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Interview with Maia Ming Fong

Home > Designer Interviews > Maia Ming Fong

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Maia Ming Fong (MF) for A’ Design Awards and Competition. You can access the full profile of Maia Ming Fong by clicking here.

Interview with Maia Ming Fong at Thursday 19th of December 2013
Maia Ming Fong
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
MF: I never wanted to attend art school and had no idea when I applied to university that one could become a professional designer. I was incredibly lucky at Stanford, to discover the Product Design Engineering program and the mentors available there. Since graduation, I have always worked as a designer and loved it.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
MF: Maia Ming Designs was created because there was a growing demand for my hand made ceramic work. Since I am more comfortable working as a designer than making one of a kind pieces, I began reproducing certain designs in small series. The collection is small but growing and focused on creating tactile and whimsical ceramics that embody Eastern and Western cultures.

FS: What is "design" for you?
MF: For me good design is what makes me want to use or own a certain product. In some cases a design is solving a particular problem, in others it is pure beauty and desire that attract, in the best of situations, it is both.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
MF: I have designed a lot of products in many different materials ranging from sports equipment to watches to furniture. At the moment, I am exploring my passion for ceramics, though if I had the time and resources I would be using many more materials as well! I love tableware items, particularly salt and pepper shakers and tea sets.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
MF: My favorite design of mine or in the world? I am usually most animated by my latest creation, which right now is the EVA tea pot. In general, however, I've been a Mac user since 1984 and can definitely state that my life and career would have been very different without my Mac.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
MF: I spent a summer internship at Sottsass Associati where I worked on irons and serving trays. I'm not sure I can say that I designed any of the final products from that summer, so perhaps the Crest toothbrush for Proctor & Gamble which I art directed with Deskey Designs is a better example.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
MF: Right now, porcelain, which can be incredibly tricky and frustrating at times, but is so beautiful when done right.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
MF: I get so caught up in the day to day of running a business that unless I reserve studio time, I never make it there. Fridays are my specific studio day and I prepare ideas for and hoard that time jealously.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
MF: With ceramics I'm very focused on the tactile feel and finish, though with other products different senses take priority.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
MF: All of them: happiness, frustration, fear, excitement, satisfaction, exhaustion...

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
MF: I like designing physical products that I can hold and use and see out in the world being used by others. I don't feel the same satisfaction with virtual products. My emotions are mixed when a design of mine is realized, I am thrilled to see it out there, but I always see ways to improve it.

FS: What makes a design successful?
MF: When a design is successful it just looks and feels right, when something is off it feels unresolved. A good design solves a need and a great design has a timeless quality.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
MF: With most designs there is usually a gut reaction, though good and bad is very different for different people. I consider the beauty and functionality of a product to be key elements to a good design.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
MF: Sustainability is a responsibility that designers and humans all have in using and creating products. Right now I'm collaborating on an eco-product in ceramics as well as developing some new ideas on my own.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
MF: I think products and consumers have become much more discerning in my lifetime. There are days when I feel as though everybody has pretensions to being a designer, but I'm glad, because it's important for designs to be well considered. This being said, it is really hard for small companies such as my own to compete with giants like IKEA or TARGET who sell products at prices we can't even manufacture at.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
MF: My last exhibition was a group show at the Musée National Adrien Dubouché, which is the porcelain museum in Limoges, France. My next exhibition will be starting in December 2013, another group exhibition, at the Associació de Ceramistes de Cataluyna here in Barcelona.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
MF: Everywhere. I spent a morning recently at the Musée Guimet in Paris looking at their extraordinary Asian ceramics collection. It's important for me to work in a cooperative studio space where I can exchange ideas with others. I look at both past and contemporary designs every day.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
MF: Simple, with a touch of whimsy and a Eurasian thread. My collection is extremely personal and I am, in a sense, my own most discerning client. When I approach design for other companies, I like to offer a range of traditional to more esoteric solutions to the design brief.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
MF: I have lived for the last four years in Barcelona, Spain. Before that I lived in New York and California, and before that in Italy, Hawaii, and Sweden. My cultural heritage is a Eurasian fusion and that reflects in my designs. The pros of living in Spain are that I immersed myself in ceramics here and I have some great resources. The disadvantage is the harsh economic reality that Spain is going through right now, I can't tell you how many design stores I see struggling and going out of business.

