Could you briefly describe who you are, where you are from and why you became designers?
We are Liang-Jung Chen (陳亮融) and Shuei-Yuan Yang (楊水源), both from South of Taiwan. We first met in 2012 while studying industrial design in Taipei. In 2018, Liang moved to London and worked for a design agency, while Shuei continued his study for a year at Design Academy Eindhoven.
It was not until we left school that we discovered our common interest and curiosity in relations of objects and human beings. It is spontaneous for us to observe what’s around us and to ask why? Our collaboration began with casual chit chat about these ‘Aha moments’ in our daily lives. Showing the world a fresh perspective with a twist is what keeps us motivated.
What best describes you as designers and where do you look for inspiration?
Maybe we are kind of the sensitive and over-thinking type… We are easily triggered by banal scenarios in our daily lives and love to talk about what it means. We are observant and critical; also, patient with repetitive processes, as well as committed to create work of a good quality.
Inspiration is a myth. We don’t think it is a ‘where’ question, instead it is a ‘how’ question. We can be inspired by so many things all the time, but at the end of the day, it is how we integrate it and transform it that truly matters.
How we managed to stay inspired within a context is by archiving our findings. We created a database of all the photos, sketches and details based on our daily lives or things we find on the internet. We revisit them often when designing.
What is the most special or remarkable work you have ever made or designed?
Hmm… If we have to answer it, we would say it is the idea of The Misused itself. We see the value and the potential in it, and we would like to developt it even further in the near future.
You describe The Misused as a geeky study on how to use metal hardware the wrong way. How did the project come about?
It started with our obsession of studying hardware. By asking many questions like: Why do people need this? Why it comes in this form and shape? What’s the material like? How did they manufacture it? What’s the finishing like? Most of the time we do not know the answers, nor can we find them online, but the questions do help us to deconstruct the hardware to its essence From there we reimagine how it can be used in other ways.
With each piece of hardware, we do a lot of ‘study sketches’ to fully free our minds from the stereotype of each hardware’s original function. We explore the endless possibilities with function, material, form, and more, until we could eventually find an idea that is on point. With our industry background, we treat the object with a real industrial product standard. To design a refined homeware product that makes sense in every aspect.
For DDW, you specifically worked with Dutch hardware like the dish rack made from bird spikes. How would you describe typical Dutch hardware? And where does it differ from Taiwanese hardware?
We find it helpful to see hardware with an archaeological and anthropological point of view. When you study what kind of hardware a local community uses, they unveil much knowledge on climate, geography, history, culture and more. For example, anti-bird spikes are very common in Europe due to the law that forbids harming any wild birds.
We also noticed that flagpole holder hardware can be spotted on most houses, and it comes with the habit that locals here tend to hang flags on special days. In Taiwan we have something similar, but it is religion related - the wall-mounted incense holder. It is widely used by Buddhists to stick incense at the door to bring good luck to the family.
One of the most interesting pieces of Dutch hardware we found is the mail blocker. When we first saw it on a Dutch hardware store’s website, we had no clue what it is for, and then we realised that it is used to secure the mailbox from being bombarded during the crazy New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands. We learned so much about Dutch culture by studying the context of hardware.
If you could work with the hardware of a country of choice, what country do you think would have most interesting hardware to work with and why?
To be honest, we haven’t really thought about that actually. As a research-based project, we assume that every country is very different and has interesting stories to tell.
Besides hardware, what other type of material or product would you like to experiment for future designs?
There is just too much to explore when it comes to hardware around the world. We feel we can never reach an end. At the moment our plan is to keep studying them and to deepen our skills and knowledge. Material and product wise, we’ve been constantly searching for items that respond well to the idea, as well as items that communicate precisely. We would like to sharpen the project in a holistic way.
What would you still like to achieve with your work?
We would like to make the idea accessible to everyone, which is why we are now working on a publication - The Misused Guide, which will document the context of the project in details, including: hardware field research archive, study sketches, design notes, experiments, prototype models, and the final outcome. With the guide, we would like to invite the public to pay closer attention to details in daily life and inspire them to apply the creativity smartly and practically.
On the other hand, bringing the research to a more professional level is something we have been pushing ourselves to do. Lately, we are fascinated by the concept of ‘Technofossil’, which describes our complex social structures together with the physical infrastructure and technological artefacts supporting energy, information and material flows. We consider hardware an excellent ‘technofossil’. We would like to dig deeper and turn the insightful research into a more digestible message for public, maybe with a twist of humour.
If you were able to choose anyone in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?
At the moment, we are about to start a collaboration with a Taiwanese anthropologist to explore hardware culture in the modern world. We are quite excited as we are always keen to deepen our understanding of things.
We would also love to work with our thrifty grandparents and their creative neighbours. They sometimes come up with brilliant upcycling ideas that impress us so much. Maybe they can design the next collection for us.
Last DDW, you presented The Misused pop-up shop at Piet Hein Eek. How did this go?
This year at DDW, we presented a collection of 14 objects, as well as 2 walls of hardware we collected in Taiwan and the Netherlands. We curated it as a pop-up hardware store that sells ideas on how to use hardware wrong. We would like to replicate our experience of feeling excited and curios when we are hanging out in foreign hardware stores. And the scenography design was inspired by the neat shelving system in the stores.
The feedback was mixed and interesting. Many Dutch people burst into laughter when they first saw the objects made with cheap hardware they have at home. Later on, they turned to the objects made with Taiwanese hardware that they had never seen before, they were perplexed, they wanted to learn the context of it.
Reverse reaction happened for foreign visitors who had little knowledge about Dutch hardware. The diverse interaction between what different hardware mean to each individual is fairly interesting. By observing them and chatting with them, we also learned a lot.
For now, the application of the Misused project is mainly focused on home objects, are you going to expand this to other objects in the future?
To apply the on-point humour to a more holistic experience in general. Maybe an object of a larger scale, maybe an installation, maybe a space even. We would like to work more on the narrative aspect of the idea. As long as it enables us to share the initial idea, we would not limit ourselves to a certain medium.
Do you have any news you would like to share with the DDW community?
At the moment we are already working on the 3rd edition of the project. It will be about British hardware. Something unique about British culture is that it has such a long and multicultural history, which made the research challenging and time-consuming. Our plan is to present it in London in 2020.
We are also excited to host a design workshop in Taipei next month. Hopefully we can deliver the idea well and to inspire the participants.
Last but not least, as we are constantly documenting hardware we saw in different parts of the world, we are growing our hardware archive slowly. Regularly, we post them on our Instagram account. Please feel free to send us a photo of hardware that you find cute!
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