‘Being remote-first means we get to work with people from all around the world’ | Interview with Ade Chong


Ade Chong

Ade Chong is a big believer in being challenged and being scared. “Only when I’m uncomfortable,” she says, “do I know I’m really learning something new and trying things I’ve never tried before.”

She extends this philosophy, not only to herself as a designer, but also to the clients she works with: “You shouldn’t just try to blend into what currently exists. You need to stand out."

In this interview, the award-winning creative director of Studio Chong will discuss how her collective business model has proven a fertile ground for imagination and forward-thinking; how keeping small doesn't mean lack of ambition; how agile and remote means borderless creative freedom; how making brave choices and challenging the norm makes you stand out; the transformative impact on the work of mixing cultures and experiences, and the role of happiness in the workplace, advocating for diversity, gender and generation balance, sustainability, community, and creativity as defining elements shaping the future of our industry.

The value of staying small

Founded in 2019, Studio Chong has delivered striking campaigns for clients as diverse as The Public Spirit, Known Source, Havana Club, McMiller Toys, Google, London Northwestern Railways and Virgin.

Such work has led Ade to become a leading voice in contemporary design, a status confirmed when invited to talk at Brand New earlier this year. “Being invited to that stage is very validating,” she says. “It felt like it put us on the map of the design world”.

It is surprising then when she says of Studio Chong: “I don’t have big ambitions to grow it”.

“Growing an agency is not for everyone,” she says. “It is not the only route you can take. It’s fine if you want to stay small and find joy in the work and be close to it. That doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious. It’s just another way to find happiness.”

Happiness - finding joy and satisfaction in your work, and delivering excellent work for clients - is the “ultimate goal” for Ade, and derives from her experience and willingness to look seriously at challenges within the design industry.

For Ade, one of the main issues is free pitching. “We have a strict no free pitching policy at our studio,” she says. “When you do work for free, you don't truly collaborate with clients, the cost has to come out of someone’s pocket and that affects your ability to pay your team fairly. The thing that upsets me so much is that the junior designers’ salary when I was starting out is still the junior designers’ salary today.”

Ade also cites burnout, overworked employees, designers not feeling creatively challenged, and lack of diversity as issues needing urgent addressing. Separate to that is the problem of clients not understanding the value of branding.

“Every agency I’ve talked to has to struggle to educate clients on the value of branding,” says Ade. “They don’t understand the identity and fabric you create around branding, and the feeling that creates for the consumer that makes them go ‘This is a product I want to buy’.”

A different kind of studio

Such experiences underpin much of the ethos of Studio Chong, and Studio Chong is different from many other design agencies, in being an intentionally small, remote-first, collective. As a designer of note and studio founder, Ade is in a leadership position, with valuable insights into how to create a productive studio leading to better design.

Being a remote-first studio allows for a greater potential client base - and a more diverse one, as diversity drives innovation.

“Just telling people we are remote-first means there is no barrier to clients coming to us,” she says. “When you are location based, it’s mostly clients from that area coming to you. Being remote-first means we get to work with people from all around the world, so really cool collaborations happen. I’m a strong believer that the mixing of culture and people’s experiences is where exciting things happen, and the remote-first model works towards that.”

A collective studio, as opposed to a traditionally modelled one, is cheaper to run, and assures that the client is getting the best people to do the job.

“We don’t have any overheads, we don’t have an office space we have to pay for,” says Ade. “Running as a collective model, we get to bring in people with different experiences. It means we can plug in a team for a specific client and project that a particular team will be best at.”

For Ade, leadership also means understanding employees needs, and how being flexible with employees results in better productivity.

“I always go back to happiness being important,” she says. “I’ve been through those battles, I know the experience of rising up in the industry and what has been hard about that. That has translated to us having flexible work hours. If someone is a mum and they only want to work half-days at a time, why not? That’s fine! It’s just a scheduling thing that’s easy to solve.”

Challenging the client

When it comes to client relationships, Studio Chong respects “their collaborative input into the project and we want them to be collaborators too.”

As the Studio Chong website says, collaboration with clients is about helping consumer brands “to laser focus, challenge the normal”. That sometimes means designers and clients needing to feel a bit scared.

“We always try to push and challenge our clients to be bold, to stand out,” she says. “I want clients to know that if they are coming to us, they’re not coming to just create this idea they have in their heads, they are coming to us to be pushed.”


Work by Studio Chong always has a sense of fun, colour and a lively spirit, but shot through with a strong social consciousness. With the climate crisis, the need to design with sustainability and the circular economy in mind is highly pressing.

“With sustainability, the more people that stand behind it the better it is for the earth, so it’s important to have that conversation with your clients,” says Ade, although she acknowledges the difficulties designers face in trying to convince clients to go Green.

“We’ve had clients and asked them about sustainability, and suggested things they can improve, like packaging, and often they have come back and said, ‘We can’t afford it’. For some things, there are barriers there,” she says. “Designers are part of a tool to help brands get to the end process, so we are not the end all answer to it, but I certainly think pushing these conversations will, in the long term, slowly shift things forward.”

Find out more about Ade Chong.

Learn more about her approach to leading her business at the Design Leaders Conference 2024.

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