Discussions on smart cities tend to miss the cultural side – the various social landscapes, which is why these designs by Royal College of Art Intelligent Mobility students – asked to imagine a taxi in a speculative megacity of 2040 – are worth looking into. A couple offer some sophisticated critical design thinking too with ideas that may have seemed impossible dreams before the pandemic made all things impossible possible. Take a closer look here
Frankfurt is Europe’s largest and most significant car show where we get to see new trends in design and technology, and gauge the future of mobility. This year, however, there really wasn’t a unified voice – instead car companies appear to be finding their own solutions.
The popularity of the compact luxury crossover type car remains as strong as ever with most premium marque’s offering their take on this. Jaguar’s C-X17 perhaps took centre stage for its excellent execution and maintaining the brand feel. Other highlights were the Infiniti Q30, fusing hatch, coupé and crossover styles to create a rather sensual sculpture.
Audi’s Sport Quattro coupé is also a welcome edition as it marks the return of the 80s icon. Plus it was great to finally see the production BMW i8, the second car to join the electric sub-brand, which maintains much of the concept car’s intriguing design for a distinctive BMW electric vernacular.
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.
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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.
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.
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Design Talks has just launched a specialist bookshop dedicated entirely to publications on design and architecture.
The online shop stocks books on the design of buildings, products, graphics, fashion and jewellery. It also sources books on design theory, design teaching and creative thinking. This is an easy to navigate, one-stop shop for purchasing books on all areas of design.
There will be books sourced not just from well known publishers, but also independents and smaller firms. The shop will be regularly updated to include all the latest books.
Have a browse in the Design Talks Bookshop and see what you think.