Towering over Wong Chuk Hong is a creative’s dream; a warehouse studio, flooded with natural light and plenty of space for designers, photoshoots and artistic happenings. This space is Ourhaus; the latest addition to Ruth Chao’s creative movement designed to nurture Hong Kong’s artistic culture.
“Please come in!” Chao greets us with a smile and a hug as she ushers us into her 12th floor studio and gently closes the door behind us. “Make yourself at home, I’m just finishing up,” she says and floats behind the kitchen counter, which at first glance looks to be busied with cooking, but instead is lined with the pastels of polaroids, pens and open notebooks.
As we stroll around the studio, love decorates the walls in more ways than the simple calligraphy practice on a sheet of paper; an eclectic mood board brings color to a white washed corner, simple etchings are tacked directly onto the wall, a sun-soaked couch is perched next to the window, and a pup bounces in his cage, anxiously awaiting his new guests–its artistic qualities masked in simplistic charm reflect the passion that pours out of Chao, before we even get to chatting.
It is this simplistic and artistic vision which is the motivator behind Chao’s original company, INDICUBE. Since this first venture, both INDICUBE, and her newest addition of Ourhaus have been acquired by PBB, a design and advertising group in Beijing. This latest news comes as part of Chao’s drive to maintain growth. “The only way to grow is to keep challenging yourself. So if you catch yourself being comfortable for too long, you know it’s time to get moving,” shares Chao.
With this recent motion forward, Chao’s work now extends outside Hong Kong to 11 other countries, as a one-stop-shop for creatives and designers. “We are revamping our website at the moment. The Beijing team has collaborated with key brands such as Chanel, Lexus, Uber and more,” reveals Chao with a shining pride.
We sat down with Chao to discuss her creative roots, the challenges that represented forward motion and what it is like to exist as Hong Kong’s first major creative agency.
How did you combine your eclectic backgrounds of design and psychology to forge a path in the creative field?
As a designer, my work is about creating brands that attract the eyes and minds and foster successful businesses. Back at university, when I studied consumer psychology, I didn’t realize I was actually studying the scientific side of design. The way our brains study information, how colors make us feel, how font styles impact our processing speed. Almost after a decade working in the creative field, my scientific background still forms the foundation of my designs to transcend beyond looking good, to working well with our minds.
What has it been like to take your profound experience of working with grandiose celebrities and institutions to creating your own name?
It has been humbling. One thing I’ve learned from being a creative to having my own company, is that the latter becomes a whole lot more than just the art itself. It is about your brand, team, portfolio, business, numbers… all the nitty gritties as well as the big picture. For areas that are not my forte, I find the best to take care of it on my behalf. The true magic is in the teamwork.
What has been the most rewarding experience as a creative? And what do you love most about being a creative?
What I enjoy most about being a designer is that I get to work with my clients to visually actualize their dream and communicate their vision. Each project is an intense time to work hard and reach a goal together. I love sharing their excitement as they launch their vision into the world, and it makes me the happiest when I see my clients succeed.
What has been the most challenging thing about having your own company?
The most challenging thing about having your own company is that it is a 24-7-365 marathon. The truth is there is always work to do, and always something you can do better at. The key is knowing when to push for an improvement and when to simply enjoy. I am very lucky to have an amazing team–they understand me and together, our chemistry and shared sense of humour somehow make even the toughest challenges fun!
And what about the most challenging thing about being in the creative space?
Design is subjective; there is no red or green, plus or minus, to tell you right or wrong. In the beginning, finding the belief in yourself before success does, is important. As in projects and in dealing with clients, because aesthetics is intrinsically subjective, knowing when to insist upon a point and when to let go is an evolving art form in itself.
What is a typical day for you?
A typical day is one that is atypical! Being a creative and an entrepreneur, it is rare that two days are the same. The only constant is that I start each morning with a fresh walk with my puppy Clover and I seal the night with music.
Do you have a daily practice, exercise or tradition you must do to stay sane?
The creative life can sometimes be quite intense with many moving parts. In the mayhem of it all, yoga is one of the things that centers my body and mind.
Your ventures of INDICUBE and Ourhaus were both recently acquired by PBB Creative, can you tell me about the significance of this and how did the decision come about?
It was always in my plans to expand into the Chinese market. With a population of 1.4 billion in an ever-evolving landscape, there is an exponential room to grow there, so naturally PBB Creative, with the talented team, Beijing infrastructure and international outlook, is the perfect fit.
I know this acquisition just happened, and you are now the partner and creative director of PBB, what are you looking forward next?
I’m currently based in Hong Kong, so in addition to managing the Hong Kong team, I only get to spend time with my Beijing partners and team digitally or face to face when I fly over. In my last visit, they’ve somehow gotten me to play football! It was the first time in my life, and we’ve had a real blast together. What I’m most looking forward to is working together with the team, growing closer together, and having a great time doing so at and outside of work.
What is your dream creative project?
The next one!
Do you have any advice for global creatives following your ventures’ steady growth?
Enjoy, improve and help others. It is what we are here for.
Photos by Shawn Kei