Conversation with Thai designer Kavin Twikoon Part I

Kavin Twikoon is a good college friend of mine who started Time Machine Studio, a Bangkok–based creative and design consultancy. His client rosters include Nestlé, John Robert Powers, Bacardi, and Procter & Gamble. 

Kavin previously co-founded Farmgroup, another successful design studio. He was kind enough to spare me some time to have a conversation with him.  

Yes, it’s easy now [the design process], but overall I think it’s bad for design. The design and inspiration process is so much like instant noodles these days.
— Kavin Twikoon

Mickey: I’ve been meaning to ask you this for the longest time. You’re also extremely passionate and talented in music, but you didn’t pursue a career in that. Why did you choose design over music? 

Kavin: I have always been passionate about art and music since I was a kid. I started to play guitar when I was 14 and wrote my first song eight months after that. Both art and music have one thing in common, they tell stories. After spending years using my art and creative skills to do commercial works, I felt my concept of art got distorted. I guess that’s normal when you’re trying to make a living, but music is too personal for me to sell out like that. That’s why, now I have over 25 private songs that I’ve kept for myself. Playing music is kind of like my personal space.

Mickey: You’ve started a creative and design consultancy before. What’s different about Time Machine Studio?

Kavin: I was 26 when my friend and I started Farmgroup. My passion was more toward art and design. Time Machine is quite different. We help clients tell their story and amplify it though many types of media. Nowadays, I want to create something more successful in terms of communicating people’s stories…with a high level of artistic quality, of course. [laughter]

Mickey: This isn’t your first design studio so just exactly how profitable is a design studio? I mean you keep starting one [laughter].

Kavin: Good enough just to keep you alive and entertained but not enough to get rich. At least, not for the near future. I came to a turning point where I was just about to give up a career in design. But then, a whole bunch of things that I haven’t done came to mind. I figured that I’ll just give a little push and move on so that I’m not going to regret it later in life. With the high demand in digital media and entertainment today, Time Machine has a very good chance to be a successful creative media company.

Mickey: No doubt about it. What’s the funniest story that you can share as part of owning a design studio? For example, did anyone accidentally send the wrong file to a client?

Kavin: You know what? Sending the wrong file to the wrong client is bad, but sending a wrong file to the right client is much worse. It was a nightmare because that actually happened! The funniest moment that I won’t forget has to be our company’s New Year’s trip to Laos. Most of our designers got very drunk, and we were in the middle of nowhere, but somehow we managed to find our way back to the hotel. To this day, we still don’t know how! [laughter] The last thing I remembered was that I slept on the floor next to the “outdoor barber” in Laos. There are a lot of funny stories, too many to share. 

Mickey: How big is the design community in Bangkok? Have you ever had to compete with friends for a contract? Was it weird or were you guys strictly professional?

Kavin: Design community in Bangkok is quite small, this is if you only consider registered companies. We run into each other from time to time. We don’t really want to compete against bigger companies, especially the ones we respect and know personally. However, the pitching candidates stay anonymous sometimes.  We also have so many freelance artist & designer scatter everywhere. They still prefer being freelance for many different reasons.

Mickey: You’ve been doing creative work since you graduated college but at what point in your career did know that this was it? That this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? 

Kavin: To be honest, I don’t know if I’m going to do this for a rest of my life. One thing I’m sure of is that I’ll always do things my own way, in whatever field I find myself in. Let’s say if I happened to own a restaurant, you are guaranteed to get a new experience from my restaurant. I’m more focused on what I am than what I do. 

Mickey: Woah. That’s deep [laughter]. Okay, so what’s the coolest project that you’re proud of?

Kavin: All of my experimental project. Pretty much the projects without client or judge. [laughter]

Mickey: With the advancement in technology like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, etc, do you think design work has gotten easier or harder for design studios? 

Kavin: It’s easier in terms of how you get things done, but many projects ended up being bland and flavorless. You know people have started to get back into collecting vinyls even when there’s a shitload of free music out there. You want to know why? Because it has more story in it. People miss those day when they hang out at a music store all day and having a conversation about the new rock band in town. You actually know who designed the cover and who produced that particular album. You get the idea? You should see how most designers work now. They don’t even share their experiences anymore. Perhaps they don’t have enough interesting stories to tell. People get so lazy these days. I admit that I’m getting lazy too. It’s so easy to find “reference” for your design these days. Thanks to sites like Pinterest, we don’t have to travel all over the world to find inspiration any more. Yes, it’s easy now, but overall I think it’s bad for design. The design and inspiration process is so much like instant noodles these days. However, one of the positive sides of advance technology is that it allows you to translate your imagination into your works seamlessly. That’s a good thing. People just need to be better at actually creating something new and original. 

Mickey: Speaking of which, what’s your competitive advantage over other creative and design consultancies in Bangkok?  

Kavin: I always offer more solutions than necessary. I know that clients come to me because they need help. I create contents that fits their context. I’m also a very honest person. Too honest most of the time! [laughter] But seriously, I won’t suggest anything if I know for sure that it’s not going to work, even if that means they would’ve had to pay me extra. See my problem? [laughter]

Mickey: [laughter] That is a problem! What’s more important in running a design studio then? Being business savvy or being creative?

Kavin: I would say both. Most designers don’t take business seriously, that is until they have their own company. We always begin our career with “let my work speaks for itself” attitude. But in reality, clients will judge you based on the famous customers you had in the past, unless your work won a prestigious award. Anything that help boost their sales dramatically, that’s all clients usually care about. Having a good reputation is like having a platinum credit card in this industry. You need to balance these two skills. The great project that will take your portfolio to the next level always start from a very modest budget. It might be good during your start-up phase, where you’re trying to establish a portfolio, but if you dedicate too much time to it, you might end up losing your business. You need to be both business savvy and creative. That’s part of the job.  

Part II of this conversation will be posted tomorrow.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can check out more of Kavin and his work at Time Machine Studio.