STUCK’s origin story

We believe we can do more together.

Ever wondered what the story behind STUCK’s name was? Or been curious how friends make a design studio work without tearing each other’s limbs off? Donn shares his tale of STUCK’s origin story, his journey in growing the business, and his end goal for the STUCK team.


  • STUCK was initially started as a collective of designer friends returning to Singapore from various pursuits wanting to try working together; “And we believe that we can do more together.”
  • The founders liked the name “STUCK” because it was cheeky; it flipped the negative to the positive and was provocative
  • “If the client kind of likes our name, then they probably have some level of appetite for risk.”
  • The basis of the STUCK founding team’s working relationship is to do fun, cool stuff together, less so of focusing on building a top-notch, cutting-edge agency; in doing so, the energy and togetherness is channeled into something more productive and meaningful
  • Donn isn’t averse to working with friends because it’s inevitable for business partners to form friendships; “If you are not friends, and you start to work together, and you become friends, should you part?”
  • Business partners who start off friends may indicate a level of understanding that enables open dialogue to happen sooner than later
  • Friction and hardships throughout running a business together also deepens the friendship
  • “I think every single individual that comes into STUCK brings to it another colour,” but the canvas of STUCK retains its fundamentals
  • STUCK’s core DNA ensured that the projects we put out always have a touch of wit, surprise and sensibility; this translated to bringing in teammates who also inevitably held that same belief system
  • One goal Donn has for STUCK is for a lower reliance on the founders to drive new things, and structures of empowerment are slowly being built for teammates to do this

Full Transcript

I think STUCK is a little bit like that. It’s less like, let’s build a super cutting-edge agency type of thing, but more of, having fun doing it together.

Hi, Donn. Yeah, today we have a bunch of questions relating to STUCK as a company and how that came about. So maybe you could bring us through the short origin story of STUCK and how the idea to set up STUCK originated.

Okay, so STUCK basically was formed because there were a bunch of us who came back to Singapore, about the same time, from different pursuits; from either pursuing studies, after a Masters, or working in different parts of the world, we came back to Singapore and we saw that it was a good time to try something of our own.

And because we came back at the same time with these varied experiences, it was just natural to say, let’s try working together to see if we can be somewhat potent together.

It’s also partly the character of our founding team, we are a bit more preferring to work with others than to work alone. And we believe that we can do more together.

So STUCK wasn’t STUCK yet when we first started our projects. We basically said, hey let’s just try working together. And I had a project come in at a time. And basically, I asked Tze, I asked Jieyu, and actually there were a lot of others. So you might be surprised that our first two projects, there are many people in the design industry that are operating by themselves down in different studios, they were part of that first project. But after that project, we found that the bunch of us work quite well together, we understand each other, and then so we stayed on. Yeah, so that’s how STUCK came about.

Okay, so I guess you have probably been asked this question quite a number of times. But yeah, why did the founders decided to name the company STUCK?

In short, we liked the name because it was cheeky. We can tell a long story around how it came about, or how it seems to flip the negative to the positive but in short, we liked it because it was cheeky, it stuck with us. As designers, we found that it was a bit different, and we basically like the surprise of it being a negative word to most people, but yet can be positive at the same time—when you talk about “stuck on you”, which means “I like you”, right? Or sticky ideas, which means ideas that have some legs. So with that, we like the provocativeness, since we are also a lot about bringing a new spin to things. It works better, or clients who work with us… it’s usually a better fit if the clients are quite adventurous, and they want to try new things. So then we settled on this name.

Today we see it as a good filter also. If the client kind of likes our name, then they probably have some level of appetite for risk.

I thought was quite cheeky also, because even throughout my design education in NUS, I always found myself saying, “Oh, stuck already, like cannot get out of the rut.” Yeah, so that to me was always the meaning I associated with “stuck” initially.

The funny thing is that only after you start a company with the name STUCK, you realise that it’s a very commonly used word, right? In the past it’s a bit like a normal word, you don’t even think that is so frequently used. I don’t know whether is it the case in general industry or general life, but in design school, in design projects, you hear people saying that they’re stuck all the time. And then when I see students mentioned that in their replies to me, I don’t know whether they’re trying to be cheeky with me, or they really meant that. I see it almost a few times a day in messages from students.

So when you first started STUCK right, what did you envision it to be? Was it just a collective of designers who are aligned in their vision and everything? Or was it something, I don’t know, bigger?

Yes, I think it was a certain kind of alignment with regards to, we want to do fun, cool stuff. But I think it was also a lot about having fun doing it together.

So it’s less like, let’s build a super kick-ass, top-notch, cutting-edge agency type of thing, but more of, like how it’s fun to, during school recess time, have a bunch of friends come and play together and do something funny. I think STUCK is a little bit like that. Just that, of course, you try to channel that energy and that togetherness to do something a little bit more productive or meaningful.

I think that’s what we try to do. Overtime, of course, there are the realities of business, and how do you survive together. But then there’s that basis of wanting to just do it together, have fun together, I think keeps it like that. And that’s why we do what we do at STUCK with the rest of the team.

Is it more difficult or is it easier to be working together with friends? Because from what I understand, you started as a group of friends, right?


So the funny question here is, if you are not friends, and you start to work together, and you become friends, should you part? It’s inevitable that you become friends, right?

