VTC alumnus David Lo Wing-keung specialises in branding and corporate image design. His impressive portfolio includes industry-leaders and the most iconic brands across various sectors; his key clients range from real estate developers, public utilities and theme parks, to international consumer goods brands and luxury hotels in Macau. Received hordes of accolades locally and abroad, he is the proud winner of prestigious awards such as the Gold Pencil Award of The ONE Show in the U.S., Design for Asia Awards (DFAA), and the Hong Kong Design Association (HKDA) Awards. Glorious achievements notwithstanding, David jokingly attributed his success to his aversion to boredom – he constantly seeks to subvert preconceived notions on his journey to make his dreams come true.
David Lo, a highly regarded master in the local design scene, originally hails from a public housing estate in Wong Tai Sin. He was unmotivated at school ever since he was a child. “I found school boring. Everything follows the same pattern.” He ended up being transferred from one school to another frequently. Yet, he had a dream.
“When I was little, I enjoyed reading and drawing comics a lot. I took drawing more seriously than my academic study – to hone my skills, I went to great lengths to take notes and replicate works of different artists. I could easily spend a whole day drawing. I also started submitting my works to newspapers and magazines at a very young age and I got published. I never hesitated to sign up for art contests. By my junior secondary years, I already had my mind set on becoming a cartoonist.” At that time, drawing comics was his only achievement.
David had changed to three schools in the first four years of secondary education, was being regarded as youth at risk. Things took a turn when he was about to be promoted to Form 4. He explained, “My older brother had a heart-to-heart with me about my future. He told me to try applying to Diocesan Boys' School (DBS) for Form 4.” David said he was utterly shocked by the suggestion because his academic results weren’t good enough to make himself proud or get him into a prestigious elite school like DBS. However, his older brother, a DBS alumnus, insisted that David gave it a try, claiming DBS was not an ordinary school. It might turn out to work fine for David who was equally beyond the ordinary. David then plucked up courage to apply to the school.
During the admission interview, DBS’s vice principal looked displeased at the sight of David’s report cards. He asked David what gave him the confidence to apply to the school. “I told him other schools were too boring and I couldn’t find my place in them. I just didn’t see the point of going to school at all. He asked me what my strengths were. I replied drawing and that I was quite good at it.” The principal went silent for a moment and then asked David more questions. David honestly revealed all his thoughts.
Quite surprisingly, David was accepted by DBS as a Form 4 student. In the new school, David had expected the hard work to catch up in academic terms. That being said, he was also given chances to do what he enjoyed most – he once created a gigantic painting on the school’s soccer pitch. Years later, David finally got the chance to ask the vice principal why he was accepted into DBS. The principal answered, while there were countless DBS students excelled in academic study and sports, there wasn’t anyone good at art. The school had always wanted to give students room to grow in their own ways. He gave David a chance as an experiment to see what he was capable of.
After HKCE exam, David got an internship at Cathay Pacific. It dawned on him that a designer is a professional occupation related to art and creativity. “I thought to myself, being a designer is so cool.” And that laid the direction for his prospective career path. In the HKCE exam, David got an A in Art, with underwhelming results for other subjects. Then he was enrolled in the Diploma in Design of the erstwhile Sha Tin Technical Institute, the precursor of IVE (Sha Tin). The programme broadened his horizons as he met the crème de la crème in the art world – one-third of his classmates earned an A in art in the HKCE exam, many more boasting exceptional drawing and painting skills. He was in the same class with Chow Lee, a renowned illustrator, with a star-studded list of teachers, including Chiu Kwong-chiu, an authoritative scholar in the artefacts of Beijing’s Palace Museum.
Throughout the two-year diploma programme, students were exposed to basic knowledge of graphic design which paved the road for David to be a designer. He remembered Mr Yeung, a teacher who often showed students the works of foreign designers. Mr Yeung once gave the class an assignment to design a poster for a Paul McCartney concert; the catch is that it had to be a collage made with existing images.
“At that time, I had doubts about making a collage with other people’s works. Up till then I had always created original artwork in my own ways. But that assignment was an eye-opener. By following the teacher’s instructions, we managed to make posters with strong visual impacts.” That’s when David started to be enlightened as a designer.
