JL DESIGN Perspective|Brand Core Value: An Unfinished Design Journey, Expanding New Frontiers from Culture to Commerce

Date:2023-12-15

Source:Abby Lee, Min Chan Huang

JL DESIGN tells the ongoing story of Taiwanese brands through design. In the early stages, the team honed systematic division of work and integrated international resources in Motion Graphics and Channel Branding projects (equivalent to brand identity design for television channels). In later large-scale cultural projects, the team deepened its perspective on storytelling and the depth of questioning. Not only did they set a paradigm for the visual representation of major ceremonies in Taiwan, but they also effectively integrated Taiwan’s cultural and design prowess, confidently expressing themselves to the world through design.

The origin of everything can be traced back to the days when the founder, Johnason Lo, was working on television programs. He began his career as an intern at TVBS and, at the age of 19, became an assistant director specializing in live sports broadcasts for TVIS (the predecessor of the current MUCH channel). During this time, he collaborated with Guozuo Xu on channel revamps. After contributing to the post-production of programs such as ‘Guess, Guess, Guess’ and ‘Music Love Story,’ he played a key role in the revamp of Age News and the launch of MUCH TV. Handling everything from news ticker and logos to the design of various news formats, including small details and large-scale elements, he gained technical expertise and creative insights. His systematic approach to concepts slowly took shape as he navigated through different program formats.

When Azio TV was established in 2001, he, at the youthful age of 24, took on the role of Visual Director for the channel. The visual campaigns he crafted for Azio TV earned him the distinction of being the first person in Taiwan to receive the Silver Award for Best On-air Ident at the Promax Awards. Ultimately, he made the decision to join HBO in Singapore, becoming the first Taiwanese person to work at HBO Asia.

After turning 26, Johnason Lo began contemplating the next ten years of his life, driven by his restless nature and a desire for breakthroughs. Initially planning to leave Singapore for New York, he found himself drawn back by the invitation of his mentor, Guozuo Xu. He subsequently engaged in the broadcast of the High School Basketball League (HBL) and MV productions. It wasn’t until he received an invitation from Hakka Television Station to undertake brand identity design that he gathered a group of talented individuals. Starting with Motion Graphics, he recalled, “At that time, I still had some savings, so I thought about gathering a group of people to do it. I thought, “Let’s spend this savings on this unintentional entrepreneurship.”

 

Breaking the rules in the most traditional industries, bringing in a completely fresh perspective.

Everything happened quickly – the establishment of the company, talent training through projects, and constant skill upgrades in line with the evolution of Taiwan’s visual industry. At that time, nobody knew that this group of individuals was pioneering something extraordinary. JL DESIGN became Taiwan’s first Motion Graphics and Channel Branding design company. In 2008 and 2009, the design work for HiHD (Public Television Service) won the PromaxBDA Asia Gold Award, while the annual design consultant proposal for Al Jazeera Channel secured the PromaxBDA Global Excellence Gold Award.

As the company took on numerous international collaborations one after another, Johnason Lo identified a fundamental issue within Taiwan’s television and design industries: the concepts of Motion Graphics and the “market” had yet to take shape. He realized that holding a broadcasting license made it challenging for TV stations to delve into the strategic management of commercial television. Without relying on consumer subscriptions and without direct market exposure, it seemed impossible to stay relevant and excel in the industry.

As a result, every project brief became a process of persuasion and communication. Johnason Lo started from the basics, introducing international knowledge to make terms like jingle, image, and audio branding tangible in Taiwan through practical implementation. He established an open quoting system and created a bridge for visual communication with clients.

 

Utilizing flexible staffing, identify the right processes.

When Singaporean television had already transitioned into the High Definition (HD) era, Taiwan was still broadcasting in Standard Definition (SD). In 2004, while working at HBO Asia, Johnason Lo noticed the distance between Taiwan and the rest of the world: “In Taiwan, animation teams often consisted of seven or eight people, while foreign television stations had a core team with a deep understanding of the brand and design. They collaborated with different editors, post-production teams, and various vendors based on project attributes. Therefore, I wanted to abandon the inefficient large-scale approach, ensuring that project development is not restricted by the designer’s style.” Through a methodical and progressive approach, he introduced new possibilities for motion graphics in Taiwan.

 

Through a rigorous process, telling compelling stories.

“When a promotional video features only a single character, how can it narrate a travel experience from different perspectives?” When taking on a project for the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Johnason approached it with reverse thinking, breaking away from the conventional model of using celebrity endorsers. Instead, he made the four target audiences that the Tourism Bureau aimed to attract the main characters, using cinematic storytelling techniques to convey the cultural and geographical features of Taiwan. He invited American cinematographer Michael Fimognari (known for directing the “To All the Boys” series, and winning a Leo Award for “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You”) to participate in the filming, integrating international film processes into the team’s capabilities. “At that time, we understood the importance of ‘specialization.’ Each person needed to focus on doing their job well on set, rather than a group of people handling the same task, in order to complete the meticulous filming operations within a limited budget.”

|Further Reading|

Taiwan Tourism Bureau Promotional Video

The following year, at the invitation of Jeff Guo, Johnason Lo took on the role of CEO at the Taiwanese animation company “SOFA Studio,” reassessing the Taiwanese animation industry from a commercial perspective. He pivoted CG animation talent towards special effects production, resulting in works like “The Tenant Downstairs” and “Our Times.” “JL DESIGN and the SOFA Studio team continuously hybridized and experimented, exploring the possibilities of transitioning Taiwanese animation into special effects.”

