With this latest interview in our Design Around the World series, we are happy to introduce Constant, a creative agency in Hong Kong.
Constant helps brands across the world redefine themselves. With offices in both Hong Kong and Copenhagen, they have a unique perspective on their local design community — from where it all began to where it could go in the future. I got to visit the Constant studio in Hong Kong and even take a few photos of their talented team at work.
Now we're talking more with Tim and Paul, partners at Constant, about what it's like to design in one of the most insane and inspiring cities in the world.
First, tell us a bit about your studio. Who is the team behind Constant and why did you decide to open your own agency?
The team consists of brand and business strategists, art directors, designers and writers. We opened the agency to play a part in pushing Hong Kong’s design and creative industry forward, and to help brands position themselves toward the rest of the world.
You rebranded and expanded to Copenhagen in 2015. I read that it’s uncommon for Asian businesses to expand into Europe and usually works the other way around. Why is it uncommon and how was the experience for you?
In past decades, bigger American and European agencies saw the obvious monetary value in growing in China and other parts of Asia. They have been focusing on building capabilities and setting up shops here. Doing just the opposite was not very common, but with one of our co-founders being Danish, along with our existing network of talent, it was not as difficult as it sounds to build a new base outside of Hong Kong.
The Constant office in Hong Kong
In an interview, Tim Ho said your expansion followed a trend of more Asian companies wanting to go global and adapt global design thinking. What’s influencing that trend in Hong Kong and is there a specific reason for this — assuming the market in Hong Kong and wider China is already big enough?
There have been, and still are a lot of successful manufacturers across Asia. As their knowledge and technologies mature, some begin to develop their own products, designs and identities, with the vision to grow brands globally. By transforming themselves from manufacturers to brands which are independent and have full control of their product quality and developments, they are in a position to reach an international audience and compete on a global scale.
When I search for Hong Kong design, I see a lot of bright and intricate illustrations. How would you describe Hong Kong’s design style and how does your culture or history influence it?
Hong Kong design for us is very “efficient” and adaptive. Like many other cities, infrastructure and culture plays a big part in design influence. Bright and intricate illustrations may have evolved from our fast paced lifestyle and cramped cityscape, similar to the famous neon light scenes you see all around Hong Kong — many signs, symbols and designs were created to quickly grab the attention of busy and restless Hong Kongers.
"It is only natural that creativity will continue to grow and flourish in a city like this. There is inspiration, dynamism and change happening all the time."
Constant's art direction for the Calvin Klein Performance line.
There seems to be a strong design community in Hong Kong, with many events and organizations dedicated to supporting art and design. What has allowed this community to grow? Are many people actively supporting and pushing for a stronger design community in Hong Kong?
The design and creative communities in Hong Kong have certainly evolved from as recently as our parents' generation. Older generations found it hard to believe in the creative industry being a “career” for their children. It wasn’t considered lucrative or stable. But over the last decade or so, creativity now has found a voice and the art of design and branding is more widely accepted and celebrated. We have seen more design schools open in Hong Kong and the younger generations now have a greater impact and position in society as a whole (you would have seen that with the recent Umbrella movement) and with that, freedom to pursue creative interests and subsequently greater demand for resources dedicated to the arts.
A look behind the scenes at the Constant Studio in Hong Kong
The government has seen the evolution of the design industry and growing support in this area, and has invested in materials and resources which can only continue to fuel the growth and development of our already awesome city.
Hong Kong is also an extremely cosmopolitan and diverse city that sits up there with all the biggest cities in the world — it is only natural that creativity will continue to grow and flourish in a city like this. There is inspiration, dynamism and change happening all the time.
In my conversations since I’ve been here, I’ve heard that good design isn’t as valued by clients in Hong Kong just yet. Is this true? Why is good design important, and what does good design mean for you at Constant?
It may not be fair to assume good design isn’t valued by Hong Kong brands, but it’s definitely rare to be put as a priority. When high level executives are not knowledgeable in design, it is hard to expect them to properly invest in it or use design to solve business problems. Good design for us is not about making things look and feel good; it should also change people’s behavior in a positive way, and we feel it is our job to continue educating our clients on this.
Constant for District15
It seems like most agency blogs inevitably fall to the wayside because client work comes first. Not so for Constant. You’re pretty active on your blog and seem to put a lot of thought into it, covering topics from social media to veganism. Why is it important for your creative team to write?
We write to express our views, but more importantly, we write for ourselves. Whenever we work on a project, we do an extensive amount of study and research internally to educate ourselves about our subjects. It was natural for us to turn this knowledge into articles which we can share with our peers.
What impact does your social media presence have on getting new clients and self-promotion in general?
We feel the more brands know what we are thinking about or working on, the more we can be trusted as a team that’s capable of creating solutions with depth and thorough thinking behind it. That said, we haven’t been actively building a large following.
In your blog feature about Aesop, you talk about how much “sameness” there is in Asia, and how brands should believe in their unique identity instead of trying to fit the Asian context. Is this still a relevant issue? What is the Asian context and why is there so much sameness?
This was a pretty old article but an inspiring viewpoint at the time. The point here was that many brands entering Hong Kong or China tried to model themselves after some magic formula for success: a “this is how it works in Asia” style thinking. Other than creating a lot of sameness it also underestimated the global mindset and international influence of consumers in Asia, which is becoming more apparent everyday. Yes, there are things you should understand about the market, but changing your brand to fit in was not the way to go.
Constant Art Direction and Photography for Arkk
And now to our last question: How can all designers and design communities from other countries do a better job of communicating with each other? How can we become more engaged with the Hong Kong design community? Are there any blogs or specific magazines we can follow?
There are communities forming around the PMQ and it will be interesting to see what the new M+ museum brings to the city. Magazines like Obscura and Blackbird are good to follow as they present an international viewpoint but from Hong Kong.