Darrel Best: fuelling the creative side of Hong Kong

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Darrel Best is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Infrastructure – a creativee agency based in Hong Kong, offering solutions to help businesses in unique brand curation.

He made a decision to call Hong Kong home some 12 years ago and launched Infrastructure with his partner Ross Urwin to uplift the aesthetic appeal of the city through his creative works.

Working in a city best known for its speed and efficiency Darrel shared with Advance how he’s racing against time and budget to enliven the city landscape through articulating diversity and creativity.

What made you move to Hong Kong?

I moved to Hong Kong at the end of 2007. I had been in London for just under 10 years running my own product development company and working for a design practice, Kelly Hoppen Interiors, and craved the Antipodean sunshine. I decided to venture to Sydney to meet with a few recruitment agencies and potential employers to look into the possibility of moving back to Australia. On the return sector of the journey I stopped by Hong Kong for a week with my partner to explore the city and immediately got a sense of the potential, the geographical position in a global context (14 hours travel to the UK and 9 hours home) and the ease of life. My partner was offered a creative director role at Lane Crawford during the trip and that sealed the deal.

We have now been in Hong Kong for 12 years and are grateful for our time here and the opportunities that Hong Kong has afforded us both professionally and personally.

What's the most rewarding and not so interesting part of your job?

Our agency, Infrastructure, offers multi-disciplinary creative services that allow us to explore a world of design diversity. The ability to be able to participate in the development and execution of creative expression across various industries, modalities, materials and to bring ideas to fruition is incredibly fulfilling.  At any point we are designing commercial interiors, developing large scale event programs, creating new product lines and enhancing retail experiences. There is a common thread connecting all services, the creation of unique end-user experiences.

There is so much joy in generating ideas and seeing the physical manifestation of a completed project. The only challenging elements are budget and time. Over the last 10 years we have witnessed a seismic economic/ financial shift and the creative industries are always amongst the first to be affected. However, some clients still expect a big budget production for minimal investment. On the one hand this makes us more nimble, focused and thrifty with our design process, on the other it limits risk and hinders the exploration of innovation.

Respect for considered design and the time it takes to generate fresh ideas suffers a little in the region, especially in Hong Kong. There is always immense sensitivity to delivering projects at lightning speed because of financial factors, commercial real estate prices, etc. Everyone wants everything completed yesterday.

How would you describe Hong Kong's creative industries?

I have had the pleasure of being in Hong Kong to witness the re-development and resurgence of an indigenous creative identity. We arrived in Hong Kong a decade after the handover of sovereignty [from Britain to China] and at that time the development of a new national identity for Hong Kong was in its infancy. Over the last 12 years Hong Kong’s creative industries and the mechanisms, both private and government that have supported them, have gone from strength to strength. This transition touches everything in the realm of the arts and design.

What does it take to create an environment that encourages creativity?

I think it begins with the bringing together of receptive minds. Regardless of culture, education or socio-economic background we all have a response to design and a desire to create. It just takes awareness of that desire. Over the years my colleagues and team members have come from diverse fields of education and employment but one thing that has united everyone, vision. To encourage that vision to create we try and expose our team to as much of the design world or world at large as possible.You can’t create in a vacuum. We also approach each project as a collective, everyone has a voice and the ability to contribute in the development dialogue. 

When did you know you wanted to work in the create industry? 

My connection to creativity started before I was even aware of the concept itself. From the moment I could hold things I started to build, shape and create objects. I grew up in a single parent family in the 70’s and 80’s so cash was always tight, and we were encouraged to make, recycle and repurpose everything available to us. This touched on everything from making our own clothes to building bikes, skateboards and first cars out of salvage items. My mother recognized at an early age I had a passion for aesthetic outcome and encouraged me whereever possible to take ownership of anything design related, whether it was the interior design of our house and the procurement of household items, to the planning and designing of family events. However, I didn’t have the self-confidence or the exposure to the industry until my mid-20’s. It was only then that a couple of great mentors encouraged me to study design and I truly saw the possibilities of work opportunities available and developed a sense of confidence in my capabilities.

What do you miss most about Australia?

All of the cliché things. The quality of light (you will only understand this if you have experienced it first hand), the sense of space, the ocean, the bushland, delicious local produce, the simplicity and quality of life and the Australian approach to every moment of every day.

Luckily, I get back to Byron Shire 6 – 10 weeks a year to absorb these things and they form the perfect counterbalance to the frenetic life in Hong Kong. I have the best of both worlds.