 

The GMA Era: Opening the Stage for Creativity

In 2014, JL DESIGN was involved in coordinating the visual design for the 25th Golden Melody Awards ceremony. At that time, Johnason Lo felt a sense of nostalgia for the past glory of the Taiwanese music industry, which had gradually lost some of its former prominence. He hoped that through the integrative power of design, Taiwanese musicians in the Mandarin pop music scene could once again feel pride, and that Taiwan’s increasingly robust design industry prowess could be showcased to the world.

“Isn’t it interesting to have designers who once produced albums for singers take the lead in completing the ceremony’s visuals?” With Johnason personally leading the initiative, he extended invitations to over twenty influential graphic designers across eras, including Qing-Yang Xiao, Wang Zhi Hong, Aaron Nieh, Joe Fang, Civi Cheng, Yen Po-chun, and Godkidlla. Additionally, he collaborated with motion studios such as Grassjelly, Bito, Mixcode, Dosomething, and others. Together, they formed an unprecedented and stellar lineup to contribute to the design of the nominee videos for the Golden Melody Awards ceremony.

“The pairing of designers with awards also requires careful consideration. Aaron is highly influential in the industry and has led the stylistic direction of modern graphic design in Taiwan. While he is usually placed in mainstream awards categories, I believe that the awards in the instrumental categories need better interpretation. Therefore, assigning Aaron Nieh to contribute to these categories would be more meaningful,” emphasized Johnason Lo. “All these efforts are aimed at honoring these musicians.”

When collaborating with external partners, Johnason Lo emphasizes the importance of organizational planning and high transparency. A clear and open file structure is crucial, allowing every participant to access all data and processes, and understand shared goals. Real-time communication is also key, and at that time, JL DESIGN used Slack as a tool to facilitate communication across teams, making them one of the earliest Taiwanese design companies to adopt Slack for workflow communication.

In addition, JL DESIGN not only established an execution framework but also, rooted in the essence of popular music, opened up a framework for thought. In the 26th Golden Melody Awards, they explored the relationship between songs and the land, uncovering memories within sounds. In the 29th Golden Melody Awards, they posed a significant question: What is the sound of the new generation? They invited various illustrators to respond, offering insights into social observations and value propositions found in 26 contemporary pop songs. In the 30th Golden Melody Awards, they resonated with the accumulated achievements in the Chinese music scene, bringing musicians from the golden era of Taiwanese pop music to the forefront. They planned and shot seventy videos, designing a set of standards for the videos and orchestrating different photographers to collaborate within a limited time. Regardless of the method, the core goal is always the essence of the project and creativity.

JL DESIGN leads a remarkable group of creators to engage in unprecedented and successful endeavors. For each project, the team meticulously balances the proportions of curator, design, and paroduction, continuously optimizing the production process. They are dedicated to creating content creativity that addresses core issues effectively.

|Further Reading|

► 25th Golden Melody Awards: Graphic Beats

► 26th Golden Melody Awards: Original Soundtrack of Taiwan

► 29th Golden Melody Awards: Manifesto

► 30th Golden Melody Awards: The Era Recalled

In 2017, Johnason Lo was invited to serve as the GM and Executive Vice President of Digital Domain in Greater China. Reflecting on receiving this invitation, he shared, “Digital Domain, founded by legendary director James Cameron, is one of the world’s top visual effects companies. This role allowed me to be at the forefront, connecting with talents in China’s content industry and observing the differences between Hollywood and Taiwan’s visual effects industries. So, I decided to take on this position.” While navigating the global landscape, he remained committed to bringing back technology and perspectives to Taiwan for experimentation.

 

The GHA Era: Depicting a New Narrative for Taiwan

Johnason Lo’s passion for culture combined with a business mindset that evolves with the times. Following the Golden Melody Awards, an invitation from the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Executive Committee followed. He pondered, “During the Golden Melody years, we produced Taiwan’s best ceremonies. Considering the themes of the Golden Horse Awards, what more could we do?” In 2019, amid a transformative period for Chinese-language cinema, where technology, subjects, and techniques were rapidly changing, and given the uncontrollable circumstances affecting the Golden Horse Awards that year, facing criticisms regarding the selection of films and the challenge of ceremony engagement, JL DESIGN proposed the theme “Searching for the Dark Horse.” This theme guided everyone to focus on the highly promising “dark horses” before they become the “Golden Horses,” directing attention to a crucial moment in the evolution of Chinese-language cinema.

