In Macao, product design has often been under-valued, being understood as no more than simple, straightforward logo-and-poster-making. Recently, however, with the rising importance of branding among local brands, the people in Macao have begun to appreciate lifestyle goods and to understand the value of design. In the context of such trends, what are the challenges and opportunities faced by Macao-based designers? In this issue, we discuss with three local creative professionals who share with us the lowdown of Macao’s design industry.
Hylé Design Macau: Retaining Design Originality in Mass Production
As a brand without retail outlets in Macao, Hylé Design Macau has done wonders in gaining recognition in the retail market and digitally, via Eslite Bookstore in Taiwan, design products website Pinkoi.com and the Mainland website Nuandao.com. Its founder, Siu Kai Tong, first came up with the idea to recycle premium quality timber and turning the materials into delicate accessories and stationery items. The philosophy behind this concept helps promote environmental protection as well as highlights the purity and simplicity of untreated timber. These products not only articulate the designer’s passion, they are heart-warming designs with a more human touch.
Siu said: “My family runs a furniture-making business on the Mainland, producing furniture items in their own factories. These products are all manufactured using high quality timber, which are characterised by beautiful, unique wood grains. I want to make use of these leftover manufacture materials and turn them into something beautiful, since otherwise they would simply go to waste. This is our design philosophy: everything has a hidden value.”
Having studied product design in Taiwan, Siu returned to Macao to seek work opportunities. On his return, he was disappointed with the product design scene in Macao, and found that the city was lagging behind the creative environment in Taiwan. Prior to setting up Hylé Design Macau, Siu worked as a graphic designer, where he put his design skills to use. Eventually, he identified what was lacking in Macao’s market, and went on to develop his own brand Hylé Design Macau so as to promote good product design.
Run by a group of three, Siu is pleased to see that the company has already recovered its investments. What they are now faced with is the need to recruit more talent to meet expansion needs. At the moment, Siu had to handle the design responsibilities single-handedly.
“Actually, there are quite a lot of people who study product design at overseas universities, but most of them find it hard to locate job opportunities in this field when they return to Macao, and the lack of opportunities inevitably discouraged them.”
Siu felt that the quality of handmade products in Macao is actually no less attractive than those in Taiwan, but the handmade products in Taiwan are getting more commercialised, as production becomes more systematic and en masse. A key reason for such success, Siu argued, lies in the fact that those goods can be produced locally in Taiwan. Macao cannot adopt this model, given its limitations in production. On the other hand, its competitiveness is built on the character and uniqueness of its goods. Siu thought that the best way to open up creative entrepreneurship opportunities in Macao is to leverage on the uniqueness and aesthetics of goods.
At the beginning, Siu hired a studio to develop his designs. Later on, he moved his base to Macau Design Centre. Now, having been there for almost a year, he admitted how important it was to procure a work studio there. “The studio location benefits me a great deal, since the rental is more affordable than elsewhere. More importantly, most of the tenants at Macau Design Centre are creative professionals. Whenever they stage exhibitions or other activities, extra support is often required, and hence the venue attracts more business opportunities.”
While the brand has hitherto focused on accessories and smaller items such as stationery, Siu is looking for more creative breakthroughs. Looking ahead, they would target some bigger furniture items, adopting the theme of “bringing back old Macao into the present and beyond; rejuvenating Macao’s culture” as design inspiration.
“The products from this series are made with timber from an idle, century-old mansion in Macao. We are keen to embed lifestyle products with the cultural motifs of old Macao. Moreover, we hope that this product can remind everyone to care more about the environment.”