Growing up seeing my parents open restaurants throughout the Midwest, I always knew that I wanted to run my own business someday. For my parents, the underlying goal was serving good American-style Chinese food; for me, it has always been solving problems with conceptual design and engineering precision. My career path was a no brainer, but over time my reasons for wanting to run my own design firm began to change.

The more time I spent working at and observing large agencies, the more I wanted to open a shop that would be different. Different from the inefficiencies of layers of traditional agencies. More time in front of the clients. More emphasis on solving problems with the right solutions, rather than just doing formulaic work. Creating work that really matters - that connects, makes an impact, and is useful - rather than just creating trendy designs.

Two studios later, I’ve learned that my instincts for wanting to be a business owner were spot-on, though not entirely for reasons I expected at the start. Running an agency is not an easy task, but it’s challenging in all the best ways possible. Looking back, I’ve realized my motivation for opening States of Matter stemmed more than anything from the following desires:

To Challenge Myself

All businesses hire agencies for the same reason: to solve a problem using design. Unfortunately, many agencies and designers end up taking the easy road when tasked with this challenge. Not necessarily because they want to - they’re just not pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones or looking at the bigger picture.

the best work is never predictable. It’s disruptive, maybe even a bit uncomfortable.

I don’t want to take the easy road. I don’t want to be complacent, predictable, or formulaic. I want to take risks and constantly push the envelope with our work. After all, the best work is never predictable. It’s disruptive, unexpected, maybe even a bit uncomfortable. But it makes an impact because it works. As a business owner, I can choose my challenges. I can choose my clients. And I can choose the level of work I want to create with my team. I never want to become complacent, and having a stake in my business keeps me constantly in-shape as a designer. I am my toughest critic and my biggest motivator, so having the space to challenge myself to become a better brand builder is extremely important to me.

To Collaborate with Smart Clients

As a designer, I can only do so much for your brand. I can be a great brand builder, but I need you to be a great brand owner. I will match the dedication you have to your brand and will work with you to get to the heart of your problem. I will also be empathetic to your needs, your concerns, and your legacy. But in turn, I expect you to have some skin in the game with your brand. I need you to understand that quality work takes time, costs money, requires mutual respect, and is built on earned trust and collaborative effort; after all, we are only half of the equation. The best clients are those who are passionate about their business and willing to push us to do useful, conceptual work that helps to establish their brand.

To Create a Supportive Team

For my business partner Britt, opening States of Matter was about achieving balance between making a living, doing great work, and staying healthy. These principles have come to define our agency culture, and I couldn’t agree more with Britt that these tenets have made us a better agency. One of the biggest reasons I started this agency was to challenge my team to become a better family. After all, you spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your actual family, so it’s important that you look out for and support one another. Being in business shouldn’t have to mean being cold and non-understanding. It’s not “just business;” it’s personal. It’s extremely personal. My colleagues are real people, and their hard work helps me provide for my own family. Here at States of Matter, we’ve been able to form a strong family unit based on mutual trust, accountability, respect, and empathy.

One thing is for sure: being a business owner is challenging. You pour so much of yourself into your business, so you better hope you create something that lasts. I want to create a company that lasts 50 years, heck - maybe even 100. We’ve only been open for two here at States of Matter, but so long as we continue to challenge ourselves, collaborate with our clients, and be supportive of each other, we should be on the path to great things.

Henry Yiu

Principal & Creative Director

Henry Yiu is the Co-Founder of States of Matter and our Creative Director. His background in mechanical engineering has won him numerous industry awards and informs his disciplined approach. It's his empathy that ultimately sways you.

Filed under: Culture

Tagged with: Culture, Agency Life, Impactful Design