Archives: Daniel Ting Chong And The Evolution Of The Icon

As part of Graphic Design Month on 10and5, we thought it’d be fun, interesting and hopefully insightful to ask a few prominent designers to reflect back over their work and share a chronological timeline of their career – from the rough and raw early days to where they are now. The idea being to see their work’s evolution and development over time, and learn what was successful, what failed, the breakthrough moments, realisations, turning points and transitions.  

First up is prolific Cape Town designer, Daniel Ting Chong. Daniel’s selection of work spans 10 years, from his ‘pre-design’ days at school in 2004 to the current day. His comments and reflections provide many insights into his style as well as trace the development of what he is perhaps best known for, his iconography.      

I Eat Soup (2005)  


This project dates back to when I was in high school. It was in matric I decided to dedicate my life to doing something creative. I was highly inspired by Sub_Urban Magazine and the Circus Ninja crew at the time. Looking back, I was interested in having very layered works with a mixture of scanned and found imagery. I also liked the idea of having a lot of texture coming through in the work. This specific piece was a DVD cover for a digital magazine called ‘I Eat Soup’, which myself and two other friends from school co-founded. It was a digital magazine for showcasing young creatives’ works, around 12-18 years old.  

I had no proper training at this stage, it was all fun and play but I learnt so much through this process. Disobeying rules and being naive is often the best way to find yourself.  

Eat My Porcelain (2009)  


After studying at Vega, I worked at an amazing design studio called ‘The President’, under Peet Pienaar. It was there that I learnt how to construct illustration work out of vector. My work became more refined and geometric which is something I still implement in my current work. This piece was for a show at The Royale Eatery where we had to customize a blank plate. With this piece, I was interested in trying to construct the entire illustration out of circles and of course breaking a circle down in different segments. I was also testing out highlights in the piece and how much depth it would give the illustration. I went on to making a couple more portraits in this style.  

With this piece I had to take into consideration the process of getting my illustration onto the plate. So what was beneficial, was that I had to do a little production work to find the best way and it happened to be a heat transfer process. It was through this that I slowly became more conscious of processes and how it could influence my work by working with constraints and changing pixels into something tangible.  

Kidrobot Custom (2011)  


At this time, I had left The President and was in my second year of freelancing. I curated a custom toy exhibition in Cape Town at ToiToy. With this piece, I had to again consider a tangible object and had to find a process to transfer my illustration. I considered hand painting it but really wanted it to look super clean and almost as if it had to have been produced by Kidrobot themselves. After a lot of researching, I managed to find a transfer paper in the U.S. where you could print out your design and then wet the paper to transfer your design. It was highly important that the paper could wrap around objects as the toy had different areas that bent in irregular directions.  

Again to reference the ‘Eat My Porcelain’ piece, I was still drawn towards symmetry and combining geometric shapes to compose my illustrations. I felt this was important for the face especially. I wanted to contradict the idea too, and have some areas of his face slightly different. So I played with certain areas where his hair would be different, just to make it slightly more interesting > I didn’t want people to think I had just illustrated one side and flipped it horizontally. So each arm, leg and ear is different, but his facial features are pretty similar.

Pharos Notebooks (2011)  


I didn’t realise how pivotal this project would be in helping me gain more work. At the time I was interested in making composite illustrations. Having lots of interesting details and filling up the canvas. The brief was to create a notebook for kids in primary and high school. I thought it would be interesting to have a bunch of objects relating to their life, so the process of getting ready for school, doing your homework etc… I wanted them to be quite simple and bold, so I had used rounded edges to make it a bit softer and all icons being monoline. I also included some quirky phrases, and to look back, it is something I used to do in the ‘I Eat Soup’ projects too.  

There was a great response to the work and the sales went apparently very well with CNA. From uploading this project to my site, I got numerous requests to do icon packs, editorial illustrations for magazines and some typographic treatments within the same vein. I still work like this for certain projects but have started to mix up the icon work with larger pieces of type and more complex illustrations.  

Nike AFCON (2012)  


These illustrations were created for merchandise surrounding the AFCON in 2012. With these pieces being printed and embroided at different scales, I had to make sure that the illustrations could work at small and large scales. With the embroidery, I had to make sure the lines didn’t look too cluttered, or else it would be very messy on the garment. I worked with Paul White, who is an amazing copywriter and also one of the funniest guys around. We worked on this campaign and came up with ‘Future King of Africa’ as the core line for the campaign.  

This line depicted the ideology behind the illustrations. So as you can notice, the torch on the left has a crown for the flame, and the crest on the right contains nuances of a heart and a integrated soccer pitch. It was nice to work with a clear direction from the copy and this often helped developing the ideas for the illustrations as it was very single minded. They are essentially little icons, like the Pharos illustrations but more detailed and considered in a sense. You’ll also notice the subtle highlights in the work which is something to reference from the ‘Eat My Porcelain’ project.  

