Fill the space

The knowledge of space can be science, can be art. To design for space, it is a dialogue between art and science. Space also encompass visual stimulus and emotional sensation. This is a story of a designer’s journey filling space with imagination.

A spatial designer monologue

Forget about the design theories or philosophy, leave the designer’s pride aside and stop bluffing with the psychedelic imagination. Just get the work done.

A structure cannot be visualized in the designer’s mind but a few trial-and-error with a series of self-mumbling in funky language will probably get a blur idea of how to move forward.

Go back to check the brief if it does exist, hope to find some hints or discover a danger zone that you cannot be there. Knowing the boundary of what you cannot do is the same as knowing the objective. Try to swap eyes with your audience, taste what they feel disgusted and imagine what they will be astonished. Suddenly, everything flows into a clear direction. Beautiful ideas stacked up to fill the empty space. The designer starts sketching and the blur image becomes frame and skeleton. Voilà! everything works like a charm.

From space to a journey

The space is an answer of the question for a journey. It sounds philosophical but no, it is actually essential. To design a space, the designer must validate a lot of elements and requirements. The validation process is very important to understand how the space will be used, how the people will navigate the space, how do they interact with the content of the space? Very often we ask ourselves can we make the space talk?

Why not? Navigating a space is like listening to a story. The aesthetics always gives the first impression. It waves and welcomes the people for walking into the space. The zoning plan arranges all the content of the space which they are carefully curated to connect different parts of a visitors’ journey. The designer will also plan the lighting, the sound, the WOW factors, all are the stimulus that trigger the visitors’ basic senses. While you might think spatial design is about fitting out an interior, the design process is more like planning an experience for a journey. This is how good design works.

Watch us turned an Alibaba’s exhibition space into a happy visitor journey.

 

Built to last

Someone must take the design blueprint and starts proving it with nuts and bolts. These are the professional workmen with the craftsmanship. The validation process continues with a dialogue between engineer and designer. It brings reality check and sometime crush the Alice wonderland. Where are we heading to? Should we go back to the ground zero or should we courageously move on? A dialectical relationship begins to heat up.

This is exactly the moment when a skillful project planner who is the lifesaver with the plan A and B and sometime C to Z. Eventually the team finds harmony from discord. We are the heading to the mission accomplished.

None of us is as smart as all of us. If you take out the team in teamwork, it’s just work. Who wants that? When you hand good people possibility, they do great things. And this has been our belief at Mills and it becomes our virtue built to last.

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We have no option but to improve

HARVARD researchers are suggesting that social distancing might still be necessary until 2022 to keep the coronavirus from resurfacing. With the economic losses the events industry has been suffering, however, people are eager to get back to business.

So we must be constructive and committed to extra effort in over the weeks and months ahead as Covid-19 is contained.

The first concern that comes to mind when it comes to live business events is hygiene – it’s an absolute priority.

You may have a hygiene plan that appears to be common sense, but there’s a lot of nitty-gritty detail to consider when it comes to re-planning and executing events as hopes increase of Covid-19 infections coming under control in Asia.

Here are some cleantech, smart-sanitising and digital solutions we can apply at events. They are available on the market and any event agency looking to resume business in the “new normal” can use them as part of their improved practice.

1/ Sanitising tunnel

Equipment of this type is already in use at AsiaWorld-Expo and Hong Kong International Airport to screen health workers who carry out Covid checks on incoming passengers.
Watch it in action here

2/ SDST
This is a self-disinfecting coating that can be sprayed on the surface of screens or hardware to inactivate viruses and kill bacteria.
Watch it in action here

3/ Fair tracing
German company Adventics developed another interesting solution called FairTracing.

It maps the route of an exhibition attendee based on data points where that visitor was engaged, such as booths or coffee lounges. In the case of an emergency, the health authorities or epidemiologists can retrieve the data to study a possible contagion.

FairTracing emerged from Adventics founder Gunnar Heinrich’s lead-sourcing solution, Scan2Lead.

4/ Blockchain
HiCard also demonstrates a smart solution in using Blockchain to provide secure identity management. This enables health authorities to issue digital health certificates to certify that digital-pass holders have tested free of Covid-19.

We should also take note of Bill Gates’ inspiring 2015 TED Talk “The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready.”

On dealing with pandemics, Gates said “we need to pair those medical people with the military, move fast, do logistics and secure areas”. Now I’m not here to pitch to the events industry that we should follow military ways of working, but a serious approach to hygiene shouldn’t simply be about distributing masks or offering hand sanitiser.

Instead, we should improve the standard of workplace safety for the different stages and environments of an event. A systematic approach with a vigilant mindset is similar to how the military mobilises the resources and organises logistics.

To further illustrate, I asked my design team at Mills to help visualise workplace safety practices for different stages and environments when preparing an event under “The Improved Normal”.

Looking at the details the team articulated, it tells me that event logistics today are certainly not labour intensive, but more about brain work.

