Mike Chu on Sandy Choi

It was a day in October, 1989 and I had gone down to the
11th floor to welcome a new art director on board. A month earlier,
Deb Coulsen, then head of Ball WCRS’ newly set up Direct
Marketing Division for theHongkongBank account, was interviewing
suitable candidates for an art director position. She had
brought three portfolios to show me. While all three contained
very competent work, one of them was definitely more special.
The work turned out to be from a young designer called Sandy Choi.
I will use the analogy of a young chef who is keener to
experiment with his ingredients, and hence brings fresh flavours
to his dishes. As opposed to an experienced but mediocre chef
who cooks up a safe and less exciting dish. Even in those
early years, Sandy as a young designer demonstrated his
good sense of typography, brave composition and use of colour.
And the results showed a lot of promise.

A year into his job, I asked Sandy if he was interested to be
art director for the Puma “Fly First Class” campaign that I was
working on. The task was left open after one of my art directors
went to start his own agency. The campaign was to be an
overseas shoot and Sandy welcomed the challenge to be involved
in his first film commercial. As fate would have it, this shoot was
about to change Sandy’s life. During the week’s filming in Hawaii,
my agency film producer Angela and Sandy became extremely
friendly with each other. And when the two suggested accompanying
me to L.A. to do the post production work, I was only too happy to
receive such support. Little did I know what my art director
and producer were up to. Happily for them, the two decided to get
married not long afterwards.

My loss of a capable producer is Sandy’s gain. Angela is now a
devoted wife, mother to a beautiful daughter and a capable partner
in Sandy’s office. Incidentally, that campaign also bore fruit to
a Kam Fan and a few Gold Awards at the ’91 4As Creative Awards.
In the years to come, Sandy’s work in advertising would win more
awards, and some, I’m happy to remember, in collaboration with me.

Working with Sandy is always enjoyable because we share many
common interests: jazz, film, love of books, travel, architecture,
the many disciplines of design and fine food. Sandy and I would
share recent experiences whenever we find a bit of free time.
Underneath his wide ranging interests is a man who is very focused
on his work. Perhaps it is this ability to draw inspiration and
knowledge from a vast resource of interests that has given his work
a worldly appeal. In private, Sandy is a quiet and gentle person.
And he goes about his job in a slow, orderly manner, shutting off
the chaos that may surround him. I have seen him work under
pressure and I have noticed this quality.

Some years ago, when Sandy asked me what my views were if he
was to leave his plum job as creative director of J Walter Thompson
Shanghai to start his own design studio in Hong Kong, I supported
his notion wholeheartedly. I knew too well that design ran
deep in his blood. To be able to find passion in one’s work, and to
be talented in it as well, is truly a godsend. Never mind the
risk of failing. But then, I knew Sandy would succeed.

Perhaps the greatest challenge Sandy faced at the time was the need
to establish his identity as a designer. Hong Kong was going
through unprecedented changes, and clients were seeking practical
and economical solutions as opposed to aesthetic ones. To strive
for fresh, original work to be produced proved more difficult
than ever. The selection of work in this book is proof that Sandy
has risen to the challenge. His identity as one of Hong Kong’s
most promising and dedicated young designers is unquestionable.

The minimalist Japanese architect, Tadao Ando once remarked
that the difference between a good architect and a not so
good one is the ability to resist the temptation of the many choices
that are available. I happen to believe this applies to all
disciplines of design. And I think Sandy tacitly understands this.

In memory of
Mike Chu, 1954-2007.

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