Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shanghai | turnSTYLE: Xiaojing Huang, Design Diva

turn·stile –noun1. a structure of four horizontally revolving arms pivoted atop a post and set in a gateway or opening in a fence to allow the controlled passage of people.

turn·STYLE - noun1. Justina's snapshot profiles of cool people in Shanghai who are creating and defining China style.

After this most current food scandal in China--melamine in milk!--I am despairing over humanity and integrity. Honestly. What kind of people would poison milk for babies? Children are every country's treasure. So to be so premeditated in contaminating the milk has got to be the lowest of the low. I think the Chinese expression for evil people is right: those milk producers are hei xin, or dark hearts.

That's why I have to hang my hope for humanity in general and for China in particular on good people like hip and forward-thinking product designer, Xiaojing Huang, executive manager for Y-Townwhose mission is to create products that are useful and beautiful. We met last week over crepes and chocolate decadence (and egads! melamined milk in our coffees!) to talk over the current state of design in China. Of course, we also talked shop about creativity--what drives us both to create and how that need isn't tied to profit margins.

Two other designers work with Xiaojing at Y-Town. The name of their company comes from waitan (the Bund) in Mandarin. (The Bund is the strand of stately buildings that line the Huangpu River in Shanghai.) What a perfect metaphor for this product design team, which mixes the east and west in its eclectic design mentality--much like the Bund with its collection of Chinese and Western architecture.
According to Xiaojing, "Design in China is still beginning. The young generation is tearing things apart." That's how Xiaojing gets many of her ideas: tearing apart the old. Like trolling old watch stores, buying the designs she likes, and then dismantling them. Destroying them to create something different, something that is uniquely hers.
I think that philosophy of tearing apart and making new is most evident in Y-Town's recycling project. Worried about the waste the world is producing, Xiaojing and team created a new design imperative for themselves: to experiment with old, discarded local materials such as these computer chips and motherboards
and to reconfigure them into something wholly different. Modern. Beautiful. And useful:

What was destined for the dump is now funky jewelry. This exercise of reusing materials forces the team to look at everything with a completely open and playful attitude. As a writer, this recycling mentality appeals to me--perhaps because I like the idea of recycling ideas that I've labored over...and can't use because of plotting or pacing or whatever. A number of my writer-buddies and I create "dumping ground" files for passages and chapters we love but have had to cut from our novels.

Anyway, if Y-Town is able to turn outdated posters for art exhibits into must-have purses, then I can't wait to see what they can do with these raw materials:

(Note: I showed this picture to my kids and told them all about Xiaojing. They peered at this picture and came up with a dozen product ideas. What if we all did this with the things that we unthinkingly toss into the garbage?)

Y-Town's playful utilitarianism is at its best in their design for Absolut Vodka: a tote container that doubles as a lantern (care of a battery insert)!

Here's the demolition room with their collected fodder that spurs ideas. I will bet anything that one day soon, we'll see the products that come out of this room in our own homes.

To ideas and people with good hearts who just want to make our world a more beautiful place.


  1. Very cool! Here's a link of another blog I visit that you must go to. It's a post about having a "Spare Parts Mixed Media Bee" with friends coming together for a day and creating art with...stuff.

  2. This is so cool -- that Xiaojing does this, and that you, one of my favorite voices in writing today, chose to write about it. I see a book. We'll miss you this year, but we'll still be writing along with you!

  3. this is really great stuff! very useful tips and innovative designs. what a great blog............

  4. If I were to wager a guess at why, I’d say that users don’t “browse” forms. The interaction style users engage in with forms is different, and requires its own study and design best practices..
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