KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — “Designers are not stupid,” says Jay Lim, one half of the husband-and-wife team behind CUTOUT, an award-winning Malaysian design magazine. He’s actually referring to the theme of the next issue of CUTOUT (available in April 2015), but he’s also very serious about helping local designers get more recognition for their work.
Case-in-point: CUTOUT had won the prestigious Golden Pin award in Taipei last year, for the Visual Communications category. This is the first time a Malaysian company has won the award in the 33-year history of the Taiwan-based awards. To give this win perspective, other winners (in categories such as Architecture & Interior, Product Design, and Packaging) are big corporate players such as ASUS and China Airlines.
Lim’s better half, Vivian Toh, manages tthe communications and clients’ side of their business. She says, “We were very happy to have won as it felt like getting the design industry’s equivalent of the Golden Horse Award (pertaining to the film industry in Taiwan). It’s good that they are willing to expand their horizons to outside the typical Chinese or Taiwanese design market as the awards usually go to Chinese firms or projects aimed at a Chinese-speaking market.”
Her surprise at this change is partly due to the fact CUTOUT is an entirely English-language design magazine. However, despite its Malaysian origins, the publication doesn’t only cover the local design industry but also provides insights into graphic design and pop culture around Southeast Asia and beyond.
Besides CUTOUT, Lim also runs his own design firm, TSUBAKI Studio and frequently visits Taiwan for design exhibitions and talks. He says, “My first talk was in Taipei in 2011, on character design. The organisers wanted someone who had illustration experience but also an editorial background. CUTOUT was launched the previous year so that gave me some credibility.”
The affable designer has been invited several times by the Taiwanese government to act as a judge and speaker at various design-related events. Lim was also a visiting associate professor in visual communications at Kun Shan University in Tainan. This makes him the go-to person for in-depth experience with the Taiwanese design industry.
“There is a subtle difference between the Taiwanese and Malaysian approach to design,” he says. “The Taiwanese government is very supportive of their design industry and give out many grants to designers. Furthermore, clients are very open and are able to accept innovative and experimental designs to incorporate into their businesses. The Malaysian design industry, by comparison, is still in its infancy. We are still searching for our very own particular identity.”
Toh meanwhile spends most of her time kick-starting collaborations with their clients and contributors. The mass communications graduate enjoys her work-and-lifestyle typical of location-independent young entrepreneurs.
“I’m on Skype all the time,” she laughs. “Being online enables us, a Malaysian team, to have a good mix of contributors, regardless of race and even international designers. What makes my day is when our collaborators and clients share their ideas with us. The synergy is the creative spark we are looking for as a design outfit.”
This collaborative and open spirit has helped them carve out their niche in the design world. Lim says, “Our clients always opt for what is current and local in Malaysia, such as the use of Manglish rather than the Queen’s English. It’s about localisation; clients want to expand their brand in Malaysia but want it to be customised so it’s more locally identifiable.”
Their current clientele stretches the globe from Morocco to Japan, Los Angeles to Sri Lanka. Toh says, “Our clients mostly find us online, and not necessarily for Malaysian projects only. For example, Chomp Chomp Nation, a mobile food truck in the USA founded by a Singaporean and an American, had us incorporating Southeast Asian design elements such as tiger stripes.”
CUTOUT Magazine, which started in February 2011, has produced 18 issues so far. Apparently they have readers who order back issues as their magazine is not overly time-sensitive, i.e. timeless content.
Lim believes maintaining the mood and the spirit of the magazine has been their biggest challenge. “We work hard at making our readers stay with us by connecting with and getting them involved. Really, the magazine belongs to them. By giving the designers a platform to vent their frustrations, they contribute their voices but also provide solutions as a form of knowledge sharing.”
Other projects the dynamic duo are engaged in include Designed, a design-themed show on Bernama Radio 24, and Designber Fest, a year-long program of design events at Kinokuniya Bookstores. Lim says, “The radio show was an opportunity for us to grow further with a new challenge. We discuss issues and challenges faced by the design industry. We have already curated two Designber Fest events at Kinokuniya and the bookstore has even asked us and our guests to recommend design books to stock and display.”
For Toh, their most memorable experience was when George Town invited them to do an exhibition for George Town Festival 2013. She says, “The exhibition was titled ‘Mags’ and it was personally very meaningful for me as it was a rare opportunity work collectively with design students. I got to hone my leadership skills in person. That’s very different from the usual way I work which tends to be more online and from a distance.”
CUTOUT Magazine and its sister outfit TSUBAKI Studio have proven that Malaysian designers can stay very local and still make their mark on the international stage. Lim sums it up, “Though we are niche, we get to stick to our passions without compromising. We deliver and get rewarded as our readers have grown from students into professionals. Their feedback, usually via Facebook, means a lot to us. The community we build is the story of our journey together.”
Find out more about CUTOUT Magazine at: