Kiesly Tsang is well aware of the barriers Hong Kong creators face when it comes to getting their wares out there. So much so that she set up Design 1+1
as a digital marketplace for emerging design talent to showcase their creations to the world, and to act as a stepping stone for their works to be used on local and regional hospitality projects. As a new year kicks off, Tsang talks about Hong Kong’s design identity and what we can do to nurture the industry in 2016 and beyond.
Does Hong Kong have a strong design identity?
You can find most of the vernacular and elements of Hong Kong design in local brand G.O.D. There’s the birdcage, slang, the Double Happiness symbol, the clay pot, the red lantern, the gold fish, the letter box and the iron door grill. All of this represents what is quintessentially Hong Kong. It’s about being able to look with fresh eyes at what we normally take for granted.
Our community is what shapes our design identity. Think about street signage on Nathan Road, the seafood restaurants on Lamma Island and the street life on Hollywood Road. Before 1997, we were hugely influenced by our status as a British colony. We could find Western design elements in everything from signage to architecture. Now, our cultures are crossing each other – it’s like a double culture. What you look around and see, you pick up, instinctively. The ability to do this is an advantage for local Hong Kong designers.
Serenity by BeCandle takes its cue from traditional tea ceremony
Why are we willing to pay more for international design than we are for local design?
Hong Kong is this international, materialistic city – you can almost get anything in Hong Kong. Until recently, all the international luxury brands saw huge growth. My experience has shown me that most people have no idea why they’re paying a ‘designer price’ for something, or what makes it so different from other objects on the market. All too often, it’s not the acquisition of designer goods they seek; it’s actually the psychological rewards they want.
At the same time, many consumers aren’t even aware of the incredible variety of local design and designers born and grown right on their doorstep. For many of these local designers, there’s no access to celebrities, no 3D marketing gimmicks – they don't have marketing budgets, all they have is words and pictures. The public would rather put money into the brands they know, which means the ones they don’t know continue to have limited resources to promote themselves with. It’s a vicious circle.
Designed by Hong Kong design collective thecaveworkshop, Existence of Void draws on traditional Chinese pavilions and negative space to comment on urban planning, space and density
What do we need to do in order to cultivate Hong Kong’s design community?
We have to establish lots of different programmes; lot of talks, workshops, events, shows, platforms for the exchange of ideas, exhibitions inside shopping malls and galleries… etc. It’s all about interaction with the public and in this way delivering your messages and concepts, and educating the public. We have a long way to go and it won’t be easy, but we have to keep exploring and rediscovering.
How can Hong Kong designers help themselves?
They need to keep creating good design, and they need to spend more time exploring and cultivating their creativity. They should stay true to what they believe and figure out their own style and the market they are targeting. Are they targeting core needs, comfort needs or flourishing needs?
Trying to go it alone or engaging in traditional retail partnerships is not a great solution … designers should focus on partnership models that puts the majority of funds back in their own hands.
Our Chair by thecaveworkshop remembers the Umbrella Movement through a quirky design feature: the hook perched atop the backrest
Which emerging Hong Kong designers excite you the most right now?
. BeCandle because there is a lot of potential to go beyond candles: it’s all about the concept behind the idea and about refining it. They have a product called Serenity; the concept is about traditional Asian tea culture, about sharing a moment of harmony and relaxation during the preparation and serving process.
As for thecaveworkshop, it’s because they are artists, they bother to look at the details and to think about how people should live. For example, their recent projects – Existence of Void and Our Chair – are about public space and remembering the Umbrella Movement respectively. These projects are about exploring what is human now, without hiding anything from ourselves – they’re about beauty, ugliness, darkness, sexuality, political affairs, metaphors and more. These projects touch the heart.
Kiesly Tsang Concepts Ltd