FS: How do you work with companies?
MF: In the past I have worked as a design consultant to companies. At the moment I am working with artisan manufacturers in Spain, Portugal and Vietnam to make my ceramics.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
MF: Find someone whose aesthetic appeals to you and who is flexible to learning and adapting designs to manufacturing.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
MF: Once I have an idea or design brief in hand I start sketching. This evolves fairly quickly into hand made prototypes which then help me to refine the design and drawings. Only once I feel confident about a design and have a good prototype do I invest in a sample mold. Often there are refinements made to the design and mold to address manufacturing issues. I sometimes don't consider a design completed even after it is in production, I might still be making little tweaks and refinements to improve it.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
MF: I'm a huge fan of Alessi and have used my Michael Graves tea kettle for years. Antonio Citterio designed a folding table for Kartell that is in my kitchen. I collect salt and pepper shakers, one my favorite sets is Mr. and Mrs. Muse by Jonathan Adler. I've designed a lot of my own furniture in cherry wood, there are some end tables I especially like. And lastly, my new EVA tea pot and cups!

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
MF: Wake up at 7, get the kids off to school, savor my tea for a moment with my cat before the day really starts. A few yoga stretches and an email check to deal with urgent issues. I have a "to do" list every day that I work through, this can range from meetings with clients and manufacturers to working at home. I have a window during the day while the kids are at school to get things accomplished. In the evenings I'm the soccer mom and have to make dinner. I try to fit in a short swim somewhere. In the evening I finish up and reply to emails and make my list for the next day.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
MF: Go work for a range of different companies, it's a great way to gain experience and learn about real world practicalities. In the meantime, explore and develop your own voice with personal projects.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
MF: I've mostly been pretty happy as a designer, design is a profession that utilizes my humanistic and geeky characteristics. Sometimes my complaint has been that there are decisions out of my control that affect me and or my designs adversely, but this happens in most professions.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
MF: Beauty.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
MF: A designer needs to be able to communicate his/her ideas, whether verbally, visually, in writing, or all and more of the above.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
MF: I use Photoshop and Illustrator regularly, probably daily. I'm very inspired by classical Asian and Western ceramics. My other sources of inspiration are more haphazard, I follow a few design blogs, and am inspired by the things I encounter every day.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
MF: Right now I am a little overwhelmed and am seeking help in PR/Marketing so I can devote more time to design and other aspects of running the company. I make a lot of lists and drawings to plan things out.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
MF: That depends on the object and certain designs resolve in fewer steps than others. I have projects I started way before the EVA that are still not finished, whereas the EVA was started and finished in less than a year.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
MF: How did you become a designer? Lucky accident walking into the right class room one day.

FS: What was your most important job experience?
MF: Seven years working as Art Director for Giro Sport Design in Santa Cruz, California. At Giro I got to do a bit of everything from graphics to packaging to product detailing and marketing stuff. It's both fun and handy being able to do a bit of everything.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
MF: I like to think that my end customers for Maia Ming Designs are design conscious individuals. Some of my previous clients from consulting days include: Specialized Bike Components, Hydrapak, Easton Technical Products, Black Diamond, and Brewery Ommegang.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
MF: I enjoy designing home furnishings and kitchen wares, mainly because they are products that are relevant to me.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
MF: I would like to grow Maia Ming Designs ceramic collection and eventually expand into other lifestyle and home wares products.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
MF: I sometimes work with other designers, generally on a part of a product. For example, Corrie Bain made the elephant and dragon models for my GUARDIANS jars. Right now I don't have the band width to develop other designers concepts, though I'm open to it for the future. However, I think the collaboration of the EVA between my model maker, the designer (myself), and the manufacturer was decidedly a team effort.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
MF: I am currently working on some interesting eco-designs in ceramic, stay tuned.

FS: How can people contact you?
MF: www.maiamingdesigns.com

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
MF: A few quotes from Eva Zeisel that I like... "Beautiful things make people happy." "My designs are meant to attract the hand as well as the eye." "When I design something, I think of it as a gift to somebody else."


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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