Among his fond memories of Sha Tin Technical Institute, David recalled a whole bunch of classmates sharing just one meal set with two dishes. “Art supplies were expensive and most classmates couldn’t spare much money on food. Instead of getting a lunch box each, a few of us would pool money and order one meal set with two dishes to share. With the free flow of steamed rice in the school canteen, all of us could have a filling meal and a bit of protein.” Every time after pulling an all-nighter to finish their assignments, students would come to school in scruffy outfits and slippers the next morning. These bits and pieces still make popular conversation topics in their regular school reunions till this day.
After graduation, David got a job in a design firm. “I worked there for about one year and began to find my vision confined by the narrow scope of work. My older brother was in the U.S. then and he asked me to go and study there. I said yes as I really want to broaden my horizons.” So, one year after graduating from the Technical Institute, David furthered his study in the U.S. pursuing education in fine art.
David earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Houston in the U.S. and returned to Hong Kong in 1995. Right away, he was hired by the prestigious design firm Alan Chan Design as an art director.
He said, from his university education, he learned that good designs should have “depth”, meaning the underlying meanings and concepts; when he worked for the design master Alan Chan, he learned that good designs should also have vision and “height”, meaning exceptional finesse and class.
With his aversion to boredom as a youngster, David was inclined to change his job whenever he got used to every aspect of it and after the novelty wore off. In 1999, he switched to work for an advertising agency called Grey and he set up the company’s branding department ‘Wba’ from scratch. The employer gave him full autonomy and let his imagination run wild. This laissez-faire approach worked perfectly with David’s temperament as a free soul and his disdain for any form of constraint. Throughout the seven years he spent at Grey, David built countless household brand names. He was so addicted to his job that he almost stayed in the office 24-7. The craziest thing happened when David won over 40 awards for the company within a year, catapulting Grey into the top five advertising agencies in Asia.
In 2006, Grey was acquired by a different owner and David left the company to found his own design consultancy firm LOMATTERS. Meanwhile, he taught in a number of educational institutes and joined the board of directors of the non-profit organisation Hong Kong Design Centre, in a bid of advocating creativity mindset and facilitating social development.
To young people who are interested in being designers, David offered a few advice. First off, there are now 18 institutes offering design programmes, with a few thousands of graduates each year, not to mention those designers returning to Hong Kong after studying abroad. All in all, the local demand for designers is limited and the job market is saturated. Worse still, the pandemic hit hard global economy. It is much more challenging to find an ideal job than every before. David added, ‘It is a home truth that opportunities are reserved for people with good preparations. If you paid more effort than others on the projects in school, you would not worry about missing the ideal jobs. And your designs are the creations and display of your effort, but not solely a homework to fulfil your teacher’s checklist.’
On the other hand, in recent years, untrained laymen can create basic designs like brochures and flyers with clipart software and smartphone apps. The professionalism and uniqueness of designers have become more important because modern design require not only project-based services, but also require a deeper, broader, and more strategic mindset for creation. ‘The world of designing is big, with a bigger and vast world outside awaits your exploration. Always push yourself forward and soak up knowledge beyond the field of design. This attitude will definitely improve your work.’
As a veteran designer in the business for over two decades, David has started to be a consultant for 8 years, who leverages his personal connections and experiences to provide design-related services and to scout for eligible design talent for partnerships. He added, “Not only am I involved in design, but also in strategic marketing of a brand.”
In the past, designers have their own specialisation. Some, for instance, only focussed on designing corporate annual reports. However, David pointed out that having skills only in one genre of output could no longer fulfil customers’ needs nowadays. “If you run an advertising agency like 10-plus years ago and focus only on TV commercials, you’d have a hard time keeping it afloat. It’s because advertisements come in various forms and shapes these days. Besides TV commercials, you have to cater to emerging platforms such as social media.”
Therefore, young people interested in launching their careers as designers should brace themselves for a diversified career path ahead. “Having an education in design doesn’t mean you must limit your jobs as a designer. For example, you might as well find a marketing job. It’s exactly your design education that enables you to approach marketing tasks creatively, adopting diversified strategies to promote a product.”