Though Covid-19 brought an unprecedented crisis to our industry, I believe it will also elevate business practice standards as we deal with health and safety concerns.

We have no option but to improve.


Marco Lam - Director, Process Enhancement

I am a Chef. I discover magnificent taste from raw ideas.

What if I am a chef, I will be so proud of my culinary skill, which is both tasteful and instagramable. But don’t judge my alter-ego, I am certainly not the chef from the Hell’s Kitchen. Instead of being critical, I have a big heart for the people who work with me.

At Mills, I lead a team for an important mission – we fulfill and deliver the works to the customers as promised. My secret recipe for my team is to be attentive in details and sensitive in the unforeseeable situation.

The works continue to excite me because finding the happiness and finding fulfillment in continuously accomplishing the expectation, is what makes me believe I really can be a masterchef.


Cynthia Ong - Director, Client Partner

I am a dancer. Every step I take, every move I make, I find harmony from discord.

I am a serious person but not uptight. I am accommodating but not without principle. I look after the client partner team at the Mills Studio. Managing design project timeline is my responsibility.

Every project is like choreographing a dance move, I must lead my team and guide my clients to sway along a journey. They usually start slowly to find the right beat then smoothly match the steps with the rhythm. The key to winning is about the coordination and synchronization. Two skills come together for an accomplishment.

Trust me, next time when the music starts, sway with me. I can lead you through.


Eunice Yeo - Creative Director

I am a make up artist. I make hidden beauty timeless.

Can you make it look better? This question has been asked million times. I am professionally trained in design. I know design can be art. I also know design can be simple. That’s why design is complicated.

I am an articulated person, a designer with strong logical sense. I know how it works and why it doesn’t work. It takes me years of experience, nerve and patience to get here.

So, ask me again if I can make it look better? With what you’ve just read about me, yes, I am confident to tell you, I can always make it look better.


Krystal Liau - Executive Creative Director

I’m not a fan of magic because the impossible do happen.

Everywhere I go, I see art. I believe at some levels everyone appreciates art. But not everyone can practice art. Because the message embedded in every art form requires different set of skills, tools, technologies, languages, wisdom and virtue to present and to convey in a scene, in the world, to the people.

In all these years of practicing design from spatial to transmedia creative, my philosophy is to give art and design an extravert character. Keep the design talking to the audience, telling stories, and triggering emotions. After all, art exists to influence and improve everyday life. Art makes us human.


Bonnie Wong - Commercial Director

Call me a fashionista is just underrated. I see wisdom behind the trends.

It takes balls to be a goal-driven woman. Stay focused at work, be compassionate to your loved ones, to friends, to partners, to customers. But be strong when life turns against your will and be agile when time is not on your side.

I am a sensible person. I follow my common sense to judge price by value. I am not critical but also not easy to settle. Just because I don’t like one thing, it doesn’t mean it looks bad. It means it can be better.

At Mills, I look after commercial strategy. Commercial isn’t just about sales, it is about trust. My customers not only concern price, but also the value. In all these years of practice, I never choose customers by how much I can sell, and my customers choose me for trust and value. That makes a commercial relationship reciprocal.


Build For Art

Art can be seen as a poem without words. Building an art installation isn’t just putting pieces together in a plot, the expression of the meanings and ideas are all in the details required meticulous craftsmanship and care.

Murakami vs Murakami

Curated by Gunnar B. Kvaran, Director of Astrup Fearnley Museet (Oslo, Norway) and Tobias Berger, Head of Art at Hong Kong Tai Kwun, MURAKAMI vs MURAKAMI – a major survey exhibition of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, which opened from June to September 2019 in Hong Kong.

The exhibition featured divergent extremes of the artist’s oeuvre from his large-scale post-apocalyptic works to his optimistic flower pieces, and then to his contemplative Enso paintings, offering Buddhist visions of enlightenment.

Be@rbrick

A designer toy designed and produced by the Japanese company MediCom Toy Incorporated. Be@rbrick is an anthropomorphized bear with an extremely simplified form and a pot belly.

Many contemporary artists and designers from all over the world have designed figures. Designing a Bearbrick figure means creating a design scheme, or deco, for the standard mold. Contributors range from visual artists such as H. R. Giger to Pushead, Stash, and even fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood and Ivana Helsinki.

This was a show that we curated in Macau in 2019.

Work guided by passion

Working with all these unique masterpieces elevates our character. The mission was indeed challenging, but it keeps our technique and sensitivity in pace with the sense of contemporary. The pleasure is all ours.

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Design For Google

Google is our first client since day zero before we even thought of what our future would be. Our story with Google is about courage, hard work, and persistence.

Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying

Our first design for Google was the Google flagship experience – the China’s Google Developer Days (GDD) in 2017.  It took us six months to finish the aesthetic design. GDD in China is equivalent to the Google I/O in the US. It is a market barometer for technology. Our inspiration was to give tech a playful character. Why not organize a play day for the geeks?

