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Beyond Art & Design

刘毅 Mark Liu 2015-11-25 13:18


Born in 1975, Yang was awarded a scholarship from the German “WK” foundation in 2001 and went to study at Muthesius Academy of Art & Design, where he got his Masters degree in design. After two years of study at Muthesius, Yang secured a design position at Siemens’ headquarters in Germany where he worked as a product designer. He returned to China and founded Jamy Yang Design. Experience of over twenty years in the eld of design made him a partner of many leading international brands and institutions including Greenpeace and the One-Foundation. His design extends into many different elds, from glasses and suitcases to aircraft cabins, furniture and public facilities. During our conversation, I was impressed by his global perspective on design.


“I was once in a conversation with a French journalist and he said to me, that when talking about design, people would think minimalism for Japanese design and the Apple for American design. He then asked, ‘what springs to mind for Chinese design?’ This real- ly made me think hard. And after a long pause I said, it’s chopsticks for Chinese design.” In Yang’s point of view, China has had a gap of over 100 years in design inno- vation since the second industrial revolution. While the Western countries were continuously

making new designs by utilizing new materials and technologies, China hardly made any progress in that regard. We stuck with things that have been used since ancient times like chopsticks. We didn’t make any memorable designs in recent history. He went further to say that design could only flourish in countries with industries based on a strong cultural background. Italy makes high quality furniture, bags and clothing, because Italy has a strong tradition in handicraft industries. Germany makes high quality cars, because Germans are good at sophisticated precision machinery. The United States produce cars, with its Tesla enjoying the limelight, again because they are strong in science and tech- nology. China, by contrast, due to this 100 year gap and the lack of a strong innovative cultural background, lagged far behind in modern design.



Yang’s designs always put practicality first. He thinks that the fundamental in design is “to be used by people”. “A good design must put practicality as a top prior- ity above anything else including brands and national traits and characteristics.” explains Yang. “For instance, we don’t want to put typical traditional Chinese armchairs in a modern of ce. The chairs may be made of top quality materials and look beautiful, but they are not practical. This type of chair was only on demand and used in the periods of the Ming and Qing Dynasties when people were very strict on sitting etiquette – the good mannered sitting posture then was to sit straight-backed. That’s why the angle between the backrest and seat was always at 90 degrees. These traditional armchairs in our modern life are no longer providing optimum comfort in terms of ergonomics.”


Yang also talked about the lack of Chinese design in this respect. Ergonomics have been almost exclusively defined by the West since industrial revolution. They made use of advanced concepts to design products that were better suited to people’s modern day lives. And by using new materials they managed to continuously reduce manufacturing costs. That’s also the challenge we now face. But if we only copy the traditional style in design inherited from our grandparents’ day, we would end up in making things that only con ict with our modern lifestyle. He cited German kitchenware brand Zwilling; originally a blacksmith’s shop, it not only retained its quality, but also evolved to t contemporary lifestyles in this ever changing world. It is its persistence in delivering practicality that keeps this brand at the forefront of design. In this respect, Yang Ming-Jie has been engaged in a project called “Novel hand- craftsmanship” which aims to seek new ideas on ergonomics and new materials that are compatible with traditional Chinese handcraftsmanship. To design products that are better suited for a modern lifestyle.



Yang bears a distinct Germanic air; his dress has clean lines and a simple style, straight-talking with a straightforward attitude. During our conversation, every word of what he said seems to be to the point – no platitude, no nonsense. All this seemed to be the results of what he learned during his stay in Germany. As far as Yang is concerned, “Simple” is the most challenging concept in design. “Simple” means that a product must be made with all un-necessaries eliminated, retaining only the useful parts in a sim- ple form. Simplifying is a dif cult endeavor that is easier said than done. He said “To make a product that looks simple is actually very dif cult. The process to achieve that goal is often very complex. It requires the designer to think through all aspects carefully, which in many cases is more challenging than designing a product that is complex.” In fact, this reflects an important feature of German industrial design which emphasises design logic. The results of any design will have a logical process based on reality rather than the metaphysical. The criteria for this logic is based on the end-users of the products, production techniques, market demand and social responsibility, among other things.



On the relationship between product design and environmental protection, Yang believes that many products in our time are being replaced too often and too fast, and he thinks the reason can be traced to the growth of “consumerism” originating in America. Consumerism began after World War II, and became widespread, leading to the “Disposable Culture”. Yang explains, “just take a simple ex- ample:a product may have a lifespan of 20 years. But many companies would t it with a chip of only 5-years lifespan which would greatly shorten the product’s lifetime.” This is now a global problem against which he feels powerless as a product designer. It has been a losing battle between resource wasting and enterprise survival/development, environmental protection and consumerism with the former hardly being able to resist and restrict the latter. “To me, it’s like to trying to put out a burning cartload of faggots with a cup of water. I alone cannot change that. But of course I will do what I can – for example, I choose to live a simple life, to avoid using disposable products. It’s dif cult, but we need to resist the temptations of consumerism.”


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