Be it the delicious ramen joints on nearly every corner, the draw to open sea, or the towering glass buildings throughout, Canada’s largest western city, Vancouver, BC, is a city to inspire. So inspiring, in fact, that many of Canada’s largest brands like Lululemon, Herschel Supply Co, and Reigning Champ have all rooted in the City of Glass.
Vancouver has been focused on the arts since the earliest urban city planning in the 1950s. Now, with over 30 museums in the greater metro area and a slew of public art installations throughout, Vancouver is one of the true creative hubs of North America. One industry, however, is still pushing to catch up. We sat down with Alvin Kwan and Vince Lo, founders of design house Studio Faculty and designers of Justin Chung’s book Faculty Department to discuss the many influences that have made them one of the more prolific set of creatives in the heart of Vancouver.
How did you both get introduced to design?
Alvin: “I moved here from Hong Kong when I was 13. Since I grew up in Asia, I ended up traveling back a lot to visit family. I always noticed that in Hong Kong or other parts of Asia, there was much more of a graphical push. I think that always had a bit of influence on me…and I liked having that balance between places. When I look back at design culture in Vancouver when we were growing up, there wasn’t a big community here. I wanted to build it and be a part of it.”
Vince: “I grew up in North Vancouver. It wasn’t really an Asian area…it was more western. But similar to Alvin, I was always interested in art and drawing. In high school, they never told us that there was an occupation in design. I was always looking at album covers and brands, and I used to keep the tags from my clothing. Eventually, I began learning programs and learned that graphic design exists.”
“Alvin and I both went to the Emily Carr University of Art & Design. It’s a small school, but it seemed like people were moving around so much that you wouldn’t really bump into each other. Eventually, Alvin and I ended up in the same study in design and in the same classes. That’s when we started doing projects together.”
What do you focus on as individual designers?
Alvin: “I think what’s interesting is that we have a lot of commonality in terms of the design that we gravitate to. In terms of our skills though, we’re quite different. Vince focuses a lot on branding, and he’s much more detail oriented. For me, when I design, I like things that have meaning and logic behind them. It’s sort of like building Legos to me. Logos, on the other hand, are a bit more abstract. I like systems.”
Vince: “Alvin is really strong at layout work. Like in print, he’s much more prolific in doing great layouts. Much of the Faculty Department book was laid out by him, whereas I was more focused on the overall brand feeling and the message that we were trying to convey. I think, for me, since I’m so detail-oriented, type design is the extreme of that. You’re really looking at different things like the curves. You’re changing it for the whole day and you’re just working on the same thing. I love it.”
Where do you draw your primary influences from?
Vince: “We’re influenced by subtle, unconscious experience. In western design, there’s a much more prevalent use of grids, where you can see division and alignment, which I think is really effective. But in Japanese design, they try to hide it a bit more. You get certain feelings from a piece, but you don’t know why. It’s there, but it’s that beauty of something that you experience even though you don’t have to think too much about it. I’ve also been buying a lot of books on mid-century architecture and design. There’s something about Vancouver in the area that I grew up in — they call it the City of Glass — I discovered that there were so many artists and architects in the ‘50s that did amazing things for Vancouver. Much of it has been lost. It kind of gives me hope for the city that we can bring a piece of that back.”
Alvin: “Like Vince was talking about, a lot of people use the words simplicity and minimal. Obviously, this is aligned to that, but as we’ve dug more into that philosophy, the western and Asian meanings of minimalism are really different. I was reading the book White by Kenya Hara, and he talks a lot about the history behind Japanese culture. One of those things is the tea ceremony. It started during a war period, and it began so that people could come together to have tea. The atmosphere was simple. It was maybe just a cup and a tea pot. The reason it was so simple was so that people could use their imagination within the simple space. We’re trying to find a balance where we can be really influenced by the Japanese meaning of being minimalistic. But we grew up in Vancouver, so there’s a lot of western culture that influences the way we design as well.”
What do you want people to think of when they think of Studio Faculty?
Vince: “I think it’s interesting that we’ve decided to stay in Vancouver. We’re able to do work that’s different than what’s normally seen in Vancouver because we have so many different influences. We’re not a big company or a big personality. We find the most joy in working with people who get to know us and when it’s a really authentic relationship.”
“In the work, that’s what we try to portray as well. Branding is about crafting a story of a brand or person in the truest light. It’s not about trying to make them more or less than who they are. It’s trying to do justice to what they have the potential to be. We want to create a very open and transparent perspective. We want to be great people to work with and to do great work in a city that’s slowly on the rise. To be contributing to that in Vancouver is really exciting.”
Check out Alvin and Vince’s work at studiofaculty.com, and keep an eye out for our feature on Faculty Department, coming later this month.