by

Comfort Works

2021-09-02

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Meet Kenny Thian, our head of design

Kenny is our go-to guy for all things design… and development (surprise!). With a background in IT and multimedia design, Kenny has truly worn many, many hats for Comfort Works since the early days. 

He now leads Design, our biggest department comprising UI/UX, 3D modelling and branding. When he’s not in calls catching up with his team, Kenny’s reviewing photography set designs for the latest product launch or dissecting the website’s latest UI prototype.

We caught up with Kenny to learn about how he has mastered a range of skills over his nine (and counting) years at Comfort Works. He’s adapted to all the changes the company has gone through, from from startup to scale-up, and has developed a range of impressive skills along the way.

How did you get started at Comfort Works?

Kenny: Henry, the CEO, and I met through mutual friends in my college days in Australia. We would bump into each other at bars. Somehow, we just clicked over movies and cinematography which led us to become good friends over the years. 

A few years later, I had just left my first job and I was sitting at a bar (what’s new?). Henry had just returned to Australia after setting up a production site in Shenzhen for Comfort Works. Comfort Works was probably about two or three years old then; still very fresh.

He knew I was available. And seeing how my background was in both IT and multimedia design, he pitched the idea of getting me to come onboard and oversee the new website design and development. 

I was really interested in e-commerce back then because I was looking to launch my own clothing label and thought this was the perfect opportunity to learn. So, that didn’t take too much convincing! 

To be honest, I was brought on for just one project. The plan was to launch the new website and bounce to start my own business. Now the running joke is that nine years later, that “project” of mine is still ongoing…

Henry and Kenny hanging out in Shenzhen

You have quite a wide range of experiences that led you to become the company’s Head of Design. How did those experiences shape the designer in you today?

Kenny: I guess you can say the accumulation of odd past job experiences gave me the skills I need today. 

It started when I was in my diploma years. My first job was digitalising physical books for schools, so I learnt simple web page designing. I later graduated in Australia where I was working as a motion graphics editor for four days a week at an architectural firm, so I learnt 3D design from there. On Fridays and weekends, I would work as a floor staff at a skate shop – probably one of my favourite jobs. I got to learn about design trends, customer service, and generally how retail works: how products are distributed, bought, and sold. 

Then here’s a fun fact: on alternate weekends, I was a personal assistant for an owner of a dry cleaning company. I lasted there for a good seven or eight years, until I joined Comfort Works.

When I started at Comfort Works, I learnt to be organised and I stepped up my Excel sheet game. Although tedious back then, it was probably one of the most practical and widely applicable skills I gained. I also partnered with a friend to approach businesses. We helped develop promotional video shoots for them.

Kenny’s work setup in the early days of Comfort Works, as the only designer

Among all the skills you mastered, were there any that had you stumped?

Kenny: I’m not a pro when it comes to 3D modelling. Working at that said architectural firm actually gave me exposure to 3D modelling. I would watch my colleagues using 3D programmes and they were kind enough to let me fiddle around with it. 

The great thing about the role was the planning of video shoots. I had to incorporate 3D elements into videos so I got to learn how to do 3D composition, which helped me pick up skills like set design, movement, and lighting. This gave me the knowledge to create video and photo shoots for all of Comfort Works’ campaigns for sure.

I only understood the basics of 3D modelling back then. It’s only after I joined Comfort Works that I had to do it on my own. We used to outsource our 3D model creations to a different company. The outcome wasn’t so great, so I taught myself 3D modelling through YouTube and started fixing each one myself. It was not a pleasant job. And, since then, we’ve gotten our own in-house team to set the standards for our 3D models.

Kenny (far right) with the branding team in 2018

It’s almost as if you gained a boy scout badge in each of your previous roles. What “badges” do you think you’ve gained here?

Kenny: I’ve levelled up in my 3D modelling skills, so I’d definitely award that badge to myself. 

The other thing I picked up over the years is definitely the “how to run a business” badge, which is probably the greatest experience anyone could gain. I was exposed to subjects like cashflow management, product development, and, most importantly, people management. Being in Comfort Works from the start, staying on for so long definitely gave me that privilege to witness how an organisation is built from the ground up.

There’s a lot more to explore, for sure. I may have become better in a lot of technical skills and have gained more insight on business strategy. But, leading a department with 3 sub-units and coaching every individual team member is something I’m trying to juggle each day.

What challenges are you facing now, adapting to the scale-up stage that Comfort Works is in?

Kenny: Scaling up the business also means expanding the team. There’s so much more to work on in order to stay on top of the game and to keep innovating. 

You have to see new ways of working when you grow from a four-person team to now a 60-person company. What worked before may not work now. 

So I ask myself, “How can I do things differently?” The organisation has definitely gotten more complex in structure with bigger departments and more cross-functional teams. These days, what keeps me on my toes is really building the dream team. The challenge is definitely hiring the right people and learning the ropes of a people manager for my team to be successful.

What aspects of design that you find most fulfilling, after experiencing almost all of them over the course of your entire career? Do you think you’ve found your voice in design?

Kenny: Being multifaceted has always been my nature. So, I can’t really name one. 

I don’t think I’ll ever stop experimenting, really. My background in multimedia design has led me to appreciate every aspect of it; merging different disciplines even. I would call myself a multi-disciplinary designer – a product-related one who’s into manufacturing and prototyping.

2012 Kenny, before wearing multiple hats that led him to become Comfort Works’ Head of Design

What’s one thing your younger self would have done differently 9 years ago?

Kenny: Wow, I never really thought of that. I guess I would probably tell my younger self to try more things than I already have

I’ve had a go at all kinds of roles. But, to me, it’s never really enough. I’m always looking out to see how I can push the boundaries even more. That said, travel. I definitely would have travelled much more – going beyond physical boundaries to learn.