Kevin Thio is the Director of Yellow Octopus, a Creative Agency and Design practice in Singapore. He and his team are devoted to strategic, authentic and thoughtful design. He has been running Yellow Octopus since 1997. Kevin believes that complex challenges of today must be answered with holistic and integrated solutions.
(1) Why did you start Yellow Octopus?
It all started when I failed Chinese in JC, which meant I did not qualify for a local university.
But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Fewer options meant clearer choices. I needed to make what was available to me work, so armed with a heart for design, I found my way to an education in visual communication and ultimately started Yellow Octopus in 1997.
Because I fell through the cracks, I believe in helping those who aren’t the best academically find their way, to show them that it really isn’t the endgame. That drives the heart of YO for its people.
(2) What was the inspiration behind its very unique name?
Our vision is to change the world by design and a name that would stand out and give us the chance to start conversations and tell stories was very important.
The octopus is an intelligent but mysterious creature – just like design is. It can squeeze through crevices the sizes of its beak. As an agency, it’s critical that we can navigate tight spaces.
Did you know that an octopus can change colours a thousand times better than a chameleon? It not only changes its colour, it also changes its texture to match its surroundings. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome!
Lastly, octopuses dive deep. Like every good agency, deep and critical thinking about life to make connections allows us to strategise, anticipate and design that which is powerful.
And why yellow? Yellow, by colour theory, represents our passion for the work. To design things of beauty day in and day out is no easy task. At the end of each day, it can feel like there is nothing left in the tank but passion keeps us going.
(3) What are some of the values that Yellow Octopus holds dear as a business?
At Yellow Octopus, we like to say we’re all about holistic design and branding.
Design allows for creative expression, finding meaning and living out purpose. Design is not only meant to solve communication challenges but also to contribute to the communities where the communication resides.
We’re also passionate about good branding because it gives us permission to look at the corporate identity of our clients and walk with them in achieving their vision and mission. To build trusted brands takes honour and dignity.
(4) What do you take into consideration before starting on any marketing project?
I always start with the same few questions: “Is it meaningful? Can this project make an impact beyond the bottom line? Will it fulfil our desire to move individuals and communities globally?”
The current identity of the brand, even their name, is a good place to consider whether a partnership will be fruitful as it reveals who they are and what they stand for. So beyond looking at their product and services, we take time to discover their culture and the specific community they serve.
(5) What has been the most fulfilling project so far in your many years as a marketer?
I don’t see us as people who promote things but more as creative communicators. It is really tough to say which project has been most fulfilling because they all serve different and specific purposes and functions – it’s like asking me to pick a favourite child!
But what I do find most fulfilling is working with the people who are working on the projects – and people are not projects.
(6) Where do your ideas usually draw inspiration from?
From conversations with inspirational people, movies, music, everyday life, books and just about everything. Anything can be an inspiration, even the pain of everyday life. My pitfalls and failures have led me to much reflection and much of the personal philosophy that has emerged from this drives the work.
(7) Why are you so passionate about stories, and what do stories mean to you?
What often moves me is when someone’s journey of growth comes full circle – when they reach their fullest potential; when the underdog overtakes a greater power.
With themes of restoration, redemption and resolution, what’s not to love? People need to hear them and overcome their own obstacles. Ultimately, people need to find their place in the world, and contributing to others is what inspires and keeps me going.
(8) What advice would you give to aspiring creatives out there?
Start where you are, stay hungry, shoot far, shed fear. Fail fast and be dedicated to what you do. Grow a backbone. Create and iterate. Be an apprentice. Stay the course and discover what you were made for because it will be unique to you. Honing your skills and achieving mastery in something is a slow journey – no shortcuts there – but you’re not alone.
A good friend of mine says this, “You cannot fail!” You can take what looks like failure to propel you forward or you can let it pulverise your confidence. How I phrase it is that everyone does not fail unless they give up. If one fails, we have just learnt a way that does not work.
Muddling through and “winging it” is truly what it often is and I liken this to rapid prototyping in the creative space. You learn as you go but it gets better. Trust the process.
Finally, pay good attention to your relationships. A little gentleness, patience and kindness go a long way.
(9) If you had to be stuck in a lift with one person (alive today) for 12 hours, who would you want it to be, and why?
My two boys. I think we don’t spend enough time together. Although I’m not too sure if they’d want to be stuck with me! Haha!