Designed in China: Wang I Chao

Wang I Chao reunites people with their imaginations. The New York based Taiwanese industrial designer and illustrator’s whimsical toys and art transports us back to the innocent world of childhood. I Chao’s character abstraction technique pulls us in with something that looks different but at the same time feels so very familiar.

‘Character abstraction is the way I refine and extract the essences of things and transfer them into design elements,’ says the designer. He feels there are many possibilities and imaginations hidden in character abstractions. I Chao’s ability to uncover these secrets and sublimate them into beautiful pieces of art helps divert us away from the cyclical thoughts that rule our mind. Every interaction with one of his toys offers a unique experience.

Inspiration comes from a variety of influences, including Japanese Zen culture, Hayao Miyazakiand French novella The Little Prince. All of this has had an enormous impact on his life.

I Chao feels that his toys provide ‘a space that allows people to think, breathe and imagine, instead of forcing viewers to accept everything from the designer’s intention.’ He feels that these character abstractions only leaves the essentials, and states that this lets the viewer focus on the essence without distraction.

Read more on our series of designed in China and designed for China.

For more on Wang I Chao and purchase his toys and artwork visit Bundshop.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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Designed in China interview: Mocamomo

China’s contemporary art scene may be flourishing, with areas like Beijing’s 798 district rampant with talent, yet sadly there are few opportunities for these young emerging artists to make a living out of their work. Thankfully companies like Mocamomo are coming to the rescue by giving emerging artists an opportunity to commercialise their inspirations.

The Chinese/Canadian mobile accessories firm primarily works with local talent with Mocamomo lead designers, Ed Wong from Toronto and Vicky Yang from Shenzhen, producing unique phone and tablet cases inspired by these artists. The first two collections featured 16 artists, which were then documented and exhibited in collaboration with Shanghai-based creative agency NeochaEDGE.

The team have also looked to China’s second tier cities for inspiration. ‘Art lovers and independent-thinking youth can be found all over China, not just in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou,’ says Yang. ‘We’ve done quite well in places like Chengdu.’

Smartphone adoption is growing steadily, and China’s younger generation are using their personal electronics to make personal statements. You see many young women in China’s big cities changing their phone case to match the colour of their outfit.

Wong admits that what really sets them apart from other accessories providers is their independence, which encourages them to support these emerging artists. ‘We know our art-inspired product lines aren’t meant for the mass consumer and probably never will be,’ he says. ‘We’re serving a niche and the feedback we get has been tremendous.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our previous reports on emerging designers from China here. For more Chinese designers visit Bundshop.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas

Designed in China interview: Superise

A new generation of designers are creating quite a stir in China. These independent creators are openly challenging the ‘made in China’ tag by introducing work that challenges old traditions, represents a more contemporary China and is in many cases avant-garde. Together their creativity is helping form a new vernacular for modern Chinese design.

Thanks to Bundshop, a platform for presenting a new generation of Chinese designers, we are publishing a series of interviews with some of the key practitioners there. Here we meet Eva Zhou, co-founder of the young Taiwanese brand Superise.

Design Talks. What inspired you to become a designer?

Eva Zhou. Art has been a constant part of my life and the seed of design was first planted in me whilst growing up, but the ultimate path to what I am doing now wasn’t a linear one. I had to learn what I didn’t like before I learned what I was most passionate about.

I started out my career in interior design, but I found it hard to express myself thoroughly because the ultimate goal of the profession is to serve clients.  My ability to design often got pushed onto the wrong direction due to their varying tastes. Consequently, this became a serious block for the development of my abilities and individual expression, and after only a year of exhausting interior design, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.

DT. How did you then come to create your own company?

EZ. Serendipitously. I met the manager of a furniture company who inspired me to take the path of being a product designer. Soon with my partner Jerry we created Superise. We looked around and saw how fast China was growing in terms of economy and urbanisation. However, we felt the Chinese are ignoring other parts of their spiritual and personal growth. They live a routine life in the city:  they rush from home to work, from appointment to appointment, and have such full schedules but empty lives. Too busy, they have forgotten the little joys of life.

DT. Why did you design small products that contain elements of nature?

EZ. Superise hopes to convey a slow and peaceful lifestyle – the natural elements in design are there to neutralise the urban life. We therefore focus on designing small, elegant gifts that decorate one’s life with surprise. Just like our slogan ‘discover surprises in life’ we seek to bring small moments of respite to our customers. We love to meticulously discover the details and beauty in life, and transforming those discoveries into designs. Ordinary and banal objects in life – such as vases, pencils, and clocks – are reinvented with an element of surprise.

DT. Can you talk us through the ethos behind your current collection Spring?

EZ. Spring has been the first full collection of products inspired by this rationale. We hoped to invite the plants that are supposed to be in vases and outside of our houses into our homes and into our lives.

Vases aren’t supposed to be the only way to exhibit and look after these plants; they should be ubiquitous in our homes and decorate our living spaces with their natural beauty. Through our unique clocks, pencil holders, sticky note, nature and plants can successfully combine into our lives. Greenery no longer has to be outside but stay in our lives and inspire us to appreciate nature.

