Q: Was that the plan when you designed that sofa? I’m going to start a social cooperative, and employ people who traditionally have a hard time finding employment all while resuscitating the bamboo furniture industry in Taiwan?
That was a very important part in the process of deciding to go for this design idea. And it’s going very well. Although Su-Jen Su is now very famous—and very busy—when she has time she trains people. Right now there are two young students who are learning the skill from her.
Now when I receive an order for the stool or the sofa from one of my clients, I can just ship them. I don’t have to wait two or three months.
Q: In contrast, your work at Philips and other designs are very much not craft products. Do you have a preference for either manufactured products or craft products? Or do you feel it is beneficial to work in both worlds?
As an industrial designer I’m very much interested in different kinds of products, different kinds of experiences, different kinds of materials. I don’t limit myself, like only working in crafts. I like industrial design, I like new smartphones. I think it’s a coincidence that I started working with bamboo, or craft. I designed computer monitors for five years, and that’s still interesting, I enjoyed it! But I would be limiting myself by focusing on just one field, one product.
Right now because of new tools and technologies people can design by themselves or produce by themselves. You can easily use a 3D printer to print your designs. So I think it’s very important for me as a designer to have a variety of experiences and maybe one day all the different things I have learned will cross over together.
Q: Does one influence the other?
Yes I think so. I know about the design process and new materials, about new machines that can make things easier. I can use my knowledge in craft. And I know the possibilities of bamboo so I might bring bamboo and use it in industrial design or into a more mass-produced process. Or I could combine half craft made, half mass-produced.
Q: As for the World Design Impact Prize trophy, you make use of stainless steel, wood, and marble. What guided your choice of materials in this case? Do the different materials represent anything in particular?
I think this award, the World Design Impact Prize, is unique. It’s not like a traditional design award where you pick out good products. It’s more about the relationship with people and the environment, so I think the trophy needed to somehow represent this.
I picked out the three different materials. I picked iron wood to represent nature, the environment. In the World Design Impact Prize a lot of the concepts have a deep consideration for our environment, so I think that’s really important. Then I picked marble. Marble is like our civilizations, or societies. It’s about culture and people. Then I picked stainless steel, which is more of a modern material. I feel it represents progress… or an upgrade, or evolution. It’s polished and modern.
I used a burr puzzle to assemble these three elements together without nails. That’s design! Design holds these three very important elements—environment, society, and evolution—together tightly. I think that represents the World Design Impact Prize well.
Q: You state that the trophy represents how through design, the people of the world will help each other and be connected wisely. How does this represent the principles that guide your work as a designer?
When I started in industrial design it was to solve problems, and to make things beautiful. I think that’s fundamental for industrial designers. But I think society has changed a lot in the past 10-20 years. So the designer right now is not just making things. We find the problems, we find the issues, but when you look at the issues deeply, they might be about the relationship with the people about different cultures clashing.
I think we have enough good products in the world already. Maybe too many. As a designer I want to look for a different angle, I want to discover cultures more deeply, dive into how people think and how people feel. I think that’s really interesting.
Q: We wondered if that was something you thought about generally when you design—how to connect people.
I think that is a very important part of the bubble sofa. The stool, I like it, but in the end it’s just an object. So I discovered what happened to the bamboo industry and I found out it’s not about design… it’s very much about the economy, it’s about a whole cultural change, a whole society change. That was something I didn’t think about much when I designed objects, but when I got to the bubble sofa I found all this information very valuable for me. Since then I think about the other issues and I have a more open mind and a broader perspective.