Interview with designer SCENE SHANG (SS), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Shang System Multi-Functional Storage.

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Interview with SCENE SHANG at Friday 29th of April 2016: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
SS : We wanted to create a contemporary piece of furniture that referenced classical Chinese furniture design, but was adaptive to the modern day context. This is the core of our brand philosophy – rendering contemporary interpretations of Chinese period design: its cultural philosophy, its functional ingenuity, its nuanced aesthetic, towards a modern perspective that easily fit into urban homes. Through this we also hope to renew interest and a curiosity for Chinese culture and heritage – something we feel has been diluted in an increasingly homogenous, globalized world. We have always loved traditional Chinese furniture but have found that the scale and functions are not always responsive to modern day needs. Period Chinese furniture design tend to lean towards a monolithic-style stereotype – large, heavy pieces in dark woodwork and ornate carvings. We want to dispel this stereotype by adapting contemporary furniture pieces that also embrace the clean lines, and light-weight elegance that Chinese design also offers, and more importantly, going beyond kitsch. Ultimately, we wanted users to be able to place a piece of traditional culture in their homes without it looking out of place. It is with this in mind that we designed the SHANG System: modern, functional and modular with design references that are classically Chinese.

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
SS : We want to place traditional Chinese culture in a modern perspective. We would love to see Chinese-inspired design being considered and placed the way Scandinavian design is widely accepted. We were interested in exploring how these elements can be extracted in a modern way to hold its own in an urban setting. We also wanted to create an awareness and dialogue on preserving traditions, the ones we grew up with, remember fondly from our childhood, as well as making new ones.

DI: What are your future plans for this award winning design?
SS : We hope to develop this further into more modules, expanding into different components, sizes – offering more functions within the system. Because it’s so modular and customizable, the possibilities with SHANG system are endless.

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
SS : The process of formulation started about 3 years ago. We spent time and effort to stud furniture and users in Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and China, as well as getting to know elusive traditional woodwork craftsmen in Shanghai. The actual work to draw and prototype took about 1 year.

DI: Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
SS : We designed this to create a statement about how we want to not only preserve culture, but create a new language based on the old classics used over and over for centuries. We believe that culture needs to evolve to be kept alive hence we designed something that referenced the past but appropriated for today.

DI: Is your design being produced or used by another company, or do you plan to sell or lease the production rights or do you intent to produce your work yourself?
SS : The SHANG System is a signature design, and completely produced and sold by us.

DI: What made you design this particular type of work?
SS : We felt there was a demand by users to have furniture that had a story to tell, to have a cultural reference, and that the choices were limited to traditional furniture. We created the SHANG System to fulfill that need. Being customizable in function and appearance, it also allows users to make it their own.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
SS : Our design premise always starts from incorporating classical Chinese design elements into our work, especially those from Ming Dynasty aesthetics and joinery and Chinese Art Deco. Designers such as Hans Wegner who designed the China Chair which eventually evolved into the Wishbone chair, showed how the reference of culture can evolve into a new language.

DI: Who is the target customer for his design?
SS : The target customer is someone who is interested in Chinese culture and heritage; someone looking for an intelligent conversation-starter in his living space.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
SS : This design is modular and allows the user to change the function and appearance easily without the need for tools. It is based on a simple stacking system, much like Lego blocks, but held together by its own weight and self-aligning joints (a functional design that was also typically found in period Chinese furniture). As a whole system, it is a side cabinet, while separated into its individual components, it is a tray, drawer or storage, and stool. It is distinct because it brings Chinese culture into the design, having visual components like “ears”, that are typical of Qing and Ming dynasty Chinese furniture.

DI: How did you come up with the name for this design? What does it mean?
SS : The word “SHANG” means appreciation in Chinese. It is about the appreciation of Chinese culture and heritage through design. The word “System” is added on, reflecting its function of components that allow users to add to or stack.

DI: Which design tools did you use when you were working on this project?
SS : Hand sketches, 3d modeling programs.

DI: What is the most unique aspect of your design?
SS : We worked with traditional master craftsmen in Shanghai. These are artisans well-skilled in traditional Chinese carpentry, a technique not usually found in western furniture. We worked with them to make sure it was a harmonious pairing between traditional Chinese carpentry and modern engineering.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
SS : We worked with traditional craftsmen in Shanghai.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
SS : Technology helped us visualize the designs before communicating with the craftsmen. However, the real work lies in crafting the prototype by hand.

DI: Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
SS : No

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
SS : While extracting the elements of culture and tradition and changing the context into a contemporary one, we had to make sure to do justice to the actual cultural and historical meaning.

DI: How did you decide to submit your design to an international design competition?
SS : We were informed of this through our participation at the International Furniture Fair Singapore 2016, and wanted to have an opportunity to show our design on an international scale.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
SS : We learnt how craftsmanship and design can go hand in hand. It was through close understanding of the craftsmen that we could imagine creating the design.

DI: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
SS : No.