Rich Tu was in the Philippines for Adobo Design Week. As he sat in one of the many conference rooms of Canton Road found in the Shangri-la Hotel at the Fort, one of the constant phrases I’ve heard Rich say here and throughout his short stay in the country was how great it was to be back; and rightly so: the last time Rich stepped into his motherland was when he was ten years old. For the first time in a long time, the multi-awarded creative set foot on familiar land that perhaps didn’t feel familiar at all.
“I haven’t been back to the Philippines since I was 10 years old. It’s an amazing experience for me, it feels like a homecoming. It feels special. The amazing thing about it is that I’m able to come home and feel like I’m giving back and feel like I’m a part of a conversation.”
Rich grew up in New Jersey and has spent most of his time in the busy corners of New York City. As soon as he finished the School of Visual Arts’ Illustration as Visual Essay program, he quickly built a portfolio geared towards illustration and showed it to multiple places around the area. When asked of his beginnings in his creative career, Rich says, “Illustration for me was a way to really the conduit for my initial thoughts about creativity cause I’m a very visual thinker and also I like the immediacy of that and also the level of control. I wanted to be an editorial illustrator, (so I) pursued a portfolio that would be geared towards illustration then I showed it around to a lot of different places. I ended up getting published in the New York Times newspaper.“
It was a big moment for him. Soon after, Rich would be receiving love calls from brands and advertising agencies that would help him pursue a lot a career in the creative industry. Thanks to his distinct body of work, Rich was able to collaborate with big brands including The New Yorker, Business Week, Nike, Coca Cola, Bombay Sapphire, G-Shock, and Converse, to name a few. In 2010, he received the highly-coveted Young Guns award from the Art Directors Club, which recognizes the world’s best creatives under the age of 30. Currently, Rich is one of the Board of Directors for AIGA New York, one of the largest community organizations for design practitioners and advocates, as well as a represented artist of Sunday Afternoon.
The multi-awarded artist was recently promoted as the Vice President for Digital Design at Viacom, which oversees big names including MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo. Previously, Rich was the Vice President for Design of MTV with a mission to rebrand the legendary channel’s various programs, including Springbreak, TRL and Nick Canon’s Wild ‘N Out.
On taking on the new role, Rich says, “I’m incredibly excited about my new role. I see it as a learning experience, and an opportunity to grow my skillset alongside smart and talented people. I love when a creative process also includes immediate gratification, so this feels like the perfect marriage.”
Creative with a cause
With Rich having numerous accolades and collaborations under his belt, I do admit I’m envious just thinking about the creative environment where Rich surrounds himself. It must be nice to be in a room full of the most talented, unique minds — a treasure chest for ideas and energy just waiting for an opportunity to be shared and exhausted. It’s thanks to these creatives we enjoy the little things in our day today lives: the latest shoe from your favorite brand, your phone wallpaper, the snazzy pattern of your new top. They may not seem like much, but when accumulated, one can say each person’s life is touched by design — and these designs more often than not, reflect a lot about the artists themselves. And yet, we know so little about them.
Just like any career pursued, the journey towards a creative career has its own set of trials. Being a Filipino-American, Rich embraced the diversity that came along with the label, which has lead him to create First Generation Burden, a podcast on immigrants and the children of immigrants, with a focus on those in the creative industry.
“A universal thought among immigrants, not just in The States but everywhere, is that they have chosen to be in a place, and they want to be there, and that they love being there. But sometimes that place doesn’t love them back. So I wanted to show what immigrant excellence was not just for my fellow Filipinos but also for people from everywhere- people from Lebanon, people from India, people from England, people from Korea- I want to show what the universality was amongst all those creatives regardless of what the job is, or what the skillset is, or what the nation of origin is. None of us are really truly alone, I just want us to feel like we are more together.”
The episodes are rich in conversations from the trials and triumphs in the guests’ journey — both humorous and inspiring — to what it means to represent one’s self and culture in the creative industry. The project speaks volumes of Rich’s roots and is a reflection of his personal experience as an immigrant himself.
When asked about what good design means to him, Rich ends with this: “Something I’ve realized in conversations with different creatives all over the world is that we don’t speak the same language, literally- and also creatively we don’t speak the same language. So I think good design is about communication and how you can speak to your audience and also if you are working with different individuals, how are you creating a conduit for communication either from yourself, from the team to another person.”
A few days after my interview with Rich, I snuck into the corners of my free time to listen to a couple of episodes from his podcast and not surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s conversations like these that recognize a voice on an underserved community that deserves to be heard and appreciated.
For more information about the artist, check out his website: https://richtu.com/