A casino, not a design studio, is where Kenneth Ho always thought he’d end up working. In Macau, the world’s biggest gambling center by revenue, a large number of citizens find employment in its glitzy casinos and five-star hotels. Ho very nearly became one of them.
The creative director of branding and design studio WWAVE DESIGN counts himself lucky. In high school, he took a short summer course in design hosted by the Macau Polytechnic Institute. The spark for design was lit, and he soon abandoned his plans to study gambling management. “I realized I had other talents and there was another way besides the casinos,” he says.
Not content with following life’s beaten paths, Ho decided to open a studio to cut his own—hence the name. “I wanted to be part of the new wave—something new and something different,” he says. The two WW’s were a reference to Ho and his brother, who was involved in the early stages of the business but soon left. The lettering, however, stuck. Wearing his signature round frames, Ho sits with his translator, Kam, in his small studio in Macau’s commercial and creative precinct. With the rest of the team working from home due to COVID-19, only his wall of well-tended plants now keep him company most days. More than decor, they’re a tiny representation of what matters dearly to him both personally and professionally. “The idea of environmental preservation and being environmentally conscious is something I always think about,” he says over video chat. “It’s natural for me to be environmentally conscious. Macau is a place where everything is imported and bought. People consume a lot, but there is always a price for economic consumption. A few years ago, a developer was trying to develop Coloane, the only island left in Macau that is green. I was very upset about that, so I was involved in an installation and campaign to help preserve that place.”
Passion comes easily to Ho, especially when it comes to the environment, sustainability, design and the creative epicenter that is New York City. After cutting his teeth at MO-Design in Macau, where he learned to bring a sense of adventure to his work, Ho was hungry for more. An internship in Hong Kong exposed him to a broader range of industries, and a stint in Shenzhen followed. It wasn’t until he got to New York, however, that he felt the world open up to him. “That was definitely one of the most defining moments in my life. New York City changed and influenced me a lot. It felt like every day, there were always new ideas and thoughts coming to my mind, the entire atmosphere was very vibrant and, of course, influenced my work,” he says. While working at design studio Math Practice, he also discovered the working style he would use as the foundation for his own studio. “It was very studio oriented in New York City. They had lots of time to discuss ideas and projects. I also saw lots of designs by people from different parts of the world. It’s very diversified. Until then, I didn’t often see designs that were bold or experimental,” he says. The whole experience built on what he’d discovered while working in Macau—that approaching design in the same old ways wasn’t enough for him. “In New York City, design is not safe. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic your thoughts are; there is always an audience for that because of the diversity the city offers. Nowadays there are lots of short-lived trends in the design field, things that pop up and fizzle out. I want to create something that is long lasting—that’s one of my goals,” he says.
With that in mind, Ho doesn’t hire designers who simply toe the line. “Firstly, they must have their own ideas and thinking. This helps enrich ideas and lets ideas clash,” he says. When recruiting, he also looks for potential as much as talent. “Your design capabilities are not the most important thing. Skills can be nurtured, but you need to have the will to learn,” he says.
Simple and exquisite are the two words Ho uses to describe his design aesthetic. More specifically, a simple idea executed in an exquisite way. It’s what helped him secure his first major client, ROCCA Pâtisserie. Founder Candii Un says Ho’s attention to detail is second to none. “We are both perfectionists, and it also helps that he likes French pastries so much,” she says. Good taste aside, Un also likes that he’s a good listener, and believes his work helps elevate her creations. “Kenneth’s designs make our cakes look even more appealing. He can always seize the detail in our cake design and make use of the elements to complete and express the whole idea, which creates a holistic experience,” she says. For ROCCA’s La Lune biscuit collection celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival and the full harvest moon, delicate round bamboo cases were chosen for the packaging. From there, simple paper sleeves in different textures were added along with 3-D embossing and holographic foil to depict a luminescent moon. “The paper sleeve complements that sense of handicraft and avoids using too many materials. The bamboo case can also be recycled and used as a container for other things,” Ho says. From ROCCA’s elegant logo, with artful typography and a classic oval shape referencing its pastries, to other projects celebrating Valentine’s Day, Alice in Wonderland, forest- and circus-inspired collections, summer fruits, and Christmas, the collaboration has produced a smorgasbord of delicious work.
For lifestyle boutique and espresso bar Quarter Square, Ho took things to another level. After five years in business, Quarter Square was looking to expand and rebrand. Picking up on its different facets, Ho created an adaptable logo. “It’s a gallery, a showroom, a coffee bar—it’s not just one thing, it’s multifunctional, so I created a multidimensional logo using the letter Q,” Ho says. In one incarnation, the tail of the Q sits beneath the letter. In another, it sits over the top, and in a third, it crosses over and underneath. “It’s dynamic. There are lots of different forms it can be morphed into, and it gives new possibilities and potential to the project. Essentially, it’s a circle with a stick in various forms. It’s not one fixed logo, it changes,” he says.
Ho thinks carefully before answering questions during the interview, stopping, pausing as thoughts form in his mind, and finding truth before allowing himself to speak. It’s a quality that Quarter Square founder Alberto Chan admires in Ho. Even more so when he lets his work do the talking. “Kenneth communicates better visually than verbally. Some- times without him saying much, we could tell what he was trying to achieve. I think this is a strength since a powerful brand and logo should convey a message without having to explain it in words,” Chan says. The subdued color palette and the minimalistic and clear approach of the rebrand perfectly matched Quarter Square’s own pursuit of modest elegance and quiet luxury. “It’s easy to read and flexible too,” Chan says. “Kenneth is one of the best in Macau.”
While much of his work emanates from his home city, Ho has his sights set much further abroad. His latest venture has seen him working closely with Michelin-starred chef André Chiang and his company AC Global on a new guesthouse in Japan. Called Mitsuma-Ya, it translates to “Three Houses.” The logo cleverly uses the Chinese characters used to write Mitsuma-Ya illustratively to depict the number three and a house. The overall effect is like that of a puzzle, or a window looking into a house. “Kenneth is a young, dynamic designer in Asia who I saw a lot of talent and potential in. He doesn’t simply create beautiful concepts, but also has this ‘making a statement’ kind of mindset, which I appreciate,” Chiang says.
In six short years, Ho has produced work for big names such as Nike and Häagen-Dazs and received a number of awards, including a nomination for the 2021 German Design Award. With clients based in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the United States, he hopes to continue on a global trajectory. “It’s not necessarily about doing more business, but getting in touch with more people from different places. I have this urge or need to go beyond Macau,” he says.
Let the next adventure begin. ca