Singapore-based Adelia Lim has been playing with the medium of graphic design for years. In her experiments, Adelia’s work has become playful too, but only on the surface. Each project is properly funny in parts, and always uniquely and incredibly well executed.
To create such well thought out projects, Adelia’s design process includes a mammoth amount of research. When describing this process, she speaks of programmes, lectures, designers, and each one bounces off the last in a new direction. This phase boils down into subject matters only Adelia could think of, before then visualising them in a design aesthetic that is refreshingly vibrant, offering actual fun and amusement in an industry which is often too stuffy.
While studying at the Glasgow School of Art’s campus in Singapore, Adelia has developed a visual language that even she isn’t quite sure how to describe yet. But by exploring, visually and through the research of her projects, the designer has crafted a portfolio that comments on the design industry while testing its capabilities and teetering on the edge of breaking its boundaries too.
It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study graphic design?
Adelia Lim: My case is a bit unusual. At secondary school I always enjoyed subjects such as mathematics and physics; I was never really good at drawing or painting. Around this time, I discovered an old version of Photoshop on my Dad’s computer and would play around with fancy preset brushes and whacky fonts in different graphic and typographic arrangements. Totally cringe-worthy artworks if I were to dig them up now!
It was only after going through proper academic training that I realised design meant so much more than what I was doing prior to entering school. Nevertheless, I will never despise those early days of naive visual explorations on my Dad’s computer — they were what sparked the initial interest that has got me to where I am today!
INT: Your work shows a lot of playful personality, how have you developed this approach?
AL: It’s interesting that you’ve brought that up because I never thought of myself as a designer who is consistently, or deliberately, playful in my work. Thinking about it now, perhaps some of the topics I engage with have allowed for a playfulness to come through on its own.
For example, my project Machine-Made, Human Assembled approached type design in an alternative way through coding. It investigates the possibility of a creative collaboration between the designer and machine, where the designer’s role is more involved in the process, rather than the final outcome. It allowed a somewhat autonomous system (the codes and its respective algorithms) to work out the consequences. By entrusting an autonomous system to produce a visual, the outcome can be pretty unexpected; something not instinctive for a designer to create on their own.
Similarly, the cover page for Autoplay: Deep Dark Intelligence was created with the help of Google Deep Dream. This was in line with the theme of the issue on how machines and algorithms sometimes imitate human tendencies, which in this case was its ability to hallucinate. Similar to the previous project, the cover page for the magazine was partially created by an autonomous system, taking on a unexpected and somewhat otherworldly visual.
I think a theme that pops up quite often in my work is autonomy. When something else other than a human is given autonomy, it often produces an outcome that is unanticipated, which is probably how I have knowingly or unknowingly achieved playfulness and personality in my work.
INT: Your project Promotional (Mis)information comments on the design industry, how did this project come about?
AL: Promotional (Mis)information was motivated by an interest in understanding the role of a graphic designer. In my final year I came across a transcribed version of an intense debate between Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn titled, The Debate: A Legendary Contest between Two Giants in Graphic Design.
The pair argued on the proper function of graphic design, which got me started on this thread of inquiry. I decided to bring the question into a contemporary context, where technological advancements, automation and the internet are just a few of the many factors contributing to the shifting role of the graphic designer. I started thinking about logo generators, flyer templates, stock imagery, and even online platforms which encourage cheap and fast design services. They all share that same pre-determined quality where the design is, to a certain extent, decided beforehand. I started asking questions like: ‘where does the graphic designer sit in this equation?’ and ‘Is the graphic designer still even necessary when templates come into play?’
The work materialises through a collection of cheaply produced promotional material, intending to reflect the graphic design marketplace where the discipline is reduced to its commodity form. It isn’t set out to provide groundbreaking answers to issues concerning design literacy, because I believe that’s something graphic design alone can’t solve overnight. Instead, it intends to achieve an agenda much less demanding but hopefully more realistic, which is to encourage the viewer to question, or if even the slightest bit to be more aware of the reality of things.
INT: Why did you decide to apply to The Graduates?
AL: To be very honest when I first saw the call-for-application, I wasn’t sure if I stood a chance! If not for the affirmation of a lecturer and a good friend of mine, I think I wouldn’t have had the boldness and courage to apply for it. When I finally did get the invitation from It’s Nice That, I was so pleasantly surprised and deeply honoured to have been chosen.
INT: If you could create your dream project, what would it be?
AL: Recently I’ve been interested in observing the vernacular, particularly in the area of typography. What sparked an interest in this was a workshop I attended during an overseas summer programme in Glasgow called Semiotics in Letterforms. Part of the workshop required participants to sketch and take pictures of letterforms as they walked around the city. As simple as it may sound, the activity was in fact very beneficial for me, it made me more aware of the city’s typographic textures that I would’ve easily overlooked on any other day.
Ever since then, I find myself whipping out my phone more often to document these seemingly insignificant store signages, neighbourhood noticeboard or even writings on the wall. They are less-than-perfect, and very rarely adhere to the rules of “good” design. But, at the same time, they carry so much character and are reflective of an array of cultural, social and political conditions of the city, serving as a great starting point for further inquiry. This is probably one of the self-initiated projects that I plan on pursuing further and to see where the documentation and research will lead me.
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About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.