BODW: Henry Chu

05 december 2013 / design / words christopher dewolf

One of Hong Kong’s top web designers and new media artists prepares to speak at this year’s Business of Design Week.


Henry Chu, founder of Pill & Pillow


Henry Chu has a motto. “Always think,” says the baby-faced, bespectacled founder of Pill & Pillow , a Hong Kong-based new media agency. “Designers are not accountants. Our role is to better the world by thinking about how to do things differently. We are the connection between people’s behavior, emotions and business objectives.”


Nike HK – MvsW 2012


Even Chu’s upcoming talk at the Business of Design Week Forum is a kind of design project: “I always start a job by thinking, can I redesign it? It’s the same with a talk.” After he was invited to deliver a presentation during BODW’s communication design session, Chu began researching other talks given by designers and realized they could be split into two categories: the portfolio talk, which introduces the audience to a designer’s work but runs the risk of being dull, and the “insightful” talk, which draws from the designer’s experience to deliver a message about the medium.


M+ Matter 2012


“Our work is really hard to describe, so I want to do something in between,” says Chu. That’s because Chu falls somewhere between web designer and new media artist. He is Hong Kong’s go-to guy for an innovative web experience, currently working on websites for PMQ, a new design hub that will open next year, and a virtual exhibition on neon signs for visual culture museum M+. But he also produces more conceptual work, like Squiggle, an iPad music instrument that was exhibited at MoMA in 2011, and or Painted Face, a 2012 iPad app made with composer Samson Young that allowed users to manipulate the musical structure of a Cantonese opera. “I like things that don’t have fixed visuals,” says Chu.


Squiggle 2010


That extends to Chu’s commercial web design work, but only to a point. “Websites now are more linear, with more narrative content,” he says. Sites need to be responsive, so they can be viewed on many different devices without having to switch between a desktop or mobile version, and the increasing popularity of phones and tablets means users prefer scrolling, rather than having to switch between pages. That means simplicity is more important than ever. “If you open Facebook it will lead to 10 stories you want to read,” says Chu. “There’s no room for exploration – people want to get straight to what they are looking for. We can’t go against user behavior. But we still need to give them a surprise.”


Forgotten War 2006


The surprises are most apparent in Chu’s work for educational and non-profit clients, like the website for City University’s School of Creative Media , whose dynamic background brings to mind the sharp angles of the school’s Daniel Libeskind-designed building, and M+ Matters , a lively yet minimalist site that collects papers from a symposium on museum-building.


ROCCO Design Architects 2013


Some of Chu’s most successful projects are done in collaboration with other designers; for the PMQ, he is working with architect/designer/artist Stanley Wong, also known as Anothermountainman . “My background is not as a designer, so working with other designers is the fastest way to learn,” he says. “I believe design should be simple and functional, but I like to work with designer that have other beliefs, like maybe design should be entertaining. You need to know when to give up something and when to retain it.”


Henry Chu will speak at the BODW Forum on Friday, December 6. See for more information.

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