Nadia Rasheed

The Creative Works of Flora Chan

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Originally from Singapore, 22-year-old graphic designer Flora Chan currently resides in New York City where she is attending Parsons The New School for Design. I came across Flora after stumbling upon her ‘Prologue Tea’ project – ‘a series of fine teas inspired by literary classics.’ The amalgamation of famous titles such as Lolita and The Great Gatsby with a simple canister of tea was fascinating to me. Imagine sitting down to sip a fine cup of Don Quixote? But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Flora’s creative works. From a new currency for Iceland that incorporates the landscape and architecture of the country to a ‘curated lexicon of beautiful & bizarre words’ that encourages the art of storytelling, Flora is certainly an emerging designer to keep an eye on.

How did your passion for design develop?
I didn’t have any formal training in design or the visual arts before coming to Parsons; however I did spend a lot of time in high school making posters for theatre performances and designing sets. I enjoyed the design process so much that I realised that I might actually be happy with being a part of a community caring about the same thing and doing it for a living.

Who or what inspires you the most in your work?
I am inspired by people who manage to combine work with play. I suspect that when you have reached that stage, you are no longer afraid of failure, of taking risks, or of experimentation. Thus the work you make becomes more imaginative and truly questions the status quo.

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What is the process from getting an idea to the final product?
I don’t have one specific process that I rely on all the time. It usually depends on my intended outcome and the amount of time I have to accomplish it. The common thread, though, is that it is usually a mind-boggling struggle that is equal parts of fun and frustration. Some people just see the final product and assume that it appears magically out of nowhere. But in my case, my process typically involves a lot of trial-and-error, improving my products based on ongoing critiques, running into unforeseen problems and attempting to solve them in the most efficient way possible. I also never think of my ‘final products’ as truly final – they are the best that I can manage within certain constraints, but also works in progress.

What is the most challenging part of your work?
Among many other things, it is figuring out what I can or cannot do within a deadline and tailoring my work to be the best it can be when I’m facing a time crunch. It is particularly challenging as well to have to start all over again when I realise that a certain idea is just not going anywhere. I also struggle sometimes with the subjectivity of my design decisions.

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I love your ‘Prologue Tea’ project – how do you match different flavours to each novel?
Thank you so much! The flavours are an experiment in combining traditional blends with spicy and fruity notes in varying degrees to reflect the different overarching atmospheres of the novels.

There seems to be so many literary influences in your work – how is drawing from that Art useful for you?
In general I think it is helpful to draw inspiration from fields that are quite different from design because it allows the work to be situated in a wider context. Personally I miss having the opportunity to study languages, philosophy and literature so I’m always subconsciously trying to integrate that into my work in order to explore those fields further.

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Do you get commissioned to design work?
I have not taken up any commissions so far because school and internships have been taking up all my time. All my professional projects were made during those internships, where I had the privilege of working with really intelligent, patient and kind designers who were always open to my ideas.

How do you stay creatively motivated?
I surround myself with my peers who are all incredibly talented and inspiring and I talk to them about the ideas that they care about. I keep up to date with current events going on in different parts of the world – something new is happening every second, so there is always an endless supply of information and inspiration.

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On your website you say that you are ‘learning how to make things responsibly’ – what do you mean by that?
I mean making things that delight, being conscious of both the positive and negative effects that your work can have on a larger community, being authentic by staying true to what you value in the things that you create and questioning what you make all the time in order to make better things in the future.

Are you currently working on anything specific?
I am currently working on a data visualisation of a novel and figuring out how to code a drawing tool in Javascript. Both projects belong to fields that I have little experience in – information design and programming. They are both really challenging and time-consuming since they are completely out of my comfort zone, but at the same time I feel a sense of satisfaction every time I solve a problem. I’m also working on my senior thesis which is about a specific area of linguistics in relation to communication design.

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What advice would you give to young aspiring graphic designers?
I’m hardly in the position to give advice since I’m a ‘young aspiring graphic designer’ myself! But my far wiser and more experienced bosses and mentors have always told me to trust my instincts and to stay hungry for more knowledge and more ideas. So far such advice has worked quite well.

Where do you hope to be in the future and how will you get there?
I want to be in many different places doing many different things! The world is so huge and yet it’s also getting smaller, just because we’re all getting increasingly connected in so many ways. I’m not sure how I’d get there yet, but the current plan is just to go with the flow, to learn from as many people as possible, and to strive to be a better designer with every opportunity that I stumble upon.

Visit Flora’s website to see more of her work.

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