We also hope to convey the idea that design must be understood by everyone through our small, everyday life designs. We believe that a good design should be used by the mass public and by designing products that are inexpensive and small, we can integrate design into the lives of normal people.

DT. How do you define Chinese Design?

EZ. Design in the east and west is drastically different, and therefore many Chinese designers are trying to combine elements of both cultures into their designs. They are trying to present products that can be accepted by the West but still maintain a Chinese aesthetic.

However, we are less concerned with that aspect of fusion, and more interested in a deeper understanding of how design interacts with the consumer. The things we design, and the purpose of our design is not to simply sell a product, but to improve the lives of those that interact with the design. We, for instance, can bring a smile into the banal day of an overworked professional in a big city, consider each bird necklace and leaf notepad, a success.

DT. What does Chinese design mean to you?

EZ. We may not be able to define ‘Chinese design’ at this stage, because it is so nascent and it is going in so many directions, but to us it means being able to incorporate two very different phenomena – city life and nature. As China moves forward, and industrialises even further, it will be the duty of good design to continuously bring people back to their roots, back to nature, and back to peace.  In the next couple of years, Chinese design will rely very heavily on branding to survive the globalisation that happening, which is why we are designers with a story.

DT. Do you see a unique Chinese aesthetic forming?

EZ. Those stories will come in many forms, and many voices. It will take some time before there is a unique Chinese aesthetic, but this is the way the evolution of design must happen. We hope that more people will appreciate the wide spectrum of what Chinese design means. We’re excited to be part of this movement, rather than an individual company moving forward.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our interview with Sozen here and of an exciting exhibition in London ‘Designed in China‘. For more Chinese designers visit Bundshop.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©


Designed in China interview: Sozen

There is a new generation of Chinese designers creating a bit of a stir. These independent creators are openly challenging the cliché ‘made in China’ tag by introducing work that challenges old traditions, represents modern China and is at once avant-garde. Together their work is helping form a new vernacular for modern Chinese design.

Thanks to Bundshop, an on-line platforms for presenting a new generation of Chinese designers, Design Talks will be running a series of interviews with some of the key practitioners from Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Xiamen.

In the first of the series, we speak with Junjie Zhang, an industrial design professor turned entrepreneur and leader of Sozen, a design group that is innovating the ancient craft form of bamboo in developing modern products.

Design Talks: What motivated you to create Sozen, and why are you inspired by the traditional Chinese bamboo?

Junjie Zhang: Being an industrial design teacher at the China Academy of Arts, I took my students on a trip to see one of the oldest bamboo craftsman villages in Shenzhou. These used to be some of the wealthiest rural villages in the 70s and 80s, when bamboo carvings and crafts were valued gifts.

This particular village had master arts craftsmen that had been commissioned by Deng Xiaoping and other high-ranking officials. But then in the 90s, times changed and demand shifted, no one bought bamboo animal carvings anymore, and the workshops closed down.

When my students and I went, we found most of the craftsmen were over 50, the masters were in their 70s and 80s. They had very few orders, woven baskets for some European clients, and bamboo figures for tourist shops. My students and I just had this gut-wrenching feeling, a feeling of loss for some of the most valued artisan skills of the past. So we decided to find a way to integrate the old skills with modern design, and Sozen was born.

DT: How did the master bamboo craftsmen react when you showed them your concepts?

JZ: The master craftsman of the village is one of China’s art masters – back in the day he received the government’s seal of honour for his work. When we showed him our sketches, he couldn’t believe it. He had never seen anything like what we were proposing, and he was sceptical that people would buy such a thing. But now we have eight craftsmen working with us, who now believe in the potential of bamboo in modern product design.

We like to imagine how many villages, artisans, we could support if we could revitalize this art form. So we constantly look for creative ways to integrate bamboo into products in our daily lives.

DT: How would you describe Chinese design?

JZ: Each year advances beyond the previous years– if you compare the quality of industrial designers from ten years ago to now…well, there is no comparison the gap is so large.

Ten years ago product design was barely a major. Now you have more than 400 schools and 10,000 graduates each year. However, this generation of designers are currently trained with a purely Western eye for design. They have little understanding of Chinese history, Chinese culture, Chinese art.

The designers that started their careers in the late 90s have a unique style. Their grasp of Classical Chinese artistic training combined with studies of Western design lend to a fusion style of design that is lost among the post-millennial generation of Chinese designers.

This window of designers, now mature designers, offers the world a glimpse at the first designs born from China’s opening to the international world. It is likely to be decades before this style happens again, when the current class of industrial design students are ready to turn inwards to their roots, rather than outwards to western academic education, for inspiration.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

The images show the team at Sozen bringing the versatility of bamboo into modern design with the hand-woven bamboo from the craftsmen of the villages of Zhejiang, China.

For more on Sozen visit Bundshop.

Read our report earlier of an exciting exhibition in London ‘Designed in China‘. Read also our review of Ai Weiwei’s Serpentine Pavilion here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©