Seeds of Creativity Sown in Taiwan's Parched Earth
At the recent 25th Golden Melody Awards, Johnason Lo demonstrated to the world that Taiwan can step out and show off world-class design.
Seeds of Creativity Sown in Taiwan's Parched EarthBy Yueh-lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 554 )
"Your works never betray you."
Johnason Lo might not have been known beyond television and design circles before. Since the 25th Golden Melody Awards, however, at least viewers of the gala event surely want to remember his name.
The 36-year-old Lo was the visual production designer behind the 25th Golden Melody Awards. The company he founded, JL Design, in concert with nearly 30 still and motion image designers, gave the entire awards ceremony a grand visual flair fitting of the Oscars or Grammy Awards.
Not only did he demonstrate that Taiwan can undoubtedly boast world-class design credentials, but the awards show was like a lovely gift to Taiwan that delighted and made the public proud.
Asked if he was satisfied with his Golden Melody performance, Lo responded, "Sure, I'm happy with the results. I went all-out with every piece. When you put everything into something there's nothing to regret, because that is 100 percent of that given stage, and your work will reflect every ounce of effort you've expended." Lo has long firmly believed that "your works never betray you."
Precisely because he puts 100 percent into every stage, despite the limitations of Taiwan's television environment – from budgets to time, cost, and barely any channel packaging – he has managed to get commissions from Al Jazeera, Disney, and China's CCTV. International projects such as these have given JL Design's team of 15 designers, producers and art directors work with Lo on channel identification designs – something unfamiliar to the local industry.
Lo entered the television realm during Taiwanese television's heyday. Not yet even 18, he began working as an intern animator for TVBS. After graduating from the computer animation section of Fu-Hsin Trade and Arts School, he went to TVIS (the precursor to ERA's MUCH TV) as an assistant program director for the sports channel. After Lo completed his obligatory military service, he was enlisted by the vice president of the newly established Azio TV, Chen Chen-chuan (who was also the general planner for the June Golden Melody Awards), as video visual director.
Azio TV's initial channel packaging design consisted of a brief few seconds of very Oriental elements: ample use of empty space, splashy colors, and a wispy, airy feeling. The design earned Lo a PromaxBDA Awards silver medal for best channel identification design in Asia. Not just the first time a Taiwanese received the award, it opened the door to the international arena, getting him interviews with the Asian headquarters of HBO and AXN in Singapore.
While in Singapore for four years, he worked at HBO and different design firms. That experience helped him witness the flow, order, and structure of the way international channels go about things.
"So many people feel that Singapore is boring, but I think it has tons to offer," Lo gushes. Comparing the two, while Taiwan may have a lot of events, Taiwanese people's lives are often straight-jacketed by work, while in highly Westernized Singapore working hours and routines are quite set, and there are many international exhibitions there. In Singapore, "you have the time to see an exhibition, catch a film, play tennis or basketball on the weekend, or go for a meal in Malaysia, and you never feel exhausted when the work day is over."
Singapore gave Johnason Lo professional experience, life sustenance, and the impetus to found JL Design upon returning to Taiwan with more commitment and ideas. "We don't work overtime. Everyone has pretty much left the office by 6:30 or 7 p.m., except for the Golden Melody Awards, which was scary," Lo adds with a chuckle. After all, how can creative people be expected to come up with good ideas if they cannot enjoy their lives?
It turns out that it was a fluke that Lo started his own business after returning to Taiwan from Singapore in 2006. "I happened to have put a team together, but the original plan didn't work out, so I just went ahead and started a business," he relates. At first Lo kept thinking the company would fail and shut down at any time, because knowing the state of television in Taiwan so well he knew business prospects are few and far between.
Lacking the qualifications as a newcomer to take on international projects, Lo started by making short animated films for Hakka TV and the Council for Cultural Affairs. A design project he later handled for Taiwan's first HD TV station, HiHD (now PTS HD), resulted in attention from Al Jazeera and an offer to join a pitch.
"The difficulties at each stage are basically similar, only the cases get bigger and bigger. Besides facing the client, even more importantly you come up against your internal team's fighting strength." Lo relates that tuning a team is the most time intensive task and requires making adjustments to get everyone to grow together and reach a high level in the industry. Never easy, the hard-won efforts always end up attracting the next client's attention.
For Lo, business is cumulative, not an accident.
Stanley Tsai is senior manager of creative services for Disney Channels, Greater China. A former colleague of Lo's at Azio TV's inception and also for a time in Singapore, Tsai has known Lo for over a decade. He recalls that Lo is the kind of person who knew what he wanted to do right away, and who works constantly to improve himself.
"He likes dynamic design, and soaks up different works from all around the world," relates Tsai. He says that Disney is very particular about branding, yet when Disney's US headquarters was overhauling its brand, it took a good look at JL Design's design for the Disney Channel in Taiwan.
Tsai still recalls how, when Chen Chen-chuan was planning to hold a concert of the group F4 in China in 2002, Lo barely slept for an entire week to get up to speed in 3D design, which he had not previously encountered. As the two lived very close to each other, Lo would give Tsai a motor scooter ride when they left the office in the morning after an all-nighter. "So many times we were so tired he forgot to stop at traffic lights. We'd crash, crawl back up, and get going again."
Working his heart out, and demanding the most from himself helped Lo steadily build up a certain quality to his works and team strength.
"It is really something special for him to be able to bring together notable designers and bring out their sense of pride and work together on the Golden Melody Awards," says Nieh Yung-chen.
Nieh, who took the best album package design at the awards, praises Lo as having a precise grasp of the rhythms of dynamic visual design, never resorting to pyrotechnics and always staying tasteful.
Lo also enjoys sharing what he knows. He says a design company's know-how is about turning creativity into a process, then ensuring the company can sustain itself so that everyone is free to make mistakes.
"Taiwan is an island nation. I think we should be like pirates, raiding here and there and taking the good things we see back to Taiwan with us," Lo cracks.
Speaking of pirates, maybe one day instead of saying the classic line "Welcome to Singapore" as Chow Yun-fat did in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End "Welcome to Singapore!", the captain of a pirate ship will exclaim: "Welcome to Taiwan!"
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman