To brighten the first Obama Foundation: Asia-Pacific Leaders convening, we looked to a talented young graphic Malaysian designer from George Town. Valen Lim Chong Chin’s work ranges from brand identity to typography to illustration, but it all contains traces of his local heritage married with a modernist touch. We sat down with Valen at the Leaders: Asia-Pacific gathering to understand his inspiration for his designs and his beliefs about how good design can connect and inspire people.
Q: Where did you draw inspiration for the Asia Pacific Leaders design?
A: The brand pattern is inspired by the Malaysian tradition of the Open House, called Rumah Terbuka in Malay. It’s the concept of inviting family, friends, and strangers into one’s home to celebrate festivals and other meaningful occasions.
For this event, the Obama Foundation is depicted as the host of this open house by inviting leaders from across the region to share their insights, explore new ideas, learn from each other, share their experiences, and grow together under one roof.
Q: What’s the symbolism behind the doors and windows in the pattern?
A: I used the doors and windows as a visual representation of great hospitality and warm welcome to the Leaders. The shape of the doors and windows are inspired by the traditional Malay houses and heritage shophouses that can be found on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Many of the designs were drawn from photographs taken in the neighborhoods of Kampung Bharu, or new village, and Petaling street, also called Chinatown.
The traditional Malay house in the Kuala Lumpur area is mostly designed in the style called Rumah Limas. It incorporates a Dutch-style roof that resembles a pyramid, and the use of stone piers. The tile pattern, steel window frame, and other traditional house motifs are incorporated into the brand pattern as well.
Q: Your design also references colors and shapes from across the Asia Pacific. Can you tell us where those come in?
A: I looked at all of the flags from across the Asia Pacific—China, Vietnam, Singapore, and others. The thing that I found to be quite interesting was that most use geometric shapes. So, I pulled a number of symbols from Asia Pacific flags to create the circular Leaders logo pattern.
The color palette used in the design doesn’t just showcase the Obama Foundation brand colors, it celebrates the vibrancy and richness of Asia-Pacific region’s diverse culture. The combination of color has a strong sense of modern transformation, at the same time it also conveys the charm of heritage vibes.
Q: How has your personal experience shape your approach to this project?
A: I used to work with an eCommerce store that had locations all across Asia so I got to spend time in other countries and meet people and learn about their perspectives. From Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, it was interesting to interact with different people from all across Asia and I brought those experiences to this design. The design scene in Kuala Lumpur is also blooming and getting more exciting in recent years. To be able to interact with creative people in KL helps a lot in my design practice.
Q: What kind of impact can good design have on the world?
A: Good design shouldn’t just look great, but should shape creativity, spark up conversations, and open new possibilities to the viewers. I hope the design of this fresh identity can be a catalyst during the event to inspire the Leaders to bring more new ideas and contributions to the Asia Pacific.
Q: What’s it like seeing this all come to life at the Obama Foundation’s convening?
A: The reason that I most wanted to work on this project is because I really believe in the Obama Foundation’s vision to connect people and advocate change. It is a great opportunity and a big honor for me to be part of the team and represent my home country, Malaysia and the Asia-Pacific region, to work on this event identity.