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Meet Elaine Chew – The Founder Of Bright Design Studio In Shanghai China

Today we have selected Elaine Chew to take her interviewShe is the Founder of Bright Design Studio.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

We launched our platform and brand in July 2020 here in Shanghai. By the summertime, life was resuming back to normal but with care. Everyone was wearing masks, carried hand sanitizer, had our health codes regularly checked, and knew social distancing. The entire city was being careful and taking every precaution to ensure public health, safety, and a “normal” social environment.

All of our team are a part of the remote working movement, we communicate regularly on digital platforms and manage ourselves in our own work environments. Everyone has a lot of freedom, which for us is how we keep ourselves safe. We don’t force anyone to come into an office out of the way or relocate, and we remind our workers to be mindful of safety and managing their own workloads. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

For me, being from Malaysia and raised in Brunei is very important me. My home instilled a culture of responsibility and a sense of community service, something I want to reflect in my work. I grew up struggling with reading and writing so I had to rely on visual communication through pictures to help me understand my school work. Now, as a graphic designer, I take the struggles that I felt and channel them into making solutions through my work.

Visual communication is important to our communities because it can help people understand the content of whatever you’re trying to say regardless of our cultural language. Where I work in Shanghai, the visual communication field is still small and influenced by Western media more than other cultures. There are still issues of representation in digital media, and it can be hard to express certain topics without having a strong visual language.

The idea for starting my company actually came from eating pizza. I was at ‘Mamamia’ pizza with my Italian sisters, a Venezuelan sister, and an American. And they just asked me “What’s your plan after Covid?”. 

At that point, I was a freelancer who was struggling to find work. One of my sisters started pushing me to start my own company. She told me about how China supports start-up companies and has incentives like low tax barriers and supports from local agencies to help with accounting. 

I decided then that I had the support, I had a mission, and I had nothing left to lose. 

How does your company innovate?

When we started, the market started looking closely at digital branding and marketing. The question was “What’s branding and marketing going to look like when nobody can leave home?”. People were looking to stay globally relevant, they wanted to talk about how important digital communication was during Covid and how to keep businesses afloat. 

My team really is the ones who have helped us keep meeting these challenges. Everyone communicates clearly and we trust each other to deliver on time. It’s because of that that we’re able to keep our brand and blog alive, talking about digital marketing and transitioning brands to digital market space. Our online collaborators have been one of the key people who help us by building our content and bringing us news and new perspectives from different cultures and timezones.

How has the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

It doesn’t affect us that badly, because we started knowing how to challenge it. We started the company right as the pandemic was affecting everywhere, so we made sure our team was aware of how to handle the challenge of digital communication and designing without that direct social environment. 

Honestly, for us, we try to use our company and our online presence as a way of helping people who are struggling with the social pressures under Covid. We were lucky to be in Shanghai, where the city handled the pandemic extremely well, and we try to make sure our community members feel heard and represented through our online work and outreach. Especially with our collaborators who make sure inspiring and supportive content.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Yes, for sure every company has to make difficult choices. Especially during our start-up, things shift a lot. Sometimes in the beginning you need more writers, sometimes you need more designers, sometimes you need people who know one language or one culture. 

With Covid, there’s no right moment to know who you’re going to hire. Sometimes business payments get delayed, or work is dropped at the last minute. It’s a hard struggle, knowing that things can change so quickly and the future is uncertain.

How I’ve learned to cope with it is to hire people who are skilled at more than one thing. It’s my team that makes these times and these challenges something I can overcome. I can rely on my team because everyone knows more than one thing, my designers know how to work in more than one medium, and my writing collaborators know more than one or two languages. Everyone comes from a different background and their perspectives and advice can help us improve when something happens. 

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Adobe Creatives has been a great help for a design for all of my team. For company communication, I’ve used Asana and Trello, because we’re in China we also use WeChat heavily for communication. WeChat is especially important for communicating with our clients. 

Digital communication is something we’re all navigating, and I’m thankful that my team is adaptive to using these new platforms. Even in different countries, we make sure to communicate regularly through them and keep everyone updated.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Here in China, it’s all about “guänxi”  关系; which simply means ‘social relations’. It’s all about the people you know, but more than that, it’s about being respectful to others and supporting each other. We build trust with one another. I support my clients’ businesses through design and also treating each other respectfully. I support my team when they need help on projects and support my collaborators through publishing their voices. 

Your Final Thoughts

My team and I have been working hard this past year and we’re so happy to have received recognition from Clutch, USA who awarded us for Top B2B Consulting Companies and Change Management. It feels crazy to be recognized from a distance!

I want to add a quote. But I’m not great with words, so in the words of Daisuke Ikeda:

“If we look at the world with a love of life, the world will reveal its beauty to us.”

I love this quote not just as a visual communicator but as a Buddhist myself. I do believe in representing the best of the world and finding beauty even in hard times. Covid has given us all so much uncertainty, but it’s also shown us beauty in the things we often overlook.

I remember seeing once, online, how all over the world during the outbreak artists were painting murals on outside hospitals to support all of the nurses who are working to fight Covid. I believe that visual language gives us strength. And I will be working to bring more representation and diversity to digital design and branding here with my team.

I want to give a special thanks to Coquina, my content advisor and the special human who is writing this. I also want to thank Maud, one of my head designers and a great friend. Thanks to Pablo, for the short clip.

Thank you to my family in Brunei for supporting me, I know Covid affected their business as well and it means a lot to me that they’ve supported my work from so far away.

And last, to my Italian sisters Ludo and Faby – That pizza changed my life.

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