Furniture and lifestyle design in China has been making major strides in the past several years, but before all of these vast changes, designer Jamy Yang was getting his career started. In 2005, the Hanghzou-born creative returned to China from his studies in Germany to create his consultancy Yang Design in Shanghai, and before long, the award-winning designer was working with major luxury brands, including Absolut, Audi, and Tumi. His scope ranges from products for the home, like kitchenware, to lifestyle and travel products like luggage and backpacks, to interiors. In a 2012 article, China Daily called his company “one of the most influential product strategy and design consultancies in China.”
Yang places a great emphasis on exploring traditional Chinese craftsmanship in his designs, and opted to pursue this further in 2015 with a project called “Neo-Crafts.” He’ll be showcasing some of these concepts at his museum, Yang House, at Design Shanghai March 8 to 11. Aside from Yang’s work, Design Shanghai is a platform for more than 350 international and Chinese designers to exhibit the latest contributions to interior design, luxury, contemporary, classic styles, and more. The event will feature lectures from leaders in the industry, including hospitality designer D.B. Kim, and it also boasts a design festival in Shanghai’s Xintiandi luxury shopping district.
In the days leading up to the event, Jing Daily caught up with Yang via email to discuss his views on sustainability and the importance of Chinese tradition in design versus Scandi-cool.
How important is it that Chinese designers take advantage of this opportunity to speak to consumers who are showing a growing interest in luxury lifestyle and design from the West?
Chinese design had not enjoyed the best of reputations worldwide for a long while in my opinion. The discontinuity of modern and contemporary design resulted in quite a few negative perceptions, which revolved around poor imitations. This affected the judgment of the international community on Chinese design as well as Chinese people’s understanding of what high-quality design is. Luckily, in recent years, the situation has gradually improved. Design Shanghai is a good platform that supports exchange and communication with consumers and also explores the future opportunities for high-quality Chinese designs.
What does “sustainable” design mean to the Chinese consumer?
It is generally understood as environmental protection, which is very important to Chinese consumers. However, in terms of design standards, it is necessary to apply sustainable development principles, such as product standardization and modularization, to every design process. Designers deal with questions like, how can we reduce energy consumption and space consumption in production, transportation, storage, installation, maintenance, and other processes, and how can we apply environmentally-friendly materials and processing techniques to material, structure, and surface treatment?
Do you feel that Chinese consumers are interested in and ready for sustainable design?
In my philosophy of design, sustainable design is at the top end. From satisfying basic needs and seeking identity recognition, to caring about society and our global environment, this is a development process from the bottom to the top.
Compared to Europe, Chinese consumers are more interested in sustainable development and design strategies, but the necessary time and effort needs to be found to implement them as a life principle and moral standard.
Tell us about Yang House. What is your goal with it and what have you accomplished so far?
Five years ago, we collaborated with a handicraft brand headquartered in Malaysia, Royal Selangor, which has a history of more than 130 years. As a result, the “Royal Selangor Serenity Tea Set” was created. Since then, I have developed a strong interest in traditional crafts. Although it is said that many product designs I worked on are machine-made, Yang House products are definitely handmade creations. In the past two or three years, my team and I visited many cities, investigating and collecting local traditional handicrafts. We try to reapply traditional craftsmanship through design so we can integrate it into the contemporary lifestyle. With this in mind, “Yang House Creation Plan” was developed.
I don’t want to design and present tradition symbolically and formally. Instead, I hope to decompose tradition, construct the contemporary, and inspire the future. An ugly design reflects an ugly society. Yang House expects to make changes through design.
How far has China’s design industry come since you founded your brand more than a decade ago? What is your hope for the next five years?
Sixteen years ago, when I studied in Germany, I asked my German teacher how large the gap between China and Germany was in terms of design. She answered: 50 years. That’s a result of a chasm of Chinese design in the modern and contemporary times. During the following 10 years after my return to China, Chinese design developed very fast. However, the gap has not been closed, but it has narrowed. The next five years will witness a quicker development. At the same time, the younger generation of consumers will pursue high-quality design, which will accelerate the development of Chinese design.
It seems like there is a lot of Scandinavian/European collaboration and inspiration happening in Chinese design right now. How important is it that a Chinese designer brings something “traditionally Chinese” to his designs? How does one go about it?
In addition to Scandinavian/European inspirations, I think there is also cooperation and inspiration from Japan. In my view, this is a learning and imitation process. To truly embody Chinese people’s lifestyle and aesthetics in design is a trial and error process, instead of a symbolic operation of Chinese elements. As for me, I try to avoid the influences of Japan and Nordic countries and to pursue designs with Chinese characteristics. It’s not a goal, but a natural result. Design has its nationality, which is not deliberately pursued. Instead, it comes into being based on powerful local cultural background and industries.