“I enjoy being a mediator between the idea in someone’s head and making it a reality“
Interview with King San Samuel Suen, Interactive designer at Observatory
Observatory – How did you get to Observatory and how do you find your experience here so far?
King San Samuel – When I found this job, what impressed me about it was that it was similar to what I used to do at my previous company in Hong Kong, where I worked as an interactive designer for two years. At Observatory, we focus on live events and new media content. I’m excited to try something new and create interactive visuals that react to light, real life, and recorded real-time events. In the future, I’m looking forward to collaborating with people outside the company and working with different hardware. I recently moved to London from Hong Kong, partly because I wanted to try something new and have a different experience, but also because of the political situation in Hong Kong. This is my first job in the UK, and I’m excited to see what I can achieve here.
Observatory – Could you tell us a little bit about your background and career path? How did you get into the industry? How long have you been here?
King San Samuel – I graduated from the City University of Hong Kong. I also studied in Germany for two years, so I have a degree from both universities. After I graduated, I worked in the field of multimedia for about four years. One of the projects I worked on was an app for a company in Germany that used augmented reality to show users what buildings in the city looked like 500 years ago. I was in charge of the user interface. I’m currently 27 years old and have been in the industry for about three or four years. Although my initial goal was to become a game designer, I am still interested in creating games as a way to convey messages. Right now, I am working in a similar industry, digital media, and my goal is to create something beautiful and make it work.
Observatory – What are the projects in your portfolio you’re proud of?
King San Samuel – One project I am proud of is my final year project, which is a game called “Beautiful Life”. It’s basically my imagination of Hong Kong 10–20 years later. It is set in a future version of Hong Kong, which is extremely depressed and lacks freedom of speech. The game is written in simplified Chinese, which is a representation of the communist party wiping out traditional Chinese culture. The gameplay is similar to The Sims, where you can build a house, cook your own food, and practice instruments. However, as the game progresses, you become more and more limited in your freedom, and eventually, the only way to “win” is to commit suicide. The game is a metaphor for depression and the restrictions society can place on individuals.
Another project I am particularly proud of is called “Are We Looking at the Paintings or Just the Frames?” I found some discarded paintings from an art school that students had used for practice and then discarded. I paid some money to buy some fancy frames and set up a fake exhibition, claiming that the paintings were from the 18th century in England and were very expensive and difficult to obtain. I held an opening for the exhibition at the main hall of the Creative Media Centre of City University in Hong Kong and invited professors and students to attend and comment on the paintings. However, the paintings were actually just trash, and the exhibition was fake. The idea behind the project was to explore whether people were truly appreciating art itself or just the background story told or made up by the curator. It was also a social experiment and a form of performance art.
Observatory – What is your favourite part of the creation process? And what don’t you like about it?
King San Samuel – What I like about the creation process is the feeling of success when I see something that I’ve created come to life. When I’m working in the industry, my job is to make sure everything runs smoothly and is presentable to the clients. For example, sometimes I’m responsible for making sure the computer is running 24/7, and if it goes down, I have to fix it, even in the middle of the night. It can be tiring, but I like making things work and making them presentable.
I also enjoy being the mediator between the idea in someone’s head and making it a reality. It’s exciting to see an image in your mind become something that others can see. When I work with clients, I enjoy helping them bring their thoughts to life.
However, I have to be honest and say that some clients can be difficult to work with. Many of them don’t have a good understanding of colour, design, and other elements, and that can lead to conflicts.
Even though it can be challenging at times, I still get a sense of success when I look at something I’ve created. It’s a huge feeling, especially when working in this industry. Overall, I enjoy the process of making things perfect for the customer and seeing the possibilities, even though there will always be some compromises.
Observatory – What would you recommend checking out about visual graphics/art/content creation for professionals in the creative industry?
King San Samuel – I believe that everyone in the multi-media industry should be familiar with the company TeamLab. They are a Japanese company that specialises in creating immersive, projection mapping experiences using technology. They have a laboratory where they experiment with different concepts and even have large-scale exhibitions in Japan and around the world. Their work is considered to be at the highest level in the industry and serves as inspiration for many other designers. I recommend checking them out, as they consistently produce innovative and visually stunning projects.
Observatory – Creatives are sometimes stuck at the start, unsure of where to begin. Do you have any tips/pieces of advice on how to overcome it? Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
King San Samuel – Well, for me, in the process of creation, there are a few rules that I follow. One is to look at Pinterest and get inspiration from beautiful pictures; it’s a good way to stimulate your brain and get ideas. Another personal thing that I do is walk barefoot because I feel more comfortable and relaxed without shoes. Additionally, I try not to use too much Instagram and TikTok when I am working because I feel like those platforms can be distracting and prevent deep thinking. Instead, I use Pinterest to find a specific design style or principle that I’m looking for. Instagram can also be useful for finding inspiration, but the algorithms and recommendations can lead you to content that is just based on your preferences rather than helping you discover new ideas. Finally, one tip that I would give is to keep yourself comfortable and relaxed while developing ideas, because that can really help the creative process.
Observatory – Do you have any ultimate secrets/principles of design? Can you name a few of them?
King San Samuel – Regarding handling problems, I always try to stay calm and clear-minded. Giving up is not an option for me in anything I do. Communication is also important, especially when working in a company. If I am having difficulties, I make sure to let my boss and colleagues know and try to find alternative solutions.
In terms of design, I usually follow instructions, especially when it comes to commercial projects. The customer is paying, so I have to fit their requirements and the nature of the job. However, there have been times when I have had more freedom to be creative, such as when I worked on the artwork for Boston Consulting Group at its Shenzhen headquarters. It was more satisfying for the team because we had more freedom to create and make it beautiful according to our own standards.
Overall, I consider myself more of a facilitator or executor, rather than a creator in most cases. While it may not be the most fulfilling, it is still important to make sure everything works.
Also, in most situations, you won’t have much space to be creative. Even though in my current company the requirements are reasonable and my bosses and colleagues are understanding and encouraging of new ideas. In my old company, we also used to create small interactive programmes and present them in creative meetings. Having this kind of space and freedom helps a lot when you’re in the creative industry, rather than just following orders all the time.
Observatory – What are your thoughts on technology’s impact on content creation? Is it positive or negative? Do innovative tools drive the content?
King San Samuel – I would say that it’s both positive and negative. I’m generally positive about the future of technology, and I think that most arts or media will be produced using technology in the future. It’s a playground full of possibilities, not just for visual content but for tons of other things as well. In the future, I think that content creation, art, and storytelling will become more interactive and immersive due to the higher-quality graphics that can be produced easily by the software. However, currently in the industry, technology is closely tied to the creation process, and it can be limiting for creators. They have to use certain tools and programs in order to be successful. While I’m happy with some aspects of technology in my job, I’m not entirely satisfied with it. There is a downside to the simplification and accessibility of content creation, as it can devalue the work of artists and content creators. It’s a difficult balance to strike.
Observatory – What are your long-term professional plans?
King San Samuel – My long-term professional plan is to keep exploring new technology and learning new skills as a content creator. However, my focus will be on storytelling and sharing meaningful messages through my work. I am interested in finding ways to connect people and ideas through technology and creating something that I am proud of. It’s hard to say where I will be in 10 years, but I hope to continue making interesting and meaningful content.