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Advancing design innovation through collaboration

At the launch of Discovered Singapore, designers Nathan Yong and Tan Wei Xiang shared their experiences in this innovative project promoting emerging designers and sustainable design practices.

Advancing design innovation through collaboration

At a not-so-distant time in the past when people all over the globe were confined within their homes, American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) discovered an extraordinary group of emerging designers through a groundbreaking project called Discovered.

In response to the themes of touch, reflection and strength, participants were invited to think about their experiences of living and working in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and then translate the functional and emotional connections to everyday objects. The result is a diverse collection of objects ranging from furniture to abstract sculptures.

Of the 20 creations crafted from American red oak, maple or cherry, ten were showcased at the Discovered Singapore exhibition hosted at Red Dot Design Museum Singapore from May 16th to 22nd. The launch event attracted over 80 influential figures from the design community, including furniture manufacturers, retailers, timber distributors and key representatives from AHEC. This gathering provided a rich environment for knowledge sharing and networking among industry leaders and up-and-coming designers.

Related: Discovered Singapore presents ten hardwood creations by emerging APAC designers

A highlight of the event was the engaging fireside chat with project mentor and legendary Singaporean designer, Nathan Yong, alongside one of the participating designers and fellow Singaporean, Tan Wei Xiang. Indesign APAC Editor, Janice Seow, facilitated the discussion, which delved into the challenges of designing for rapidly evolving consumer demands, the suitability of American hardwood as a material choice, and the sustainability of American hardwoods.

Yong, who believes in mentoring aspiring designers as a way to pay forward, suggested the participants look to their unique social and cultural backgrounds to find their authentic voices as they answered the brief for the project. All the Asia-Pacific designers Yong mentored hail from different countries and he wanted them to avoid designing yet another Danish-looking object. He noted that the resulting designs were distinct and varied.

Tan’s piece for the showcase, a cabinet named ‘Recollect’, was inspired by his walks during the pandemic in a rapidly urbanised country. “Singapore is a young country without many historical architectural elements, but I noticed the green ridged zinc sheets commonly used in construction sites. This constant state of development inspired my design,” he explained.

Interestingly, Yong observed a notable shift in design thinking among the new generation: “Designers around my age tend to be more tactile because we grew up without smartphones or laptops. We navigated the world with our senses, making our interactions more physical. Nowadays, with all information available digitally, designers are less physically engaged with the world. Yet, furniture and object design remain a very physical and emotional experience.”

Yong’s perspective on physical and emotional connections is the tenet of Discovered, which provides emerging designers opportunities to explore that. Tan’s experience working with American hardwood for the first time was eye-opening, as he noted the consistent grain and pores compared to other hardwoods he has worked with before.

Related: Jarod Lim pushes the boundaries of wood furniture

“I focus on designing and building something that will last, using quality materials like American hardwood,” said Tan. “For ‘Recollect’, I used soft maple for the outer shell to achieve a crisp, ridged texture and red oak for the shelves inside to withstand hard objects. Using the correct materials for the right applications and the appropriate amount of materials ensures both durability and sustainability.”

As AHEC continues to support design’s next generation and promote sustainable design practices, projects such as Discovered play a crucial role in fostering innovation and collaboration within the design community. The successful conclusion of this showcase in Singapore marks another step forward in AHEC’s mission to highlight the value and sustainability of American hardwoods in the global market.


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