Hubert Burda Media

Antonia Li and Ruth Chao shake up Hong Kong's design scene

The duo is mixing things up with their graphic design firm Indicube. They tell us what makes them tick.

Ruth Chao and Antonia Li. Photo: Until Chan
Ruth Chao and Antonia Li. Photo: Until Chan

“We met each other in high school, during design and technology class,” Antonia Li says, glancing at her business partner, Ruth Chao. “We knew each other before teenage years before make-up, before all of that.”

Fast-forward more than a decade, and a lot seems to have changed for Li and Chao. They’ve both left high school, graduated from university and – as regulars on the society circuit – have gained more than a passing familiarity with make-up. But in some ways, Li and Chao are still those two girls sitting at the back of the design and technology lab.

For a start, the two are still best friends. And on top of that, they’re now co-founders of Indicube,  graphic-design firm that in just two years has amassed a list of clients including La Prairie, Clé de Peau Beauté, New World Development, Tod’s, Lane Crawford and The Hong Kong Jockey Club, among others.

“I don’t remember exactly how we came to the decision to set up Indicube,” Chao muses. “But we talk about design a lot and I remember us talking about what we were seeing around us in Hong Kong, and the graphics we saw here versus the graphics we saw in other cities. I remember one specific conversation where we were talking about 7-Eleven in Japan, how its everyday consumer goods are so well sculpted and designed. Of course some of the graphics here are very nice, but we thought there was still room for improvement.”

Before they founded Indicube, Li was working in marketing and group corporate affairs for health and beauty chain Watsons. Chao, meanwhile, was working as a graphic designer at I.T, Lane Crawford and Tigergate (a subsidiary of the Lionsgate film studio), as well as on projects with film director William Chang Suk Ping. So with Li’s business know-how and Chao’s creative ideas, they were in the perfect position to pair up and launch their own company.

At Indicube, Li and Chao work on everything from graphic design to brand identity to website and app development, but the duo do have an overarching philosophy that links all their projects. “There are two to three things,” Chao says. “The first is to hold ourselves to the very top standards. This isn’t finance and nobody’s going to tell us whether we’re in the red or green or right or wrong, so I have to constantly ask myself, ‘Is this really good?’ The second one is combining form and function. Things should look nice and work well – that’s very, very important.”

“Another of our values is efficiency,” Li adds. “Our turnover time is quick and in less than two years we’ve done quite a few projects, which we’ve delivered quickly for clients. In Hong Kong, efficiency is definitely something that has to be prioritised.”

When we meet, the duo has just wrapped up a campaign for the MGM Macau, which was hosting an exhibition of sculptures by Edgar Degas sculptures as part of Le French May. “So we provided the creative direction for the photo shoot, which featured 10 key opinion leaders re-enacting the poses of the Degas sculptures,” Chao explains. This involved them persuading casino magnate Pansy Ho to pose like a ballerina, getting musician and actor Hanjin Tan to perfect his thousand-metre stare and cajoling Le French May CEO Julien-Loïc Garin into imitating one of Degas’ running women.

Pansy Ho posing for the campaign promoting MGM Macau's exhibition of Degas sculptures

Pansy Ho posing for the campaign promoting MGM Macau's exhibition of Degas sculptures

They’re also mid-way through one of their seasonal campaigns for beauty brand Estée Lauder. “We do campaigns for Estée Lauder every two to three months,” Li reveals. “So starting from last year in September there were these VIP campaigns, then in December there was one to promote Christmas, then there platforms and a lot of different locations.”was one for spring, and there are upcoming ones to promote several events. Our most recent campaign for them was in Hong Kong and China and was adapted for their in-store counters, their mobile platforms and a lot of different locations.”

The work created for Estée Lauder is a prime example of how the pair can work with a company that has a highly defined image to execute visual work that, while on brand, also retains that signature Indicube style. One of the many things that attracts clients to Indicube is the studio’s younger, fresher outlook. “We rebranded Lily & Bloom’s logo,” Chao says. “They wanted a younger element to the brand, so we redid their logo and their menus. We also did the Tod’s Band campaign for Tod’s [which brought together current influencers]. We did the creative direction for the shoot and the styling. The brief was for it to be very young and chic.”

Li and Chao also worked on all the graphics for last year’s Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design ball, meaning that they created the logo, the invites, the auction catalogue and even the signs at the event, which they say was one of their favourite projects. “We were both on the committee and Ruth was the director of graphics, so it felt amazing to be giving back to the creative communities,” Li recalls. “And it was a fun night as well!”

Antonia Li and Ruth Chao behind the scenes with Pansy Ho

Ruth Chao and Antonia Li behind the scenes with Pansy Ho

And in between all of this, Li and Chao are also working on rebranding Indicube’s own website. “We want to improve it because we allocated less time to it last year – all our time was dedicated to clients,” Chao explains. “We didn’t really focus on ourselves, so it’s the right time to do it this year.”

Their hard work has been getting Indicube plenty of attention. Chao was recently presented with an award at Perspective’s 40 Under 40 ceremony and the firm is in the running for several other honours. But while they wait to hear what they’ve won next, Li and Chao are busy mapping out the next steps for the studio.

“Indicube is something that we both care deeply about – the business, our clients and the people who support it,” Chao says. “So we do have big plans, but we don’t want to jinx them. You’re just going to have to wait and see what’s next.”