Ezra Ng is a very talented, self-proclaimed Jack-of-all-trades sort of designer whose relatively young career has seen him design for some big-name clients. Due to his interest in all things art and design, he’s acquired and honed a plethora of skills over the years, from illustration to photography, branding and typography. He worked as the Art Director of Courier magazine in London.
Can you briefly tell us about your background?
I grew up in a standard Malaysian family, where my dad is a businessman and my mother’s a homemaker. So my venture into the arts were a much different choice that they would’ve expected but welcomed and encouraged nonetheless. I’ve spent 3 year studying Advertising and Graphic Design at The One Academy of Communications Arts and Design and a year in London to further my studies.
What made you want to become a designer and illustrator?
When I first graduated from high school, I pressured myself into making a decision of what I should be studying next. I ended up enrolling into a business course at Sunway University. It was a popular choice among high school graduates in Malaysia after all, so what could anything go wrong I tell myself. Needless to say, my performance was notoriously bad and my grades went from average to a complete joke in no time.
One day when I was designing some slides for one of my presentations, and I found myself editing and moving around the words, colour and pictures much longer than necessary. In fact I think I spent more time on the slides than the actual theses itself. After the presentation and the submission of my paper, I was only most satisfied with the slides. Then I asked myself, if only there’s a job that lets me create pretty things for a living. And what happens next, as they say, is history.
Bottle. One of the typography posters that I created for “Labels”. The bottle was smashed and reassembled to represent the will to endure in the face of adversity and the absence of hope. “There comes a point when it becomes too much, when we get too tired to fight anymore. So we give up. That’s when the real work begins. To find hope where there seems to be absolutely none at all.” – Cristina Yang, Grey’s Anatomy.
How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen your work before?
My work so far can be described as vibrant, clean cut, drizzled with subtle eccentricity and flair. Expect plenty of colours, bit of humour perhaps, simple yet sometimes quirky illustrations, and always an affectionate human touch to all.
How did you get to where you are now?
I kept trying. Everyday, every moment. From the first time my design tutor told me my work is shit, to graduating design school, later on university with first class honours, and now to finding a job in London. I’m still trying. It’s not easy at all. But I’m glad that I’m able to reach where I am now, which is pretty sweet.
Not many people can say that they’ve worked as an Art Director, let alone for such a big publication like Courier. How has that been like?
Well being the only designer there, I was able to suggest and decide the best aesthetic output and art direction that Courier should present to the world based on my experience and expertise. That is my job after all. As Courier was still a budding publication/design agency when it comes to a certain aspect of their aesthetic and branding, I took it upon myself to introduce many improvements to create and maintain a branding identity for Courier that is visually distinctive and effective. During my time there, I made sure Courier’s presentation to the world was done in a unique, cohesive manner that reflects the brand, and visuals that will captivate the audience and render Courier memorable in their minds. The phenomenal articles and insightful writings the magazine boasts did the bulk of the work to reach out to tens of thousands of readers and secure many a loyal fans if we can so proudly say. In the end of the day I’m just glad and proud I’m part of the vehicle that drives this exceptional magazine to new heights and help reach audiences from all walks of life.
Courier covers. The covers that I’ve art directed for Courier.
What projects, to date, have been your most rewarding and satisfying?
I would have to say it’s my experimental typography project, “Labels”. It was the first project that I spent the least amount of time in front of a computer. The idea was to take a step back from technology, from the facilities and technology that my generation of designers equipped with when we first entered the industry. And with the idea of creating a book that only relies on photography, handmade typography, and printing, I created a booklet that features my efforts of proving myself against the many labels that have been attached to me over the years as a man, a student and a designer.
This project is about revealing my side of the story and showing evidence of my statements. In a way, the project also marks a poetic finish to my 4 years in design school. From my early years of relying heavily to complete dependence on digital graphics and typefaces, this is a journey back to the basics. Featuring hands on craftsmanship and physical prints. It was a refreshing change working on this project, as every step of the way was a new venture of graphic design methods that I’ve never tried before. Creating mediums from scratch and art directing it was a challenge that I relished and enjoyed. And from that point, my perspective and design breadth were expanded tremendously as this project gave me a taste of how diverse and different graphic design can appear in the forms of. It kick started my design skills, expectations and way of approaching a brief to a better place than I ever was.
While working on the project, I struggled at first to pour my heart into it as I didn’t know how. I knew it’s vital to display evidence of my personality and spirit onto the project, hence I took a step back at the beginning of the project and just focus on getting out the core message that I want to tell the world and what I want them to learn about me. And with a little soul searching, I spent the rest of my time on creating the perfect medium and the right story to tell that will present me as a person and what I want to tell with the most extent.
Rice. One of the typography posters that I created for “Labels”. The coal coloured rice was used to form the words among the sea of white rice, to represent the prominence that design provided me to stand out from anonymity.
How do you overcome times when you get blocked for ideas?
It depends on which aspect when it comes to design that I’m blocked. If it’s the visual aspect, easy. I just hit up Pinterest and let the sea of gorgeous design featured wash over me, find inspiration and develop from there. Check out what’s been done and what not to do.
If it’s idea wise, in a similar approach as well. Have a look through works of a similar brief, examine how the briefs are answered with effective solutions. To familiarise myself with executions and medium that perhaps I wouldn’t think of. And when I developed something solid, I tend to ask around my friends, both designers and not for their opinions and determine if the solution is effective or not.
What is the most important aspect for you in any project that you do?
For me, a well developed project on all aspects is important. I wouldn’t place any emphasis on either the idea or the aesthetic as they both require each other to flourish.
The cover and inner pages of one of the magazines I’ve created in uni, Street-Cred Magazine.
What other hidden talents do you possess?
I can lip-sync to Rihanna’s album, ANTI very well. That’s what I like to think anyway.
A Decent Magazine, where I was the photographer, illustrator and designer of the whole magazine.
And finally, what advice do you have for people who are considering a future in design?
Dream big. Always do. Once you find that one thing that you want the most in the world, work hard for it and don’t give up. Easier said than done for sure. My advice to myself is that instead of quitting, learn to rest and take breaks. Then pick yourself up and try again. If you can manage that, give yourself a pat on the back. It’s not easy at all. Sometimes it might even take all that you have to just wake up in the morning. If you can try again, against all odds, you should acknowledge that and give yourself some credit. Because mate, you’re a bad ass fighter.
Know your market value, and be stern about it. Timidness and being shy doesn’t help pay the bills. If you’re having doubts about your design skills, then find the one thing that you’re most confident with and polish it. Be it layouts, illustrations, photography, or graphics. Work on it until you’re better at it than most people. So you’ll have something to put on the table. Repeat this step for other skills and develop them. In no time you’ll be a Jack or Jane-of-all-trades.
Compare your work to the works that’s so good it sickens you to your stomach. That should help encourage you to try harder and familiarise yourself with the standards that you should strive to achieve. As cliched as it may sound, most of the time your biggest competitor is yourself. Establish expectations for yourself. Baby steps at first, to bigger ones, that will eventually lead you to what you want. Do it at your own pace, and try not to compare to anyone’s timeline. All of us are still trying, no one’s figured all out how to do it all. It’s okay to start slow as long as you’re heading to someplace stronger.
Lastly, develop a sense of humour. Life is tough. Might as well laugh about it or at yourself sometimes.