The Design for Life is a documentary series on pioneers of design that is distributed by GQ and Wired globally. The fourth Braun, Design for Life session is an interview with designer and philosopher Lu Yongzhong, where the creation of beautiful things, things to be used, and the elimination of anything unnecessary has been talked about. The designer in the discourse following 20 years teaching industrial and interior design quit academia to set up a furniture design studio and brand, Banmoo, and is a practitioner in the field of design.
The interview explores the designer’s approach to design, the engagement of an individual’s whole being, and his outlook on technology while striving to strike a balance between the traditional and the modern in his practice. The interviewer presents the interviewee an opportunity to take precedence in the discourse, and that reflects in the insight the designer grants the viewers, an act very difficult for all designers. The interview seamlessly flows in linearity from knowing about the designer’s day and his design process and gently leading towards his plans for the future. The level of engagement of both the interviewer and the interviewee into a seamless conversation reflects in the clear distinction revealing only the relevant and crisp details on both their parts.
Daydreaming, working, and daydreaming some more, Lu Yongzhong describes his every day, a trait I believe he shares with most creators and designers. The deliberate negotiations in the constant flux of space-time, and the realization of ideas into concrete reality, as a means of making life more beautiful, is an everyday act for him. The designer poignantly informs the desire of revealing and expressing beyond the immediate understanding, without words, through objects, an innate necessity, and craving to care towards humanity. The belief that objects or physical entities as necessitated instruments communicate life aspirations is visible in his works. He blatantly expresses that there is a story behind every line and detail, and very rightfully so resonates with the philosophies of even Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn, as careful creators of quality detail for human occupation and consumption. The ‘carrying moon’ incense holder designed in 2006 by Lu Yongzhong is a beautiful example of simple lines and classy minimalism invoking the most fragile of experience in the user, both visual and sensory.
Lu Yongzhong strives to create the most exciting experience of the mundane and everyday entities, the realization of objects that seek your attention, in their most utilitarian-basic forms. As one sees him walk through the pristine white galley and collection, explaining his beautiful design, one gets a glimpse of what would have been his mental framework while he designed the object itself. The uncluttered and almost covetous clarity of thought brings about the formation of a simple everyday item, the incense holder, designed like a flute where he envisioned the smoke to come out from various openings of the form. The philosophical undertone of slowing down, appreciating the present, and feeling the passage of time is expressed by this small object, marvelling the user and viewer both alike.
Li Yongzhong, with utmost clarity, states that he designs from his heart, also feeling immense pressure and negotiating between the many objective difficulties that come with realizing an idea. This act he describes is almost a spiritual practice for him, an act of climbing a mountain. He resorts to the basics in the process of realizing a form, as seen in his tea table and object design. The imagining of the moment when one drinks tea and deliberating the distance between people as conversations flow during this act determines the outcome of table sizes and the cutlery associated. The result is a tranquil order. This simple act of questioning reminds me of the instance when Louis Kahn asks the brick regarding what it wants to be. How beautiful can form be when the designer resorts to this level of humility and basics when the heart and the head together replicate the beauty that is life.
When asked about his agreement to the principle of Dieter Ram – Less, but better, the designer very straightforwardly states, less is more, right?
Rather than resorting to extreme reduction, the designer unmasks the preference of simplification, which has a human element embedded in its principle. Every entity has a spirit, and so does every individual, and it is that essence – the find, the designer should strive to create. Minimal creation magnifying the soul of the object, not being overtly ascetic, reflects a beautiful dichotomy the designer negotiates in his designs. The need to depart from the idea of fixing everything with just a look, because it’s fastest to use our eyes, is countered into curated material selection and subsequent design. Every design should engage and open our other senses, our ears and ability to listen, our hands and our ability to touch, the smell and nostalgia associated with a time past, through connecting with materials.
The reflection by the interviewer that If the image is the inspiration, the chair must be as happy as the man sitting in it is so apt concerning the works of Lu Yongzhong.
When deliberating upon the use of technology in the creation of good design, the designer instates the importance of technology being a tool to aid one in this journey called life. The taking over of technology and reduction of human engagement is against the very nature as put forth clearly by him. The philosophical and almost ascetic under toning in his design and the added challenge of being a professional in today’s era of interconnected cultures and questioning is what keeps the designer rooted in his endeavours. Lu Yongzhong states he planned to retire when he would be 45 years of age, but in his 50th year, he is steadily negotiating the everyday dilemmas of a designer. A designer is a designer for the life he never retires. The boundless nature of all things, reflected in the design, finding almost an infinite continuum is what keeps him going.
The language of design as an inherent expression of one’s self, where learning and unlearning presents us always a new stage to explore, transcends every designer into a continued exploration. The inner aspiration of every designer to create magnanimous once in lifetime entities has to find an outlet with the understanding of letting every day finding precedence is a valuable learning one takes from this interview. As a designer, one needs to be both a mountain and as water, where one’s principles have to be as steadfast as a mountain and changing and negotiating as water. The unity of essence and utility visible in the works of Lu Yongzhong, remains a beautiful poignant mystery to unravel for every designer, especially in an era where designers and users feel less is bore. Well, here is a man understatedly expressing the simplicity that is life.