“Nothing always leads to nothing, but something always leads to something”, quips Danny Choo (Culture Japan), popular anime blogger. For young, budding Singaporean Singaporean graphic designer Linus Lim, the maxim is dead simple, but it really makes all the difference to him. Having worked with the anime personality to set up a branch in Singapore, Linus has a lot going for him as the new creative director of Culture Japan. After successfully designing and running sales and exhibition booths in Jakarta (here) and Singapore (here) his next stops include Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila, Los Angeles, New York and more cities around the world. At the same time, he juggles the production of a book called Worldwide Otaku Report, editing television shows for broadcast around Asia, advertising and editing for various anime titles, and the development of the growing line of Japanese learning products and merchandise under the Culture Japan brand.These increased engagements and commitments – naturally – mean sacrifices had to be made. Just recently, he had to painfully turn down the chance to further his studies in architecture at National University of Singapore (NUS).
But he has bigger dreams: to be an architect of his own future, to erase conventions, and to trace new paths while drawing on his passion. Today, we hear more about his intriguing artistic endeavours, his interests, and his exciting plans for the years ahead.
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When did you first discover your interest for graphic design? Why did you decide to channel your energies into this domain?
I’m the type who’d rather doodle on their homework than pay attention in class!
I had my first professional experience in design when I got pulled into the Singapore National Day Parade (NDP) Branding and Publicity Committee in 2011 after I came in runner-up for the NDP Logo Design Competition that year. There, while still having to fulfill my usual training, drills and duties in camp, I worked on the NDP mobile app, as well as another side project, an iPad app called Radial Keyboard which got over 17,000 downloads on it’s first day on the app store.
These little achievements gave me confidence and opened my eyes to the opportunities in this field.
Danny Choo is an extremely prominent anime blogger. What drew you to his website and works, and how did you manage to secure this job?
I’ve been a big fan of Japanese culture – both pop and traditional – since secondary school, and had been a reader of Danny’s blog for over five years.
What probably happened was that I stumbled upon his blog through google searches about anime. Back then, the anime scene in Singapore was still very young and the Internet was pretty much your only source of information. Danny’s blog was sitting on the top rankings of every related Google search so it’s no surprise that most anime fans ended up becoming readers.
I first met Danny in person when he was invited to be an emcee and speaker at Anime Festival Asia 2011 in Singapore. I was helping out part-time at one of the industry booths and got a chance to speak with him. Like most guys who had just completed their National Service, I was hunting for a job or an internship, and saw our meeting as a great opportunity. Danny is a busy man, so I decided to take my laptop up to him and showed him some of my previous works, and sent him an illustration of his mascot character the next day. That got his attention, and a few emails, skype interviews, and test assignments later, he took me on board.
How has the overall experience been thus far? What do you think has been the most exciting project or undertaking with Culture Japan?
Working with Japanese clients gets pretty stressful with my limited command of Japanese, but being at the forefront of the anime industry outside of Japan is definitely an extremely exciting job.
The most exciting project so far would have to be the development and design of the Japanese hiragana learning card series: Moekana (here). It started off as a really simple idea, using illustrations of Culture Japan’s mascot character, Mirai Suenaga, to teach people how to read Japanese hiragana.
We were very pleasantly surprised when it became listed as the most popular anime related merchandise on Amazon, and sold out within the first week of taking pre-orders, even before it hit the shelves. We definitely didn’t expect it to be such a big hit, and right now we’re working hard to make more Japanese learning products.
In Singapore, individuals are conventionally expected to further their education in a tertiary institution, before heading off to their careers. Why have you chosen to do otherwise, and wow have your friends and family responded to your decision?
I’ve been blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in what I find to be one of the most exciting industries, and I don’t intend to waste it! As for my family and friends, it’s not exactly a crazy decision considering that in the field of design, qualifications are not the only determining factor of one’s success, but also your own experience and skill. I feel that getting my hands dirty and diving straight into the industry will also be the quickest and best way to learn the ropes.
The most important thing I’ve learnt from this industry is the Japanese “kodawari”, or attention to detail. No matter what the product is or who it is for, it has to be made with the highest precision and quality. In the field of graphic design, this means that elements need to be aligned down to the pixel, and prints have to be sharp. But I believe this is a spirit that can be and should be applied to everything that we do.
What is the biggest advice you can give to young, aspiring graphic designers – especially those who might still be schooling – in terms of hardware (the skill-sets or technical competencies) and “heartware” (interests, passions, relevant characteristics)?
We are living in the age of the internet, and learning anything and everything is now as simple as a google search away. In the realm of IT, your value goes up for every software you learn how to use and every programming language you learn how to write! Design wise, I think what has helped me most is observing the work of others, and finding out how those designs are executed or recreated. Knowing and understanding a broad range of styles allows you to mix ideas together and develop your own style.