatives and Creative Boot Camps offering diverse students globally a chance to engage and learn from industry creatives. I’m most proud to be part of the progress and changes we are making for the creative industry—and looking forward to the many years to come!
Do you feel that there’s anything the design industry isn’t doing enough to encourage diversity in the field? The world is a more inclusive place than when I started in the design industry. There’s more opportunity (and responsibility) to amplify the voice of Asian culture, and we can see it happening throughout the corporate world with AAPI-dedicated social channels and initiatives. As designers—regardless of ethnicity—our role is not just to create things but to be an ambassador of traditions and embrace third culture and design with a modern point of view.
Which designer (or design firm) other than yours do you most admire and why? I love the design of fashion house Dries Van Noten! The work is always instantly recognizable, and when they have to reinvent each season, the soul of the design remains constant. It’s also rare to see a well-established fashion house remain an independent brand. I admire creatives that continually reinvent themselves but never lose sight of who they are or what they want—and can ignore the trends that suck many into a commercial coma.’
What music, practice or routine gets you into your creative zone? I love all things jazz! That said, I prefer silence when I’m getting into my creative zone. My best creative is at night, with a scented candle and a glass of wine. There’s something about the right scent that enhances the creative process. I love that my office can smell like the south of France or jasmine in Thailand. That’s when my imagination runs wild.
Do you have any advice for designers just entering the profession? Choose wisely. Selecting your first job is one of the most important career decisions as it will set your future foundation as a designer. Make sure it’s a place that excites you, shares your values and is willing to mentor you to become a strong designer. ca