Pillow Talk: Ryan & Shermeen Tan, OuterEdit

Ryan and Shermeen Tan are the kind of people you want as lifelong friends. They’re easygoing but caring, playful but industrious, and hit that sweet spot of cool and dorky (aka they know a little bit about a lot of things). The couple also runs OuterEdit, a creative agency and design studio that helps brands make meaningful matter.

We were lucky enough to visit them and their two cats — Tobiko and Grey — at home one afternoon, where they let us poke around and ask them questions about work, play, design, and of course, cats.

Ryan, you started OuterEdit as a collaborative graphic tee shop in 2011 and now you’re designing public play spaces and organising community-centric art events. Can you share more about your evolution?

Ryan: In the OuterEdit t-shirt days, our approach was primarily to celebrate the hands, faces and craft behind the world of graphic art and design. We organised five-way online collaborations between creatives from all over the world and we used the t-shirt as our canvas.

Eight years later, we are now a creative agency and design studio that helps brands make meaningful matter. We have enjoyed our evolution beyond expressing ourselves on t-shirts to exploring a wide range of creative opportunities with our clients: from brand strategies to graphic design in print, digital, spaces, and brand experiences.

Downstairs Brand Design (Photo: OuterEdit).

2019 Millenia Walk Design Play Space Installation (Photo: OuterEdit).

2019 Street of Clans, Bukit Pasoh (Photo: OuterEdit).

At our core, our passion and drive to celebrate creativity and the people behind them remain the same. It is important for us to collaborate whenever we can and to explore fun and unexpected ways to tell genuine stories.

The idea of ‘play’ seems to permeate your projects. Why is play so important in the work you do?

Ryan: The notion of play is at the heart of what we do and how we think! To us, play is about embracing differences, being relaxed, colourful, quirky, and natural. Sometimes the best ideas come when we’re in a state of play.

 We wish for our work to resonate with the same spirit of energy and excitement. However, beyond the sheer thrill, play also has unifying qualities that encourages inclusivity across age, racial, and class boundaries.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to expect people to enjoy our work if we aren’t relaxed or having fun creating them ourselves.

You both live and work together. Do you find it hard to draw the line between your work and personal lives?

Shermeen: For sure — especially when we first started! I had always stayed away from working with my partner because I heard how challenging it could be, but life’s funny that way. It was only after we worked together that we realised we could get married to each other. For us, it was coming to the realisation that you can and want to work through disagreements with the other person to get to a better place — even though you feel like strangling each other at that point in time. [laughs]

We’re better at drawing the line now, but because what we do at work and what we like overlaps significantly, we still end up chatting a lot about creative/design stuff (which sounds like us talking shop to others). While he’s the boss at work —

Ryan: She’s the real boss, actually.

Shermeen: Nah, he is! When we’re back home, we consciously try to press pause on any work issues and try to focus on being a partner to each another instead.

Tell us a little bit about your home.

Ryan: We bought a small, three-room flat in a mature estate, and because it’s our first home together, we intended for it to be the physical representation of our two lives seamlessly blending into one.

Shermeen: I love plants — and am getting better at not killing them — while Ryan nerds out over the cosmos. So, we created the ‘AstroBotanica’ creative direction for our home, which is represented through the colours, textures, lines, curves, lighting, and collectables in our home.

We originally designed our home with empty spaces for us to grow into. Now, two years in, much of that space has been filled with tchotchkes and artworks we have bought together.

You know we love your Tobiko and Grey. They live mostly at home but sometimes also head to the studio! How are they different at home and in the studio?

Shermeen: YES. We love them SO much! [laughs] When they were kittens, they used to climb fearlessly around the studio, but now that they’ve grown up, they give us fewer heart attacks. Well, maybe not Grey. He’s still attracted to the tallest place he can find, be it at home or in the studio. We frequently find him on the top of our studio’s aircon which is at least 3m above ground!

Tobiko sitting on a stool

Tobiko on a stool (Photo: Ryan & Shermeen Tan).

Grey sleeping on a pillow

Grey sleeping (Photo: Ryan & Shermeen Tan).

Tobiko’s very manja in the studio. Our team’s great and they shower her with affectionate massages and pats all day. She always purrs her way through and soaks it up.

Time to play get to know the family!

The one most often found sleeping in…
is Ryan.

Ryan: I’m a night-owl and not a morning person at all.

Shermeen: [laughs] He’s quite the grumpy bear before he gets his morning coffee.

The bed-hogger…
is Tobiko.

Shermeen: Ryan needs to adjust his sleeping positions according to where Tobiko plants herself for the night. She only wants to sleep on Ryan. Maybe he feels like a 5-star hotel and I’m just a 3-star one.

The early riser…
is Sherms.

Ryan: Because plants!

Shermeen: Yes, I wake up early to water them and open the blinds so they get their daily dose of sun. But also because Grey trots in every morning without fail, jumps on the bed, sticks his nose into my ear and lets out his distinctive meow to nudge me up for breakfast. His breakfast.

The most food-motivated…
is Grey.

Ryan: I don’t know how many bags with food have been ripped open and stowed away by Grey. He’s chewed through ziplock bags, torn up canvas tote bags, and broken apart paper bags. We’ve definitely learnt our lessons. All cat food is now kept in Grey-proofed glass jars. [laughs]

Shermeen: He’s like a Ferrari! He might be sleeping one moment, but when he smells food, he goes from 0 to 100 and flies like an arrow toward it.


Pillow Talk is an interview series done in collaboration with Public Culture, an editorial experience studio that believes in connection over communication. This feature was photographed by Christopher Wong for Sunday Bedding and Public Culture.

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