As a designer I’ve always felt incredibly fortunate to have had London on my doorstep my entire life. I got to go to a great university, intern and eventually work at some of the country’s best studios. The amount I learnt in my first couple of years in industry has dwarfed my three years studying. But by this time I was looking to step back and assess what opportunities the city could offer me next.
In February 2017 I was between jobs. After two years working at my first proper job in one of my favourite agencies, it felt like the right time to move forwards with my career, and step into a new working environment. I had no idea it would be 10,000 kilometres away.
Take a working holiday
London’s an expensive place to be unemployed, and I didn’t want to rush into whatever came next, so I unashamedly put all my stuff in Big Yellow Self Storage and went on holiday to Vietnam. I figured out that it would be a much cheaper and more gorgeous place to work on my portfolio, which I put together as I hopped from town to town.
I’d heard about Rice Creative before; it’s hard to miss an agency making world-class branding and design work in a part of the world where no one else seems to be. I knew I’d be arriving in Saigon so I had a ‘when in Rome’ moment and sent them my newly put-together portfolio. They replied, which was something I never anticipated happening, and I was invited in to meet them. I ran around the market to find some clothes that would make me look like I hadn’t been on holiday for the past month. Regardless, Rice offered me a job, and just like that my new life in Vietnam started. My plane flew back to London in May with an empty seat, and all my stuff is still in Big Yellow Self Storage. Still not sure what what to do about that actually...
Make your mark
I’ve found myself in a really special position at Rice. In London, competition for clients is fierce. I don’t even think it’s possible to catalogue all of London’s studios. At times you start to feel like a tiny cog in an absolutely monstrous machine. There’s no established design scene in Vietnam, so we invite a lot of external services in-house which brings a world of benefits. We have a really tightly-knit team of designers, illustrators, developers and production services. Rice also takes pride in having an international team which means we have a world of perspectives on projects from Europe, America and of course Vietnam.
I can’t imagine being anywhere more exciting to be working in branding. Vietnam is a developing country, but it’s one of the fastest developing countries in the world. Over the past few years there has been a boom of industry through both a new surge of startups and established companies opening their doors here for the first time. Rice take the same approach to building new brands from the ground-up as they did on on packaging and promotional work for Vietnam’s first ever McDonalds in 2014. It’s pretty exciting to be part of a team leading the way in giving these guys a voice for a first time in this part of the world.
Think on your toes and get your hands dirty
Of course, there are also a lot of challenges that come with working in an agency with no established design scene. Working with limited resources means we have to think on our toes. Vietnam has no Pantone system yet which means we have to go down to the printer ourselves and see the ink being mixed. And with such few paper mills, we have to import paper which can take weeks. Though impractical, working with these limitations has been cause for me to be more hands-on with the production process than I ever was in London. Back home, you’d press the send button and by magic in a few days you’d (usually) have the exact prints you ordered on your doorstep. We have to keep an eye on the whole process.
Get out of your comfort zone
Working in Vietnam is something that more or less happened to me, but please take my experience here as an incentive to take the step outside of what you’re used to yourself. Living in such a drastically different environment to London has given a kick-start to my senses. Everything around me is new and I’m inspired by everyone I meet. I’m learning a new language, I’m broadening my mind and feel excited to step outside every day.
Be open to new opportunities and experiences, and roll with the places they lead you. Closing doors can be really daunting but it’s doing this that leads to surprising new ones opening. There’s a hell of a lot of exciting stuff brewing in our industry outside of London.
Dan Keeffe is a designer at branding and creative studio Rice Creative in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. After interning at The Partners he went on to work as a designer at creative consultancy The Chase before moving to Vietnam earlier this year.