Interview: Michael Young

May 28, 2013
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Designer Michael Young

As a British designer based in Hong Kong, can you talk a little bit about the benefits of manufacturing your designs in China?
Well, China has been fortunate because the world has been going there to manufacture things for the last 20 years, so they’ve got a fantastic manufacturing base – and because of that, the factory equipment is good, the training of staff is good, the logistical abilities… the whole process is there. So while other countries focus on importing products from China, they’ve been exporting, so effectively the manufacturing base becomes powerful.

How do you deal with the assumptions that some people make about manufacturing in China, and how do you change the perception that it’s a country that thrives on replicas?
It’s not something I have to actively be engaged with, to be honest. When I do talks in Australia, people say there is this perception that China is a country of copies, but it’s a terrible contradiction because actually, in Australia, there’s the biggest copy market probably per capita in the world. It’s actually a few individuals who are responsible for these things, though. For me, China is just a country like any other that’s trying to keep its families alive – it’s a hard-working country, and the work ethic is really strong. People like work here… you know, there’s no welfare system and so it’s in the blood to just work for your living – life isn’t something that’s given for free. In England, by contrast, people prefer not to work! I think there’s a lot of creativity in England, of course, but then it lacks the manufacturing base. I think that balance is why designers are coming to Asia now.

I suppose something that the UK has is a stronger history of design education. Do you feel that the education side of design in China has been growing since you’ve been there?
Certainly in Hong Kong it’s become tremendous: there’s the Hong Kong Design Centre and the Business of Design Week, plus the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Collectively, they’re putting a lot into the evolution of education here, so that’s quite tremendous. It’s exploding.

Has your own design philosophy changed since you moved to Hong Kong?
My attitude towards design has never changed – it’s always been something I do between two beers, you know? It’s my hobby, and it’s my passion. My actual way of thinking and working hasn’t adjusted, but the opportunities I’ve had have shifted tremendously. Hong Kong is traditionally a city of bankers and manufacturing, so when you bring creativity into that equation you have a very powerful dynamic – which is very unlike a lot of other cities. If you look at Sydney, of course it has plenty of money and catering, so to speak – a lot of bars and restaurants. There’s a lot of economy created by that, but not in manufacturing, because the manufacturing base hasn’t been developed alongside it. I realised when I first came to Hong Kong that the city was starved of people like me because it’s so expensive, and it’s not traditionally an easy place to generate culture.

Is it a different scenario when it comes to the protection of your designs?
I don’t pay too much attention to it anymore. I’ve had numerous patents made, with companies I’ve worked at. With the bicycles I designed for Giant, we patented the details, then a Dutch designer repeated all of them. What are you supposed to do? You can’t go around the world constantly suing people. As a designer I’m just being myself and getting on with things. I think if it’s something that’s done by a creative person or designer, then it doesn’t bother me too much, but if it’s someone who’s blatantly setting up a business to copy something, it would offend me personally and I’d be a bit more inclined to pay attention to it. I think that’s the way a lot of designers see that stuff.

Who do you think are some of the best designers coming out of Hong Kong at the moment, and other parts of China?
There’s Michael Leung, who’s got a very unusual and eccentric way of working. There’s a lot of cool people here doing great things, such as Douglas Young from GOD (Goods of Desire), who’s really embraced the local culture here to promote something that has the potential to easily be ignored. I mean, I’ve not really seen an evolution in the same way that you may have seen in London in the eighties or nineties, but of course there are more and more designers coming to Hong Kong now to work.


Michael Young will be speaking at designEX‘s Seminar Series, The Business of Design. His talk, ’21st Century Business, 21st Century Design, Authenticity, Innovation, Manufacturing and the East’ is happening at 4.30pm on Thursday 30 May, and he will also be presenting recent studio works at a Student Session on Friday 31 May at 11am. For more information and to register, visit designex.info

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