NicSocks Collaboration (2013)  


While I was studying at Vega, I used to work for a couple of YDE brands (Young Designers Emporium), doing some prints for tees and embellishments, so I had a bit of knowledge of the fashion industry. This really helped with this project with NicSocks. How it helped, was that I was familiar with the knitting process of having a limited colour palette and how many colours you could fit in a row. The real struggle was using colours that the supplier had in stock, which can be very limiting at times.  

For this specific project, I wanted to use repeat patterns but in a way where you couldn’t notice where the pattern starts and ends. I find often nowadays people will do patterns but their repeat is obvious and almost takes away the magic of the pattern. For me, patterns should be interesting enough to keep you looking at it for a long time. It is often the surprise of noticing something where you thought the pattern would start again. We created a range of four designs in total and my favourite part of the project is that I created the artwork in vector format, which is clean and neat but once the artwork is translated for production, it almost gets this retro 60s pixels arcade feel which I think is really beautiful.  

Beijing Opera (2013)  


I started working with Yang Zhao a few years back on her branding for Beijing Opera. We came out with what I think is still a cool name and strong brand identity. The approach to branding work rather than illustration work for me is that the branding logomark or type treatment has to be legible, simple and strong. Looking back at the ‘Pharos Notebook’ project, it was fun but the icons didn’t have to encapsulate someone’s business. With Beijing Opera, I wanted the logomark to be quite playful, so it contains a B centre stage that represents the Opera singer, surrounded by a draped curtain on either side that represents noodles. Symbols/icons have to work really hard to say something without saying anything in some sense.  

There are so many considerations when doing identity work as everything you design needs to translate to different mediums and at different scales which can be difficult. Sometimes the Beijing Opera type doesn’t work on very small scales, so then we use the logomark instead. I’m still really happy with this project and for me, it reflects Yang’s attitude and essence towards her restaurant.  

RVCA Collaboration Range (2014)  


I’m fortunate enough to be part of the RVCA Artist Network Program (ANP). Where they support artists with exhibitions and projects. I proposed the idea to do a capsule with them and we released the ‘Fast Food’ range last year. It was really fun and believe it or not, took over a year and half to consolidate. I was really happy with the final outcome, after numerous samples. I really wanted to do simple graphics that were still bold and fun. I think most of my work carries some element of fun and play in it.  

The production behind this was fairly straight forward but there was a lot to consider. As mentioned before, when designing on your computer, there is so much that changes once there is a production added to it. The bacon embroidery for example, the type had to be a certain size so the letters were still legible and the silkscreening was limited to 4 colours. The one problem we had was that a supplier couldn’t match the pantone to their printing inks which made some of the prints very unsaturated in the initial samples.  

With the socks, luckily I worked on the ‘NicSocks’ project before, which made the production of the socks a much smoother process. Overall I thought it looked cohesive and there were some funny insights into the range. A lot of my Muslim and Jewish friends wanted to buy the bacon top, but for religious reasons there was a conflict of interest. Some bought it anyway.  

D&AD (2014)  


I was asked to do some illustrations for the awards book for D&AD. They briefed a couple of designers to produce some work that represents themselves and the country they’re from. I really wanted to use vibrant colours and not have an iconic aesthetic like some of my previous works. I also wanted to include a slight texture in the work to give it a bit more depth. I had to produce 6 artworks and was really happy with the outcome and colour palette especially.  

Unfortunately after a bit of back and forth, the brief had changed several times and I couldn’t continue on the project. However, playing around in this style and process made me work in a different way and I have been commissioned to do a few projects in this style. That is often the beauty of experimenting – you learn new techniques and processes and it will push you out of your comfort zone and surprise yourself by doing something unexpected. Experimenting is often the base thing to do when you’re feeling stuck in an aesthetic.  

Black Rabbit (2014)  


This is a logomark for a production/film company in Johannesburg. It was really fun producing this as I wanted to create a logomark that could still be cool enough to put on t-shirt and not only live on a business card or website. With the name itself, it had a lot of play in different scenarios, the rabbit will always contain some sense of black linework. Working with geometric shapes, which I learnt from previous projects like, ‘Eat My Porcelain’, and ‘Pharos Notebooks’, I had a similar approach but not having it too symmetrical. I really wanted to have clean lines that felt smooth and flowed nicely into each other.  

I wanted to modernise their brand and make it contemporary as it was a truer reflection of their work. It is a very literal approach to the logomark, as apposed to Beijing Opera. Each projects requires a different perspective.  

Over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered and found some techniques I like to use in my work. Sometimes they carry over into other projects but the important thing is to keep experimenting and playing around and being naïve to grow as a designer.

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