On 1 November 2019, surrounded by the best designers, agencies and creatives in the world, Edward Lau was announced, to his immense surprise, as the winner of the Red Dot Junior Prize. The fresh LASALLE graduate found himself feted in front of 1,400 international attendees at a glitzy gala in Berlin, posing for photos with the Singapore Ambassador to Germany and also newly in possession of €10,000.
It was a surreal development for Edward. Just five years ago, he had been dismissed from a local polytechnic for bad attendance, leaving him unmoored. Edward is candid about his past bad attitude, acknowledging that he was disengaged from his course. “The course [he was studying in poly] spent a lot of time coding and programming and I wanted to focus on design,” he explains sheepishly.
Wanting an educational do-over, Edward set his sights on LASALLE. But the application process was filled with its share of near-misses and fortuitous twists of fate. He failed the first interview, “It was my last chance for school and I was trying too hard to impress,” he laments. And while that usually spells the end of the road for most LASALLE applicants, he was unexpectedly called back for a second interview which he ultimately passed. However, lacking an ‘O’ Level credit to make the minimum academic requirement for admission, he had to endure another nail-biting appeals process before he finally secured his place in the Diploma in Design Communication programme.
He calls his decision to study at LASALLE “a bit of an awakening”. Surrounded by “incredible classmates who were producing incredible work”, he found himself spurred on to do better as well. His first year was a struggle, but he credits it with giving him a strong foundation in abstraction that made him a better designer by his final year. “I used to think too literally [as a designer]. But learning how to abstract ideas opened up new visual choices for me.”
These skills came into fruition in the making of his Red Dot winning project A-B Magazine: Right to Asylum. As highlighted in the Jurors’ report, “the very fact that this topic is extraordinarily widely reported on in the (social) media ultimately made it challenging for the young designer to find a new approach.” Quickly realising that the scale of the migrant crisis made it difficult to convey in a book format, he abstracted the sprawling crisis into the universal and relatable desire for safety and made that the focus of the magazine instead.
The notion of safety pervades all the design touches in the magazine – from the use of orange as the dominant colour, to the recurring motif of the life jacket, evoked both in photographs and in the unique pouch that enclosed the magazine.
The pouch (pictured left) was sewn by Edward’s girlfriend after watching YouTube tutorials. It took 5-6 attempts to produce exactly what was needed.
Edward attributes the magazine’s success partially to the mentorship and guidance he received from lecturer Felix Sng, crediting Felix with “helping to push [the magazine] in the direction I wanted, instead of just imposing his opinions on me.” On his part, Felix is full of praise for Edward, saying that “Edward was always grounded, relentless, humble but never satisfied. He kept going at it, and took all suggestions very seriously, even though he was already way ahead.”
The Red Dot Junior Prize caps a stellar final year at LASALLE for Edward. Earlier in 2019, A-B Magazine also received a Communication Arts Award and an Applied Arts Award. He was also part of a group who won a prestigious Wood Pencil at the student D&AD Awards for their work on the Virgin Atlantic brief. Having won so many awards even before graduating, it certainly seems like Edward is “living the dream”, having the sort of career trajectory that many fresh graduates would kill for.
But that adage suggests that Edward has somehow reached some sort of ideal end destination – something that he, in his unassuming manner, is quick to debunk. He is ever aware that the Red Dot award is not an end point, but rather the start of the development of his own voice as a designer. “I need work experience,” he states simply. “In order to get a perspective of what it’s like in the industry and continue to hone my voice.”
When asked what his dreams are, or which designer’s career he would like to emulate, Edward is taking the long view. Eschewing accolades and acclaim, his answer is simple, “I just want to be at the point where I can look at the best design work that agencies are producing and still be able to feel satisfied with my own work.”