Michael Young enjoys things a bit rough around the edges. Originally from northern England, he first came to Hong Kong 20 years ago to attend an exhibition of his work at Harbour City. After designing for traditional European companies including Rosenthal, Cappelini, Sawaya & Moroni, Magis and Artemide, he found the buzz and entrepreneurship of greater China much more to his taste. He also wanted to be closer to the factories making his work, to ensure careful control over his designs’ quality. His current Sheung Wan office sits high above dried seafood sellers flooded with natural sunlight, where his eight designers and administrative staff spend their days concocting chic products. Square Foot chats with Young.
Why did you begin working on products for the home?
My dad was an engineer and I started making things at a young age. I’m a visual person — very hands on. I’m not an academic. Twenty years ago, there was only one design magazine in London: Domus. Design was considered a poor man’s occupation. Then, just after I finished school, Wallpaper launched. Thanks to Philippe Starck, fashion and design became more desirable. I began working in Europe for some good brands. But things are limited there. The old brands have fixed marketing. I like complete freedom. I’m too much of a hippie. In Asia, entrepreneurs create from ground zero. They have new approaches. I fell into that, organically and beautifully. It is the antichrist of attitude here. I was one of the first people to tell Wallpaper to go f*** themselves. I hate creative dictatorship. I felt chained by preconceptions. The minute I came here, I hated the companies that export products while exploiting local workers. I hate the arrogant attitude of the West. It is American companies that refuse to pay the cash for quality — not the Chinese who are making rubbish.
Who were your mentors or influences?
My philosophy is about innovation in manufacturing. When I was in school, art was for decoration. But the London design industry kicked off with people like Tom Dixon and Ron Arad. That older generation of architects and designers warmed everyone to design. Today, there are only about 10 good designers in the world. There is a lot of crap out there. There are not that many industrial designers or people making an impact. But I would still rather there be 1,000 more designers than 1,000 more financial planners.
What do you love designing?
I want to create more warmth to life and to communicate that warmth easily to people. I don’t design for the sake of it. I like to work with companies that invest in products — in chairs that will last for 30 or 40 years. It’s great to see that plastic is becoming more popular. People are getting more responsible in their choices. Thanks to Apple and Steve Jobs, people are much more aware of design. I’m working on forks made from potatoes.
How do you see products made in China evolving?
This is the best place in the world to work. I can do whatever I want. A lot of CEOs like what I do and trust me here. I love dealing with a CEO whose family started a factory. They take pride in what they do and I can deal with them directly. It is a unique relationship and cuts the fat out. Things happen much faster here than in Europe. And I much prefer the economic side of design rather than the glam. There are only so many glasses of champagne that you can drink.