Daniel Ting Chong on Design Indaba 2019
Daniel Ting Chong was born in Cape Town in 1987 and studied graphic design at Vega. He is emerging as one of Cape Town’s top creative talents, following a series of art exhibitions, talks, commissions from clients, and design collaborations with leading international brands including Nike, PUMA, The New York Times, and Red Bull. In this interview, he discusses design, art, and his collaborative artwork for Design Indaba 2019.
What informed your decision to become an artist?
I have always been interested in the creative industry since I was young. I used to draw a lot, and my parents would always encourage me. When I was in high school, my design teacher, Andrew Putter, posed a question to the class: Could we produce a piece of design that was commercially viable? I was 16 at the time. I got together with a sound designer and a 3D designer to produce a digital magazine called I Eat Soup. It was a design platform that gave young creatives the opportunity to display their work. We had no idea what we were doing. We taught ourselves the basics of Photoshop and Flash to produce the magazine. Our naiveté was the best part of the entire project, as we were learning through playing and failing. We burnt the magazine on to mini CDs in our bedrooms and printed the covers at a cheap local printer. We managed to get the magazine stocked at a South African boutique store called Bread & Butter. We were fortunate to sell a handful of copies for our first release. This was validation for me that I could make a living from being a designer.
I studied at Vega to get my Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and worked at a small design studio called The President for two years. I then decided to go independent and share a design studio with six other amazingly talented designers. It helps to surround yourself with people who are your friends and who have opinions that you value. Especially when going independent, it can be so daunting and overwhelming, but having people around you going through similar situations and helping you review work and costing on projects helps so much.
In your website bio you describe yourself as third-generation South African Chinese. What role does cultural hybridity play in your work?
A massive role, as it forms the lens I view the world through. The two countries couldn’t be further apart; however, I find so many riches in both countries. I am proud to be South African. Apart from being born here and being patriotic to my country, I feel South Africa is truly beautiful and endlessly interesting because it is filled with different cultural facets. At the same time, I am also so proud to be Chinese, because the culture is incredibly rich with history and innovation, which is more than enough of a reason for me to hold my head up high. Besides being my cultural heritage, family is a big part of my life, and I would not be in the fortunate position I am currently in if it weren’t for my family’s cultural principles of a strong work ethic and of respect.
You recently used creative coding to create collaborative artwork for Design Indaba 2019. Please tell us a bit about the project and what you hope to achieve with it.
I intended to stay true to the overarching campaign theme of “What Can AI Do for You?” by creating a brand identity that was also created by a rudimentary approach to mimic AI. I felt that the concept was strong but also fun in its approach. We created a system, a set of rules that would apply to us and to computers. It’s a way for us to combine, to try something new and practise creativity together. There are 13 created shapes in four colours that the computer selects through a script. We add physics to the shapes and have no idea of what the final composition will be, as it depends on environmental parameters around the shapes and where it may bounce and fall on the layout.
Each execution is completely different, which extends the identity into something unexpected and modular. The organic nature of the falling shapes leaning on one another is intended to communicate the concept of a support structure. Each shape represents us as humans relying on each other and highlights the fact that across all disciplines of design, we can help each other to create the unimaginable. The computer also assigns a sound for every shape it selects, resulting in an intriguing play of notes distinct to each layout. The more shapes there are, the more intricate the sound design. The copy for the identity is also selected by the computer. I worked with Paul White to develop a document of words from which the script selects, which is utilised for banners, social media posts, and print executions.
You are an alumnus of the Emerging Creatives Programme. How did being selected for the programme influence your career?
The Emerging Creatives platform is prolific for networking and is one of the biggest platforms on which upcoming designers can get noticed. One of the most valuable things I took from the programme was that it validated what I do and confirmed that I could create a business out of my career. It confirmed my belief that what I was doing was right and made me feel excited about design.
You have achieved international recognition for your work locally and internationally. To what would you attribute your rising success, and what advice would you give to emerging artists?
Success can be measured in many different ways. Yet I owe my “rising success” to so many others, like my wife, family, and studio mates. Having a strong support system allows you to be comfortable mentally, allowing you to create clearly. It does, of course, come down to hard work and how good you want to be. My advice to emerging artists would be to work hard and make the time to do self-motivated projects between client-based projects. Always experiment and play around with creative software, as it helps so much understanding how the software works since you can’t create something you don’t understand. Make sure you’re mentally happy with the work you’re doing, and if you’re not, take the leaps till you get there. Don’t worry about pursuing or creating your own style—that happens organically over time.
You have worked with a number of well-known brands, what influences your decision to collaborate with them?
I often work with brands that I’m organically interested in, if their values are aligned with mine, and most of all, if the project itself has value in the world. There are also great advantages to working with well-known brands to increase the visibility of your portfolio. If prospective clients notice that you work with well-known brands, it provides a sense of comfort and trust for them to want to book you for a project.
To what do you attribute the increasing interest in art and design festivals all over the world, and how do you think Design Indaba fits into the burgeoning global art and design scene?
I think the idea of creativity has become more accessible to people. I feel that back in the day, when the word “creativity” was mentioned, one would envision people who could only draw and paint. Creativity, nowadays, is found in so many disciplines that were previously never considered. Everyone is creative without a doubt.
Design Indaba is an incredible festival that showcases the hybridity of creativity. There is no other conference that I know of that has such a broad scope of speakers from various backgrounds. Most creative conferences are discipline-specific, whereas Design Indaba caters for a larger audience, bringing the most innovative thinkers in the world.
Why do you think there is an increased demand for art, from the African continent and its related diaspora, and what does its future hold?
Africa is in the centre of the world, and rightly so. Everyone looks to Africa, as I feel that it’s so raw and pure with talent. African creativity is like no other; there is always passion, but more importantly, a story to be communicated. There are many things that are native to Africa that can’t be mimicked elsewhere because of rich traditions and customs.
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