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Mark Chan: Navigating the Friendzone

Raised in Singapore, Mark pursued his passion for art and design in the US, graduating with a BFA in Graphic Design before moving to New York City to further hone his skills working with both startups and large corporations. He shares with us about his recent branding project for local social enterprise Friendzone.

Tell us about the project you worked on.

I worked on the logo, branding, website and social media designs for Friendzone, a social enterprise aimed at creating thriving communities within Singapore through meaningful conversations.

How and why did you choose to work on this? What impact do you think it made?

My friend approached me when they were first starting out and gave me a run down on what they did, and their mission to build close knit neighbourhoods really resonated with me. And so I worked with them on and off over the years, and finally came back in the past year and started working with them a little more closely, doing their recent rebrand.

I think it’s helped to create a more unified look to the brand that is much more recognisable and easily identifiable, while helping them navigate more content heavy layouts and designs.

Share with us a bit about your experience working on it.

I’d say it’s definitely had its ups and downs. It’s always hard when you go into a project with ideas in mind that come in conflict with the client’s ideas, but it’s important as a designer and a service provider to remember that ultimately it’s my job to take their ideas and make them the best I can, and less about forcing what you think is cool and design-y onto them (although sometimes it is important to push back).

Working with friends is also always going to have a bit of a push and pull. It’s nice to have a client that knows you and trusts you and your skillset going into the project, but that can also make it hard to navigate when the work gets messy and it stretches that friendship. It’s important to balance that tension, but ultimately to build up rather than destroy friendships in the process.

What did you learn or discover through this process, and what would your key takeaway be?

Branding has a lot of moving parts, and you’re only one cog in the giant machine that makes an organisation move. It’s important that what you do serves the larger purpose of the brand, rather than hinder it, and that means putting yourself in many different shoes and seeing the project holistically rather than only from a design and aesthetic standpoint.

If you could give a piece of advice to another creative who’d like to work on such meaningful projects, what would it be?

Set boundaries, especially when doing pro bono work. When something is meaningful it tends to become very personal, and sometimes you over extend yourself in an effort to “help a good cause”, to the detriment of yourself and your relationship with the client and project. Be clear on what needs to be done, and don’t go overboard.

What opportunities do you have at work / your day job to create meaningful/impactful design?

It’s definitely harder, especially when you work for companies who work with clients you have no control over. And so I think if you want to be really intentional about doing more meaningful design, you either have to find a company that aligns with that, or find a job that gives you space to do that outside of work.

Do you have any other suggestions on how creatives as a community do more work that inspires change?

Actively pursue projects that make change. They may not be the easiest jobs to navigate, or the best paying ones, but using design to push meaningful and impactful causes you believe in to the forefront can go a long way in helping them reach a larger audience and create the change you want to see.

Do you have any tips for creatives who want to do paid work for non-profits?

Know the value of your time and work. Tell them your asking rate, but also be flexible, especially if it’s something you believe in. If there’s a limited budget, maybe instead of doing 3 rounds of revision you do just 1. Maybe instead of 5 logo options you do 2. That way, you’re still being paid proportionately to the time and effort you’re spending on it. But always, always lay out a scope and have both parties agree on it in order for things to not get out of hand.

Also, if you’re interested in making new friends around Singapore, give a follow to find out more about events happening in your neighbourhood and beyond!

To see more of Mark's work, check out his website here.


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