Michael Young's innovative use of technology and material makes him a hot topic in industrial design.
Finding inspiration in the ordinary, British designer Michael Young creates extraordinary everyday objects and commercial spaces that have placed him at the top of his game.
Michael Young is best known as one of the leading figures in contemporary industrial design. His work is ubiquitous, from the disposable pens and pencils for Japanese brand Yu-Bou, and Magis's iconic dog house, to a special collection of limited edition polo shirts for sports brand Lacoste, and the recently launched SABAR sex toy, his second to date.
While early works at the outset of his career, acquired by leading museums such as Paris's Centre Pompidou, the Louvre and Galerie Kreo, placed him within the realm of design art before the current limited edition explosion, since opening his own design office in 1995, Young has established a successful career, based on the innovative use of technology and materials; for example, Established & Sons' Zipzi. The glass-topped table's base utilizes the ancient art of paper folding using Young's unique, innovative process, created through investigation into new manufacturing possibilities, thus speeding up the production process considerably. It is this cross-fertilization of tradition and technology and the exploration of materials that has earned him global acclaim.
Michael Young's definition of luxury:
Sitting in a manpuri drinking beer.
If luxury were...
The first Asahi beer when you land in Tokyo.
Itakako, it's my favorite thing in the whole wide world.
That's too rude!
A manpuri, there is no better luxury.
Although you are British, you now live in Hong Kong. What made you move?
Chasing after girls! No, really I just wanted to escape to the unknown. I think I'm just naturally curious. I've always felt that London didn't really have that much to offer me as a dreamer, so to speak. I think that at least in Asia I can dream and make things come true, whereas if you sit in Shoreditch High Street and daydream, you'll just end up going to the pub. At least in China there are infinite possibilities of things to do and it's easy to get things made. It's just a really entertaining place for me.
Are you seeing a lot of new designers emerging from this part of the world?
No, at the moment it is still in its very early stages. It's much more difficult to develop design culturally than it is art, because with art you take a picture and put it in the gallery and it becomes art, whereas design is not as important in those cultural terms. China is like Japan was 20 years ago, so I think that in 30 years' time there will be good designers coming from China.
At the outset of your career your work was sold through galleries, and you recently presented a marble bookshelf as part of Haaz gallery's Block exhibition in Istanbul, and you have also garnered much acclaim within industrial design – which area do you prefer?
I think I prefer industrial design. I feel the whole design one-off market has just been humiliated by greed. There was a lot of integrity in it when I started in London 14 years ago. People like Ron Arad and Jasper Morrison were making limited editions because there was no production and it was really beautiful, poetical things, but what I've seen happen now, it's just become a short cut for a design to say they are a designer... which is a bit sad. It's basically design decoration, not design. I steer clear of that whole area. I'd rather have something that designed sell for lots of money when I'm dead, rather than when I'm alive. It's a bit more romantic. If there's a really beautiful industrial process and hard work behind a piece, then I think it should be worth a lot of money, when I've seen that somebody's sweated over those pieces, but when I see someone just make something big then I just think it's better to stay away.
Your work on a diverse range of projects, from branding to commercial interiors. Your most recently completed project was the Skin clinic in Florence, how did you become involved in the project?
The client was at the dentist and he picked up a copy of Wallpaper magazine and saw another project that I did in Taiwan called the Lucy clinic, so that was his dream. He's asked me to do branches worldwide. The next one will open in Istanbul. I do a lot of interiors.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
One is a new restaurant in Hong Kong, which is going to be a dream project for me. It's like a French restaurant right in the center. I'm designing it now, and still working on the concept, but I guess I've actually been waiting to design a restaurant all my life. I think it will be the first competitor to Starck's restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel because no one has really been invited to Hong Kong to do new projects, so I've been lucky.
I'm doing quite a few new things. I'm just launching a new bottle for Asahi beer and a new olive oil bottle for one of the oldest families in Portugal, called the Pasaha family. I've just launched luggage accessories for Georg Jensen. I'm also working with a new company in Indonesia to try and develop wooden furniture to try and create a more design export industry from Indonesia.
You've created countless products. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
I'm always terrified when I'm asked to do something. There's always that scare of not knowing what do do, or having too much to think about, it's not easy. I find every project quite difficult, because there are a lot of people to bounce against to get the right direction. I guess I like the challenge. There's so much shit design out there, it's nice to try to things which are not shit, although I don't think I always design good things, and I actually thing it's okay to design bad things from time to time, not everything has to be good, does it?