Design of The Times
The Workbench is a Singapore-based graphic design and illustration studio.
Helmed by husband-and- wife duo Ryan Len and Ella Zheng, their works often feature a bold use of colour and a sense of experimentation with graphic forms. The Workbench has created work for clients across banking & finance; education; arts, design & culture; and real estate, among others, and they’re also the team behind Starchie’s own rebranding.
We sit down with them to learn a little more about their origins, what they’re like in the office, and what they do outside of it.
What made you decide to be a designer?
Ryan (R): Truth be told, I wanted to study law when I was young, but didn’t do well enough academically to be admitted to law school. My next biggest interest has always been in design/web development, but I ultimately dived headfirst into design and never looked back since.
Ella (E): I’ve always had some attraction to design and an eye for detail since young. Though I started out in fashion design, I was just as attracted to graphic design which I felt was my true calling.
Good design is:
R: Design that makes sense—it is functional, solves issues, and help clients become better versions of themselves.
E: Solutions that stand the test of time, and can address future problems.
Tell us more about The Workbench. How and why did you get started?
R: I’ve always wanted to start my own studio since I was in school days, the only question was when I’d get to do so. Like many others before me, I worked with a couple of agencies after graduating from college. I decided to take a leap of faith and start up The Workbench in 2014, seeing as I was still young and had nothing to lose.
E: I decided to join Ryan as I felt I could bring something new and different to the workbench (no pun intended), and elevate it to another level.
Tell us about your most memorable design project to date:
R: It has to be the Museum Roundtable guide which lists over 50 private and public museums and galleries in Singapore across 7 themes—art, culture and community, defence, healthcare, lifestyle and collectibles, national history, and science and innovation. We spent all our weekends in the first half of 2018 travelling to various museums to take photographs, conduct interviews and learn more about them. It was tough but I really love the end result, and the project also brought the team closer together.
E: In Ella’s Room, which is a series of black and white GIFs I did as a personal project in an attempt to make a GIF a day. It turned out to be quite quirky and funny.
Who are some designers who have inspired you?
R: Felix Ng definitely inspired me to be who I am today with his guidance and advice. Also my wife Ella, who’s not only my pillar of strength, but also my source of boundless creativity.
What’s a dream project/client you’d like to work on/with?
R: To work on any projects relating to culture, heritage, education, or institutions. I’d also like to work on any unusual or quirky briefs, such as designing a public rubbish bin (and be paid well for doing it!).
E: To start a graphic design museum in Singapore, and to invite speakers from different countries to share their passion of design with our community.
A piece of advice you’d give to aspiring designers:
R: Keep reinventing yourself.
E: Keep experimenting, keep trying, and keep improving. Judge yourself before judging others.
Tell us about your design for Starchie’s rebranding.
What was your concept, and what did you take inspiration from?
Both: Starchie’s new identity takes inspiration from the idea of connection. The bold and contemporary monogram is both abstract and literal. Congruent to the forward-thinking and purposeful products and ideas at Starchie, we used the overprinting colours to signify the idea of two individuals pairing up and collaborating to create something new.
What is Starchie to you?
R: A platform that not only bridges connection between Asian talents and makers, but also a platform that showcases Asian talents and products that are designed by Asians, made in Asia, and sold to the world.
E: An opportunity for rising designers to work alongside artisans and create a better ecosystem.
If you were a font:
R: Helvetica Neue
E: Bianco Serif
If you could live/work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
R: Bali—it’s lively, vibrant, and I love island life.
E: It’d be Bali for me too, because it has so much chill to battle the stress. I stress myself out too easily!
Describe your office:
Both: It’s currently under renovation. Look forward to it!
When I’m not working, I can usually be found:
R: At home, playing games on the PS4 or spending quality time with my wife, Ella.
E: At home playing Minecraft and games on the PS4, reading manga, or making things, but mostly spending time with my husband, Ryan.
The Lowdown on Workbench
R: Minimal & understated
Something I wish I designed:
R: MOE (Ministry Of Education) school textbooks
E: A boutique hotel
Both: Not having to work
R: A grand tour up north on a touring bike E: London
Three things I can’t live without:
R: My iPhone, MacBook Pro, and house keys
E: Coca Cola, design, and my MacBook Pro
R: Experimental Jetset, Kenya Hara
E: Cristina Daura, Viktor Hachmang, Wes Anderson
When I work I snack on:
E: Chorizo sticks
Three shops I’d recommend:
R: Knuckles & Notch, MUJI, Lazada
E: Supermama, Thanks Books, Daiso
Favourite piece of stationery:
R: BEAMS Japan x Pilot Ball Pen
E: HAY Scissors and Tom Dixon Ruler
A movie that I can watch over and over again:
E: The Grand Budapest Hotel
A book that I feel everyone should read:
R: Usborne Puzzle Adventure Series
E: Red Tea Prince Manga
A source of inspiration:
R: Travelling and books
E: Everyday surroundings