Interview with Design Duo Foreign Policy, Speakers at ING Conference 2015

Yah-Leng and Arthur are the co-founders of Foreign Policy. Together, they are a think tank based in Singapore that crafts, realises and evolves brands with a creative and strategic deployment of ideas narrated by various appropriate media. The two of them are due to speak at ING Conference, Dubai, 27 – 28 March. ING is a creative community that connects industry professionals to instigate positive change. Since 2012, the ING Conference has hosted talks and workshops with leading international creatives, designers and entrepreneurs. We speak to Foreign Policy ahead of the two-day event.

A: Could you talk me through Foreign Policy’s strategic design process when taking on a new project?
We usually start with a discovery session where the client will present to us what their vision, plans, dreams etc are. We will ask questions, tons of them, to be sure we cover as much ground as we can. Then we will head back to the office to investigate, research, analyse the market and look for places where we could get inspiration for the brand story and brand building. Once a story is nailed, the visual language will be established and presented to the client. This kickstarts a dialogue between us and the client. We don’t design first, instead the idea or story always comes first.

A: Although based in Singapore, you have worked and trained in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Bangkok, Melbourne and Georgia. Do you feel your work reflects the influences from the places you’ve lived and worked?
FP: Yes, for sure. We are fortunate and grateful to have studied, worked and lived in the various cities. The experience and exposure of living in different cultures and studying under different systems has broadened our mindsets and our way of thinking. Coupled with our early education in our home country, our broad perspective helps us approach projects or problems in ways that are maybe different from someone who has another experience. We are happy we have the best of both worlds: born in Singapore with a global upbringing, particularly Yah-Leng who spent most of her formative years in the USA. We think the most important thing is to have the ability to adapt, which we’ve been trained to do every time we move. This adaptability is quite powerful and it can be applied to our work. We are also thankful that we’ve gone through the complete lifecycle of a design career in the USA as well – both working for firms, freelancing and starting our own design practice afterwards. Coming back to Singapore in 2007 and then setting up Foreign Policy Design is also a new challenge as we have no footprint in our own hometown. Yah-Leng has never worked in her home country and it is a really small market in comparison to New York. We always have to be on our feet, innovating ideas and solutions. It will be eight years this September and we are still enjoying the ride.

A: Your piece, Audiobook, incorporates a hardback copy of The New Yorker into the design for a large speaker. What drew you to interactive media?
FP: This piece of work was a contribution to a friend’s book, The Browsing Copy, where we were free to explore and express any form of idea through a browsing copy. We are always interested in exploring various medium and Yah-Leng, being a geek at electronic and gadgety stuff, naturally came up with the idea of Audiobook. By fusing a book with a speaker, with the capability to connect to an ipod/ipad/iphone, we were able to play music.

A: Arthur has worked in consultancy whilst in New York. Do you feel a level of consultancy with the client helps to shape the narrative of your work?
FP: Yes very much so. Arthur’s systematic business logic combined with design approach has always been instrumental to our projects. A lot of the time designers don’t understand a business problem and it’s really not their fault because designers are not trained to be business people. If you noticed, we do not have a so-called signature style to our design work. All of our projects are based on the clients’ brand and business. We tailor-make everything and help them create and build their own story and personality.

A: What’s next for Foreign Policy in 2015?
2015 is going to be the Year of the Ram – it’s a pun – we have to literally be ramming against a couple of huge challenges – which are super exciting projects we have been planning for since last year. We need lots of RAM – we will be expanding with the need to hire more brains and hands to ram through the challenges.

Yah-Leng & Arthur will be speaking at ING Conferences, Dubai. Find out more at

1. The Swap Show, image courtesy of Foreign Policy.