The narrator at heart, designer Boey Wang ( → ) is drawn to stories, or rather, the attempt of capturing the mundane and often overlooked moments of life. So those seemingly inconspicuous matters and ordinary objects that fascinate him, often become the subject of his stories. Throughout the years, design became for Boey Wang a medium of communication, stimulation, and empowerment. Reflecting on visual and functional design, he urges us to listen, feel, experience, and perhaps reimagine the world without established frames and measurements.
We spoke with Boey Wang about his current practices and future plans, scroll down to read the full interview. In fact, we met with Wang through his work Immeasurable Range which was featured in our ESC exhibition ( → ). By stretching the law of physics, the project reinterprets measurement from a subjective perspective.
Do you remember how it all started for you in arts and design?
To be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between art and design before my first bachelor’s study. I grew up in a competitive environment where everyone must study hard to get into college. Although my grades were not that good, I tried my best. So in general, I struggled with student life. But then I gradually realized that the design of the system was limited and it could not fit everyone. And at that moment I became aware that our life is designed in a very specific way.
In the beginning, I was thinking about becoming a comics artist. Even though I was a self-taught artist, it was a fascinating experience to make stories. From 2013 to 2016 I lived in Beijing and met many comics artists who became my friends. However, being surrounded by many talented people stressed me out a lot. So then I understood that my ability and commitment can’t be compared to my friends. I believe that I will never be as good as them in my life. Because most importantly, I am not enjoying the long drawing process after the storyboarding. And in addition, it is hard making a living as a comics artist for sure. Also, the one thing I don’t like about comics the most — the impact stops when the book closes. So I was planning to do something different.
I also know that seeing the comics toys for the first time made an impact on me as I became interested in iconography and functions. It immediately opened up my narration dimension. Then I gradually developed my interest in telling stories through objects. The story happens in a real-life context. It grows with time. So it speaks to my heart and that’s how I find what I want to do.
How inspiring! And what about your studies at the Design Academy Eindhoven, how was that experience for you?
Studying at Design Academy Eindhoven changed my life. Before it, I thought that design was just like a job in a company where you produce some nice images and objects. However, design can become a language and tool that makes a real impact on people’s way of seeing the world.
So with this idea I came to the studies at the Design Academy Eindhoven for my second bachelor’s degree. It was an intense experience as I had a lot of work and challenges. I graduated from the department called Man and Wellbeing. It is about creating the object experience for human wellness. I learned a lot about materials, forms, design research, and translations, but especially about the quality of details and mistakes that happen. And gradually, I combined my ideology with what I make with my hands.
So, do you think your education in design helped you find your style or mission? How did your design aesthetics form?
I think that studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven was my most luxurious chance to find and realize my dream as I had the time and freedom. And at the end of my studies, it turned out both as I expected and as not expected. On one hand, I developed a strong hand and mind that allowed me to think and work like a designer, making an impact. But at the same time, it gradually melted down my glorified expectations of an elite designer.
The more I learned about design, the more challenges I saw in society and how we, as humans, treat each other and nature. I realized that a designer is in an advantaged position because of seeing society and the world from a creator’s perspective. The changes should be done with a widely collaborative and sharing approach. So this helped me to build up my mission and design languages. For me, a good design should not only have all the fine material quality but also the narration for the kindness, in the most minimal, honest, and natural forms — material and aesthetics.
Yeah, I feel exactly the same about collaborations and sharing — we as humanity can do better… Anyway, what else influences and inspires you and your work?
Folk art influences me the most, especially the folk art movement in Japan called Mingei Movement*. The objects are created by anonymous craftsmen and meant for ordinary people/life. The earthy rough imperfections of the objects embrace the trace of life, and ultimate beauty is reached without intention. Therefore, my admiration goes beyond the ultimate humble beauty. I admire the eyes of Yanagi Sōetsu who discovered this movement and the hand that highlighted them. Because it answered a lot of my questions as a designer.
His work not only praises the idea of beauty but also changes social expectations of appreciating norms and people. And I wish my design could function similarly. By pointing out an underestimated point of view and questioning the relationship we have with current issues, an alternative solution could be created. And it could provide us with another understanding of ourselves.
Interesting. But how do those inspirations come through in your work? Is there something specific, like a personal mission, that you wish to communicate?
The core of my design focuses on encouraging audiences to find alternative solutions from the ignored, undervalued, or insecure angle, especially using our intuition and senses.
Our body contains millions of years of wisdom from evolution, which is beyond the knowledge we learn in a life span. We are equipped with an advanced system to respond to pain and fears. But with all our senses, design is mostly done from the perspective of conforming, efficient, and visually pleasing at most. I would love to release design from the fear and sore views we avoid and create more human-centered solutions. For example, I am working on a design method called Design Beyond Vision. This non-visual design approach questions the visually dominating way of designing, it creates alternative forms and aesthetics. In this way, beneficial for both capable and unable of seeing people, I believe that I can bring a more diverse and fluid awareness of our existence with each other and in the natural world.
* In some ways mingei may be seen as a reaction to Japan’s rapid modernisation processes. The philosophical pillar of mingei is ‘ordinary people’s crafts’ ( → )
Wow, I’m so fond of your words and mission, thanks for communicating this! Would you like to advise something for artists that are just starting out? Or, what was the best advice that worked for you?
I am also on the way to building up my career, even though I am a bit older now. I would phrase the question like this ‘Do you have any advice that you would give to yourself 7 years ago?’
And then I would answer: ‘Please try as much as you can, and be proactive in approaching fear and failure. The stress or loss usually provides a clear answer to where lies the border of the comfort zone. Please take the risk and move out one step further, and usually, that is the direction you don’t like to go the most. But it could turn out into a surprising solution for the situation you are in now. The logic here is that you can’t gain an objective image of the future based on your current knowledge.’ So thinking this way helps me build up my ‘mysterious confidence’. And also, being a very stressed person, this became the only way for me to forgive myself.
Very wise advice to which, I’m sure, many can relate — thank you! So let’s move on, what would be the next professional achievement for you? What are your future plans?
Currently, I am working on a new project, a research on how the sense of touch develops and works for born blind children. With this fascinating approach comes the understanding of how our worldview, built without vision, misses the potential of our senses. I would like to translate my research into art objects and functional products. Meanwhile, I would like to put my knowledge and methods into a teaching program and books so that the idea benefits the future generation of designers.
Also, I would like to find a balance point of being an artist, object designer, and educator at the same time. My goal is to create a brand that provides inclusive products for the users, supports my education program for sharing knowledge, and benefits the brand’s image. So at this moment, I look for team members to join the ship. It will be a long way but I am on the way.