Twelve is a London-based multidisciplinary design studio. Founded by graphic designer Shi Yuan and economist Rex Chen in 2009, Twelve operates in and between fields of design, art, spatial practice and social affairs. With a design methodology that emphasises research, analysis and typography, Twelve offers design services that range from print, identity, exhibition and digital applications. The duo produce works for international projects across cultural and commercial sectors including for galleries, exhibitions and companies. We spoke to the designers about their journey to date.
Where are you originally from, and what did you study?
Shi Yuan: I spent my formative years in Foshan, Guangdong and, later, read Graphic Design in Portsmouth and Central Saint Martins (CSM). Rex was born in Lanzhou, and then moved to Guangzhou. He read Economics at London School of Economics and is currently studying Philosophy at University of London.
How did you set up your London studio?
Rex: Shi Yuan used to work full time in another London studio, and we collaborated on and off on several projects during his time at CSM. We enjoyed working together and, subsequently, decided to establish a studio of our own in 2010, when we both finished studying.
Why did you decide to practice in the UK (rather than in China)?
Rex: The culture and art/design resources are unparalleled here in London - both in public and private sectors. We have also enjoyed studying and working here, and it is a privilege to be able to establish a practice in this environment.
Do you see yourselves returning to China (for work purposes) anytime soon?
Rex: Definitely! There are many exciting opportunities there now, and we would love to do more projects in China.
What are you currently working on?
Shi Yuan: Apart from a few commercial projects, our primary focus at the moment is a publishing project that aims to establish a new form of community library. It is still at a primitive, experimental stage, but we are excited about it.
What have been some of the more exciting projects that you have worked on?
Shi Yuan: We did two books for Architecture Studies organised by Southeast University in Nanjing and Architecture Association in London. It was a steep learning curve for us. We found that maintaining the purity of the concept and negotiating with editors, publishers and bureaucrats is an incredibly challenging process. Although the end result might not please everyone, the process does generate new modes of thinking for each of the parties involved.
Where do you hope to be in 3-5 years?
Shi Yuan: To focus on the social aspects of design i.e. how design can contribute to social mobility and equality. It may sound sanctimonious, but it is fundamentally utilitarian. And, actually, we have been exploring different aspects of this subject already.
Rex: In the next few years, we also hope to focus on translating our vision into one or two key projects.