Suzy Chan left London’s academic design bubble to return to China to “do something and talk to people”

One of It's Nice That's Graduates of 2019, Suzy tells us why she turned down multiple opportunities in London to return to her native Macau in the hopes of using graphic design for social change.

10 March 2020

Suzy Chan has made quite the stir since she first landed on our radar, just shy of a year ago as a graphic design student in her final year at UAL’s London College of Communication. She made it onto It’s Nice That’s (not to mention several other publication’s) list of Graduates to watch, when she finished her degree last summer and since then, she certainly hasn’t been shy of work.

However, the in-demand designer started out her journey down a very different path. She was offered a space on the Royal College of Art’s Experimental Communication course, but when it came down to making a decision, she eventually realised that her work was better suited to a different context. “When I needed to make the choice, I found that I had never been so eager to return to a place I was familiar with.” Though she enjoyed the UK capital for its plentiful resources in arts and culture, the three years in London “made [her] realise the importance of belonging more than ever.”

In her practice so far, Suzy used graphic design as a way to express Chinese cultural experiences. So with this in mind, the thoughtful designer discerned at this early stage in her career; “I needed to step back and really do something about my cultural roots with what I learned.” Weighing up her options, she could either stay in London and take up a number of offers to collaborate with celebrated creatives, or return to her native Macau to engage with the local politics on a very different continent. Despite the many opportunities here in London, ultimately for Suzy, she realised: “I don’t want to just keep staying in an academic bubble. I want to do something and talk to people.”

In terms of her work’s purpose, Suzy evaluated that her work didn’t need to have a definitive social impact, nor did she have any intention to “enter the design industry”, so to speak. Her only hope involved creating a visual language incorporating all aspects of society through a detailed analysis. Just like how she was during her studies, to this day, Suzy’s working process involves a heavy emphasis on research. For someone so early on in her career, she’s already established a relationship where clients come to her for its distinctive tone of voice ascribed through a research-heavy methodology.

On top of this, she’s also made a number of assessments of what is missing from a design education today. With regards to the creative process, nowadays, she approaches a brief from a different perspective, considering the inevitable issues that come with installing work across a variety of sites. Landing problems, production problems and sales issues are all things that she’s had to learn the hard way. “These issues were often ‘disgusting’ to consider when I was in school,” says Suzy, reflecting on her ideas-centric British design education, “but when it comes to ‘commercial’ project, all of these issues came to the fore. I find that for new designers with a strong personal visual language, thinking about these issues will allow us to grow faster and help us think about our designs from different angles.”

A recent project sees a vibrant exhibition identity and design made in collaboration with Madein Company titled Wild Metropolis. Additionally her work from Boiler Room London and the Norwegian museum The Kunsthall Stravanger museum has made a splash for its visual explosiveness – a recognisable signature of Suzy’s unique portfolio. In a further project for the Guangzhou Times Museum, she explores the lack of women’s time and space in southeast China for an exhibition design, The Woman’s Time.

“One of the the things that made me happy for this project was that, on the day of the exhibition, the cleaning lady asked the security to help her take some photos with my design. She said she really liked the flower in it. At the time, I wanted to add this flower in to show the power of women in 1950s southeastern China.” For Suzy, the flower represented the strength of softness – whether it’s in family life or work. But it is this interaction with the gallery space’s cleaner that truly exemplifies Suzy's evolved thought process behind her designs. “After I graduated, I spent all my energy putting sincere design ideals into each of my projects. I used to yell ‘design changes the world’, but now, I am really caring out these ideals in each project. Sometimes I feel like I have truly become an idealist.”

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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