A Southeast Asian Design Convergence with Out of Office

On the 28th of October, Singapore-based design studio, Foreign Policy, and Jakarta-based media, MANUAL Jakarta, opened their two-day design event, Out of Office (OOO). The weekend was chockfull of talks and portfolio reviews with a wide range of speakers from the design realm and beyond. Held at Brickhall Fatmawati, Jakarta, the event kicked off with opening remarks from Yah-leng Yu, Creative Director of Foreign Policy, and Hadi Ismanto, founder and CEO of MANUAL.

When asked what sparked the event to fruition, Yah-leng mentioned how it had always been her interest to bring communities. She noted Southeast Asia’s immense potential yet it seemed to remain under the radar. “I guess as a design person, I love to make sure that we are not hidden anymore,” she explained. Over the pandemic period, Foreign Policy had held online talk events. As covid restrictions loosened, she was keen to organize an offline event.

When choosing where to hold the event, Yah-leng elaborated why Jakarta was the place to be. “I feel like during COVID, many cities were quiet [in regards to] the creative scene, but I found that Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia were really going up and actually booming. I want to bring these voices, sharing perspectives from other parts of the world to Indonesia because there might be people who are not accessible. Designers who they may have seen on Instagram or design blogs but nothing like a real, in-person talk or sharing session.” Yah-leng was keen to invite MANUAL as a local partner on the ground because, “We thought ‘who better to do this event with than MANUAL, right?’ Because, without a good partner, we wouldn’t be able to do it ourselves and collaboration is what we do at Foreign Policy. So, that was really key.”

“Of course, we were very thrilled,” Hadi began, as he explained how he received that fateful Instagram DM from Yah-leng. Hadi explained that many may forget that when MANUAL was first established, they began with the vision of challenging and raising the standards of the industry. “This includes design as well. Because design is part of media, it’s part of the art of communication. We see [OOO] as a platform that we think can really, really help, not only the designers, but also the industry and the ecosystem to be even more alive and even more collaborative.” He also mentions that the event involved almost 20 brands from both Indonesia and Singapore as part of the COPPP market, as well as sponsors and partners, including Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) of which Yah-leng is a representative. “[This is] putting Indonesia on the map thanks to Foreign Policy’s connections and privileges,” Hadi reiterated.


The two parties coordinated the preparations of the event together through Zoom meetings in each of their respective cities. “We trusted each other more than one hundred percent,” Yah-leng said. In terms of the curation of keynote speakers, Yah-leng began the process by contacting her friends and colleagues. She was also able to rope in several design figures she was less than familiar with. On the other hand, although MANUAL has handled events before, none were at such a scale nor revolving around a relatively niche subject. MANUAL’s main challenge as a local partner is handling everything on the ground including finding sponsors, vendors, collaborators, as well as F&B.

The event boasted an impressive set of speakers including Eric Widjaja, Danis Sie, Klara Troost, Yehwan Song, Connor Campbell, and more. “The mix, for us, is key, because the idea is really to kickstart in Southeast Asia first..and then we can go global, but now we want to focus on Asia,” she elaborated. Yah-leng noted how although the selection of speakers include practitioners from Europe and America, she wanted to stress the importance of having speakers from the region and specifically from Indonesia itself. ”We can’t just look at the western world, we have our own gems! We have to identify them–they’re our heroes too.”

To Hadi, the response to the event has been humbling as he is aware that the Foreign Policy and MANUAL teams had been considerably ambitious, especially considering that the event is ticketed at their price point. “We didn’t want it to be like another community event. I mean for MANUAL, in the past 10 years, the design industry has been very much underappreciated. So, we want to show the world, show the industry and the people of Indonesia as well, that design is worth being proud of,” Hadi elaborated. Going forward, both Yah-leng and Hadi are eager for OOO to be held annually to further enrich the design realm.

About the Author

Kireina Masri

Kireina Masri has had her nose stuck in a book since she could remember. Majoring in Illustration, she now writes, in both English and Indonesian, of all things visual—pouring her love of the arts into the written word. She aspires to be her neighborhood's quirky cat lady in her later years.