They extended invitations to 23 emerging directors in Asia, labeled as “dark horses” (directors who had directed only one feature film), to shoot the 23 nominated films. The project involved the participation of industry veterans, masters, and filmmakers, including the likes of Ang Lee, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Lee Ping-bing, Tu Du-Chih, Sylvia Chang, who lent their voices for dubbing. The idea was to convey the message through excellent design and visuals, allowing everyone to understand that Taiwan’s “dark horses” could be a single work, a group of filmmakers, or even a new generation wave. From design, selection, content, to visuals, JL DESIGN seamlessly incorporated the overall concept into various segments of the awards ceremony.

Faced with a reduced number of films at the 57th Golden Horse Awards due to the disrupted film industry caused by both the situation and the pandemic, JL DESIGN initiated the first-ever collaborative project for the Golden Horse Awards under the theme “TAKE ONE: On the Way to Tomorrow.” In this project, they invited the public to contribute, and 7,225 entries were translated into designs for the nominated videos and various segments of the ceremony. This initiative aimed to connect filmmakers and fans, turning the Golden Horse Awards into a collective portrayal of the era in 2020 for everyone. It documented the changes and challenges in people’s lives from different perspectives. This film, which belonged to everyone, garnered the participation of various public figures on social media, including President Tsai Ing-wen, renowned chef André Chiang, Minister of Digital Development Audrey Tang, and filmmaker Lee Lieh. The digital campaign, conducted in collaboration with the Executive Committee, resulted in a total of 188,000 interactions and over 1,100 shares. Expanding the visual strategy’s thinking beyond traditional award ceremonies, this initiative brought people’s lives into the story, into the movies, and closer to each other. JL DESIGN, in collaboration with the Golden Horse Awards, successfully achieved this collective effort.

Prior to this, Taiwan’s three major award ceremonies had never seen such a creative team. Within the space supported by the client, they challenged boundaries through thoughtful planning and production using the mindset of “design.” “I believe this is our team’s way of expressing gratitude—a bow of thanks. We expanded the stage, and from here on, it’s up to the younger generation to shine,” remarked Johnason Lo.

|Further Reading|

► 56th Golden Horse Awards

► 57th Golden Horse Awards

Subsequently, JL DESIGN continued to participate in several Taiwan-centric global cultural projects, once again shining on the international stage—projects like Taiwan Hype, TaiwanPlus, and Taiwan NOW. These initiatives employed new narrative approaches to depict Taiwan to the world. “I have always believed that Taiwan is not a deserted island. We need to understand our unique characteristics, know who we are, tell our own stories, and take pride in them,” expressed Johnason Lo.

|Further Reading|

Taiwan HYPE

TaiwanPlus

Taiwan NOW

 

Design services that proudly position Taiwanese businesses on the global stage.

Having traversed nearly two decades and experienced channel branding, cultural ceremonies, JL DESIGN gradually honed its ability to reshape “brand core values.” The focus shifted towards contemplating how to assist local Taiwanese businesses in transformation, rewriting the rules of the commercial market. In 2018, Johnason Lo accepted the invitation from the chairman of Ta Ching Securities, Hank Huang, to transform Ta Ching Securities into a more people-centric and contemporary entity—Good Finance. In 2020, he joined the team in the role of Chief Brand Officer.

|Further Reading|

FQ+ Animated Video Series

JL DESIGN’s values remain consistent throughout: “Ask the right question, back to basic: genuinely listen to clients, understand their needs, address core issues, and provide innovative solutions through interdisciplinary thinking to create value for clients.” Together with the team, Johnason Lo has outlined distinctive cultural values—Be Daring, Initiative, Teamwork, Empathy, Honest, Humble, FXXX OK (No Compromise). Most importantly—Enjoy the Process. “I want everyone to enjoy the process of creative stimulation rather than being confined to a style,” emphasized Johnason Lo.

Every time he takes on a project, Johnason Lo asks the team to contemplate deeply, “What conversations can design bring to the audience? What impact can it create?” Looking across the spectrum, whether it’s frontline brands from the era of the Four Asian Tigers or globally unparalleled industries of hidden champions, behind these successful enterprises lies much more to be expounded upon regarding culture and aesthetics. “We hope to leverage the power of design to help businesses internalize values, tell their stories effectively, and work with them to find their own identity, allowing them to stand before the world with a clearer image,” expressed Johnason Lo.

The next phase for JL DESIGN is to accompany Taiwanese businesses on a journey. “I don’t just want to discuss Taiwan’s history; I want everyone to see that Taiwan is super cool, an exciting place!” Beyond commercial projects, Johnason Lo’s long-planned Taiwan documentary series will engage with leaders from various industries to explore the Taiwanese style and present the vibrant contemporary face of Taiwan.

“Who are we? What can we do? What can we change?” These were the questions Johnason Lo pondered at the age of 17 when he entered the television industry. Today, armed with these questions, he and a team capable of continuously overcoming challenges continue to expand the new era for Taiwan and the design industry.

|Further Reading|

TSMC 2019 Technology Symposium

TSMC 2018 Technology Symposium

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