One of PMQ’s driving forces talks about Hong Kong’s design identity, authenticity and what’s on at Aberdeen Street’s creative hub.
William To is a connector: he links emerging Hong Kong designers with the tools they need to grow, and he helps them plug into the international design scene. To spent 18 years in the advertising industry before exploring a different path with a role with Hong Kong Design Centre. Since then, he has worked on Business of Design Week (BoDW), Knowledge of Design Week and Design for Asia Awards, to name just a few of the feathers in his cap.
He still acts as a Senior Consultant for Hong Kong Design Centre, driving deTour in connection with BoDW and PMQ, for whom he now works as Director, Creative and Programme. At PMQ, SoHo’s former Police Married Quarters and now a destination for local creative industries, he nurtures Hong Kong’s creative talents through events and educational programmes.
Meet To at Hong Kong Indesign this week; he will be moderating a Design Conversation, BizLife: ‘Authentic Design – What Future?’ Find him at The Space on 20 November.
How would you define Hong Kong’s design identity?
Design identity basically reflects the lifestyle of people living in that city. Hong Kong people have long adapted a very Western way of living, in terms of the products we use, the furniture we use, in the way of looking at things. This is a very international, cosmopolitan city, so we have access to a lot of global products that surround us.
A lot of people like to say we’re a fusion of East and West, but that’s not really how I see it. We’re probably more on the Western side in terms of the products we use, because it reflects our lifestyle, and in terms of the upbringing we’ve had. But then there are certain products we use that go back to our roots, back to our Chinese identity. It really depends on what kind of products you’re talking about.
What does ‘authentic design’ mean to you?
It’s hard to define this. Every product is inspired by other products. My interpretation is that designers don’t deliberately or intentionally copy another product – they just create an object that fits their lifestyle.
How do you say a new chair is an authentic design? How many new chairs do you see when you go to Milan Design Week? You see hundreds and hundreds. But are they original? No, they’re not. They just reflect the current times, the current lifestyle of the user.
How does PMQ foster young, creative talent?
We hope that we are providing a platform for designers to test run their business model, to realise their dream. We minimise the risk of the first few years of creating your own business.
We also try to provide support – for example, we provide workshops to show them how to do things, protect their intellectual property, we even invited someone who writes for global magazines to teach them how to put together a press kit. And we invited Canon to come in and create a special studio, so that the designers at PMQ can use Canon products to shoot their collections and product shots.
We try to make them stronger, so that they can eventually grow and launch their brands.
What are some of the most exciting programmes coming up at PMQ?
We’re part of Event Horizon Hong Kong – you can see some of Antony Gormley’s sculptures at PMQ. We’re very excited to be part of this artist programme
The team is also busy preparing for BoDW. There’s a programme PMQ’s hosting as part of BoDW called deTour; that’s happening from 27 November. We’ll have a great installation of local artists here. The theme this year is Connection, so we hope to connect with local designers and also the international design scene.
Hong Kong Indesign