Jonathan Yuen is the founder and creative director of Roots, a Singapore-based interdisciplinary, multi award-winning graphic design studio he founded in 2011. Born in Malaysia but of Chinese descent, Yuen draws on his Chinese heritage to craft graphic design projects that blend the aesthetics and concepts of the East and the West.
While Yuen designs mostly in English, he has used Chinese aesthetics and language in some of his personal projects. Now, he is actively seeking opportunities to involve Chinese culture and language into his design for clients, too. “I’m influenced by the typography of Chinese characters,” he says. “I like to change the character to form new meanings and symbols. The interesting thing is that even if people don’t understand the Chinese words, they can still understand the intended meaning. It’s a nice crossover; it’s not necessarily for the Chinese market or for the international market.”
It is in markets like Singapore and Hong Kong where people regularly communicate in English as well as in their native tongues that Yuen feels this kind of “crossover design” really works. For example, he says, “many people in Singapore are fluent in multiple languages. Everyone can speak English and many people can speak Chinese, so it’s much easier for me to blend elements from Chinese culture into English-language design.”
In this way, Yuen believes designers who have grown up in these markets are at an advantage: they are able to communicate to both English-speaking and Chinese-speaking communities. “The designers in Singapore are very internationally focused, and as such are more able to cross over between markets in the East and the West.” However, he believes crossover design may have a place in the China market, and this is an opportunity he is keen to explore.
“Design in its purest functional form solves communication issues and requirements that transcend culture and language borders. However, when considered cultural context frames a design, we delight in the richness and depth of that design. This impacts how we are informed by it,” Yuen explains. “There are thousands of years worth of rich Chinese cultural history and many elements of this history, perhaps surprisingly in some cases, are still very relevant in the East and abroad today. Hence, drawing from this rich repertoire of materials allows designers to tell better stories to Chinese consumers and build meaningful connections between brands, products and their users.”
About Jonathan Yuen
Having worked in the interactive, print, and advertising fields, Yuen has produced multi-disciplinary works for a wide spectrum of clients including global brand such as Nike and Nokia. Over the years, his works have been recognized in numerous regional and global award shows including D&AD, The Gong Show, YoungGuns Award, One Show, AdFest, Webby Awards, The Art Directors Club. In 2012, he was selected to represent Singapore as one of the Cyber jury members for Cannes Lions.