And I think sometimes, if you have a good working partner, unless you really draw the line between your work and your relationships that much, if you have an effective relationship at work, it’s inevitable that you have a friendship, I think. So when we see it from their point of view, then one can say that maybe it’s not that big of a matter whether you started off as friends or not. And in fact, maybe starting off as friends who already have some level of understanding of each other, might help it to be smoother, because you enter into that kind of open dialogue sooner than if it weren’t.

So I don’t personally have aversions working with friends. I know that sometimes it can end up bad. And we do have slight painful experiences, not so much with each other, but with others who join with us here and there for different projects. But then at the end of the day, what we’ve seen is that even if there is a minor disruption in the friendship for a short while, if it was a friendship that everyone wanted, that disruption is okay. Because, and this is kind of like experience first-hand, sometimes you go through that, later on when you come back to build the friendship again, because it was worthwhile, despite the friction, then that is even more precious in the end. In fact, it deepens the friendship. So there may be, of course, a period of time whereby it’s just a bit painful to go through it, but yeah, it deepens that friendship. And I think if it doesn’t, and splits happen because of working with friends, and you can’t see eye to eye and then some kind of unfortunate friction occurs, and nobody really wants to mend it or has the heart to or the energy to, then maybe it’s just not so much of a relationship that you would call the most kindred and you would keep and really, really kind of work at it.

From starting STUCK, do you think that currently, the company has blossomed into something that you had envisioned from the beginning? And if so, in what way, and what way it hasn’t?

I think STUCK has grown in really surprising ways for me. You know, you come back from overseas, or your studies, seeing design a certain way, and you want to build a team that is effective in the area.

And then when you work in it, you find that the world and design is changing much faster than what you thought design should be.

And when the team incorporates more different personalities into the group, who have all kinds of different ambitions, interests, because I think we will not so hard up on fixating it to be a certain way—there were only some basic fundamentals. In the end, I think we slightly surprised ourselves by seeing what it’s growing into.

I think every single individual that comes into STUCK brings to it another colour. And if I were to say, STUCK’s state as it is right now is a bit somewhat like a canvas, right? And then every single one brings really a different spark or colour, and I think that’s quite nice.

So therefore, we don’t know where it will head in that sense, but we always keep to the same fundamentals of that canvas. And sometimes we ask the question, what’s outside of the canvas? Because we want to kind of break it a bit. But essentially, the fundamentals are there in terms of, hey let’s pull people together, interesting people who can work together, who can respect each other, who can respect each other’s profession and discipline or expertise, try to create a lot more synergy, cross learning, and openness. And hopefully, I mean, instead of us being somewhat relied upon as so-called, “the directors of the team”, hopefully, we find a way to have people just kind of grow into, you know, just fully expressing themselves and leading and just really taking ownership of things. I think that will be great. Yeah, so I think we are still figuring that out. Though we try all kinds of funny ways, but we’re still figuring it out. I think that’s where I would say, if we were to say, “Is STUCK where we are at?” Maybe on this front is where we have to work a lot more on.

What about in terms of the projects that STUCK has put out there so far? Was it aligned to something that you had envisioned?

Yes, I think quite aligned. Not the type of objects, because the industry is changing all the time, but I think because we still hold to the same characteristics of surprise, sensible… it’s not just fluff, it is really what we believe in. Or rather it’s reversed derived, meaning that it is from the work we see, hey this is the kind of work that we do—we like to always inject a bit of wit, a bit of surprise. At the same time, we like to kind of massage it until it is sensible and relevant for people. So because we were like that, the teammates that we brought in were also like that, so there’s a bit of that DNA. And therefore inevitably, the work that we produce is also like this. And so we are quite happy with that. The only times when this is sometimes a little bit not so great is if a client’s DNA, or the way they see the way objects and interfaces should be is a bit different from that, then it either has a bit of friction, or it comes to a bit of a blended compromise. But most of the time, if we had control over the work that we do, I think it expresses itself that way.

Is there something that you’ve then been meaning to do at STUCK, or with STUCK, that you have yet to accomplish or realise?

Wow, there’s so many things.

Is there any that you could share? And as to why it hasn’t been put forth yet? Is it just due to time or..?

So maybe one thing overall is, if STUCK became less reliant on the founders to drive new things, and if team members really just could feel like they take ownership, and the structures of empowerment are there for them to make decisions, to just do projects that they love and believe in, and have the rest of the team come in to support or to be part of it. I think that’ll be great. Right now, I think it still somewhat rests a lot on whether we drive it.

We are working at trying to figure out how to give that empowerment. And by empowerment… empowerment sounds sometimes like a bit of a cloudy word, it sounds just like a feelgood word. But basically it just means the ability and space to make decisions that matter.

So that’s something that sometimes with growth of a business or team, there’s a tendency to move against empowerment because when complexity increases, we try to put in structures to prevent complexity from getting out of hand. But that’s counter-empowering type of situation, so we are figuring out how to balance that. And if it really becomes like that, then we will see a lot more interesting projects at STUCK that do not wait for the founders to say, let me have some time to drive it. Hopefully people just drive interesting things.

We’ve been trying that in different small ways. Maybe give a part of the responsibility in terms of company stuff, and I think that the team is quite okay that. But I think the moment you say, “Hey can we launch a new business altogether?”, everybody’s like, “The stakes are too high, I’m scared to make decisions. Let’s just wait for… Just wait.” Yeah, so that will probably be the overarching thing I would say, if STUCK were to become really, really flourishing, that would be the thing and that’s where also we have our biggest gap I think.

Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong


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