Think With Google

The success of GDD brought us to another milestone design for Google in China. We started working on a Google’s b2b experience – Think With Google. In an effort to position Google as a thought leader, the Think With Google is a Google’s brand for consumer trends, marketing insights and industry research. Think With Google talks to the marketers about how digital marketing works. The consideration of the design aesthetics is to amplify the professional essence and the applications of the Google technology, but not overkill when telling the story of how tech works in a creative way.

Design for the future of Google

Google is no stranger to design. To design for Google, it is important to understand the Google’s design philosophy – the material design, a visual language that synthesizes the classic principles of good design with the innovation of technology and science. We were given a mission to design an important branding style guide for the future of Google – the TensorFlow.

TensorFlow was developed by the Google Brain team initially for research purpose only. Today TensorFlow is the most famous machine learning technology in the world. To design a communication style guide for TensorFlow, we put adaptability in the first priority. Our belief is that any styling guideline must be produced to fulfill a practical purpose. A styling guideline is a document that can be used to help build and identify your brand as well as the language used to communicate your brand. It is a document that anyone could pick up, look through, and fully understand your brand.

Till today

It is a fruitful journey to work for a professional client who can challenge your wisdom and grow the knowledge together. Our relationship with Google continues to evolve, until today, we have been producing so many aesthetics for Google from spatial to experiential, brand styling to the best practice playbook, on-ground to online. This agency-client relationship is still going strong after three years and we are learning new things every time when we work together. We feel so much for the design that we’ve done together with Google. At the end, we realize, we don’t just design things that look good, we create wisdom made visible.

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Get set for post-Covid ‘Great Push’

Since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, the events industry has pushed the Great Pause button – forcing us to struggle with change in a catastrophic business climate.

According to UFI – the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, an estimated 2,400 fairs and exhibitions worldwide have been cancelled or postponed with over US$80 billion in economic losses.

I believe the numbers are way higher than UFI estimate.

Other than trade fairs and exhibitions, there are many local events, community events, marketing events, concerts etc that have all been cancelled. The Great Pause indeed is having an unprecedented impact on the events industry.

I don’t think any business or company was prepared for the hit from this economic tsunami. What is more important for us now, however, is how we prepare for change in the future.

Restructuring – that’s a nice phrase!

We are no different here in Hong Kong and Singapore, where my company is located. For at least three to four months during the pandemic it’s been dead without any business activity.

We need to rely on government financial aid while trimming our costs and keeping morale up. During the downtime we have reviewed our business, re-aggregated our assets and streamlined our operations.

Some people give this a nice name: “business restructuring”, while I call it “in search of the survival of fitness”.

Orchestrated by the Milton Exhibits Group (MEG), a major investor of Mills Design, which I founded in Singapore in 2016, MEG’s wholly owned Concept Communications Hong Kong business has been reshuffled with Mills to form a new entity called Mills Events Hong Kong.

The vision at Mills is to transform the event business into a more design-thinking and content-driven model. In these past years, we have seen a transformation starting from event marketing to experiential, which is now becoming “phy-gital” – a new term I can finally agree on after two decades of practising digital marketing.

Digital and physical converge

Mills is embarking on a post-Covid-19 journey in which digital content converges with physical events. Phy-gital demands a combination of physical space and digital technology to enhance the end-users’ engagement and experience. The market has already been practising this combination in many areas, such as retail and hospitality, and now it’s the turn of the events industry.

Compared to experiential marketing, which puts more emphasis on an immersive setup to stimulate the audience, a phy-gital experience enhances the marketability of an event through various digital touchpoints.

A good example of what I regard as phy-gital is the livestreaming of a physical event. Or, if you have followed the SXSW Conference and Festivals, you would notice that after the festival was cancelled this year, lots of creative SXSW content was curated for YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram, such as SXSH – Stay By Stay Home or CouchByCouchWest.

Such content will be a valuable marketing asset for SXSW when the event is re-opened in 2021. People might see all these online activities as alternatives during the pandemic when physical events cannot be organised. For me, I see a complete convergence when digital content finally becomes part of a physical event.

The skillset or intellectual resources are more or less interchangeable, but of course you need a digital or creative team to develop transformational content, and event planners who can organise and manage logistical requirements.

Forrest Gump’s chocolates

As Forrest Gump’s mamma said about life being like a box of chocolates: “You never you know what you’re going to get.” Now we have picked a dark flavour. It will taste bitter until you find the sweet spot. This Great Pause could be the Great Push for us to step outside our comfort zone.

In the past, I heard a lot of discussion in the market about the future of the events industry, but still too little has been done. During this Great Pause, my business is going through its greatest challenge. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that behind a crisis, there is always opportunity.

We must keep inventing, because when life returns to normal, we’ll find our sweet spot in business.