PRISCILLA & TIMO
Company Founded in
Name of Founders
Priscilla Lui & Timo Wong
Birthyear of Priscilla
Birthyear of Timo
B.A. Ind Design, NUS
Dip. Ind Design, Nanyang Polytechnic
1st Job (Pris & Timo)
Designer, Design Incubation Centre, NUS
Location (1st office)
Gordon Industrial Building
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Location (4th office)
Lower Delta Road
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Period of occupancy (current)
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Timo Graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic
Priscilla graduated from National University of Singapore
Timo & Priscilla worked at Design Incubation Centre, under directorship of Patrick Chia.
Founded Studio Juju, and started exhibiting in Milan Design Week
Awarded “Designers of the Future” by DesignMiami/Basel, and was commissioned to produce an artwork - “A Tent” was designed and exhibited in Basel, Switzerland.
Winner of SaloneSatellite Award at Milan Design Week
“Rabbit & the Tortoise Collection”, produced by Living Divani was conferred the Singapore President’s Design Award “Design of the Year”
First Interior Project - OCBC Premier Bank, Flagship at Orchard Gateway
Completion of first Public Artwork “ Big Round & Tall Long” at Tampines Downtown Line - commissioned by Land Transport Authority
Collaboration with designer/artist Theseus Chan on the art installation titled “Rope Chandelier” at National Design Centre
More than Just a Happy Trick
By Elaine Chan, 28 February 2022
Did you always want to be designers?
Priscilla Probably from a certain age, I had some art education during college, and then from then on, I knew I wanted to do something a little bit more artistic. And design was a path I find very interesting. Because it’s a kind of applied arts.
Timo For me I think I was always into art. In school, I always choose art subjects and modules and when I went to the poly [polytechnic], I wanted to do something that’s creative and art-related. And then somehow I fell into industrial design. That’s how I started doing design and studying design. It’s kind of a natural progression.
The inclination and liking for something creative, were there any particular decisions that drove you to veer towards this direction? Any incidents or experiences?
Timo For me it’s a lot of serendipity. At that time, I was quite young and naïve and so for me - let’s just choose a course with few examinations, something drawing-based, something with very minimal writing. So that was the thinking back then, when you were still quite naïve.
I was quite young and naïve and so for me, it was about choosing a course with few examinations, something drawing-based, something with very minimal writing.
Young and fresh, not naïve…
Timo Yeah young and fresh. Naïve is not necessarily bad.
True. What about Pris?
Priscilla My mother put me into art lessons when I was young. I think it was a chance for her to have her own time. Some community centre art classes. I developed a liking for art since then. I was maybe four, five years old.
Then I went into primary school, attended the art clubs, always feeling that kind of interest. Eventually I decided to take art as a subject during college. And I enjoyed it very much. I had a very good art mentor who continued to be my very good friend, even now. Back then, he brought me to exhibitions, and that was when I really saw all the different kinds of great design and art being applied…so I always thought that it’s something viable and something that I’d hold on to.
My mother put me into art classes when I was maybe four, five years old. I think it was a chance for her to have her own time. I developed a liking for art since then.
So after school, what were your first jobs?
Timo For me, I worked in a few industrial design consultancies. Mainly doing a lot of consumer electronics. Consumer electronics, back then - it was about more than 10 years ago - it was like the hype in Singapore. There were many people who were holding onto a job in industrial design doing consumer electronics.
In progression, I moved on to joining NUS. I joined NUS’s Design Incubation Centre. So back then it was under Patrick Chia. He was actually one of my mentors in school. It was just by chance that we met a couple of times in a bookshop, in Kinokuniya. So we exchanged numbers and he asked if I wanted to join him at the centre. I was like, okay, maybe I can have a look. Then somehow, I had a few months working there, then I decided I would do it full time with him. So that was how I met Priscilla.
I worked in a few industrial design consultancies. Mainly doing a lot of consumer electronics. Consumer electronics, back then - it was about more than 10 years ago - it was like the hype in Singapore.
Timo Yeah, that was like slightly more than 10 years ago.
Priscilla I joined the Design Incubation Centre that was freshly set up in NUS, and I was freshly graduated. Patrick Chia joined the centre shortly after to head it. And then I was working with him and following that, Timo joined. And that’s how I met Timo. Back in the Design Incubation Centre, we were doing quite a bit of research on some materials, object design, and a lot of conceptual design.
Timo There’s a lot of manufacturing processes that we were experimenting with, especially because the centre was very well equipped with tools, machinery that aids in research about design and production, prototyping.
What made you take the leap to set up on your own?
Timo Again, it was in a very serendipitous way. In the course of work, during that time, we had to travel to Paris for an exhibition. So the two of us travelled with a collection of work that we developed for the design centre, it was exhibited in Paris. We were kind of exposed to the other worlds of design – furniture, object design – during that exhibition. During that stint with NUS, having that opportunity to always be exposed to the design world, in the wider context.
I think that led us to thinking about – maybe we should do something out of what we are doing. Something that’s more free, something that we have control over. So we decided to come together to design something. Share a booth somewhere in a European design exhibition, make some pieces…and then we exhibit.
During that time, Patrick was quite encouraging. He saw us one day – I don’t remember where. We were just sketching and thinking of how to share the booth – what we are designing and what we are presenting, and how we are going to share the booth. So he advised us – why are you designing separately, just sharing space and then dividing the space into half and you’re showing two types of work, two bodies of work in a small space. He was the one who actually mentioned that – you know, you should actually design together. Call yourself a studio XYZ, name, whatever, and exhibit as a collective. That’s how actually… how Studio Juju started.
During that stint with NUS, having that opportunity to always be exposed to the design world, in the wider context. I think that led us to think about – maybe we should do something out of what we are doing. Something that’s more free, something that we have control over. So we decided to come together to design something.
Why did you pick the name Juju?
Timo Okay, this question has been asked so many times.
Oh. It’s really cute. It’s got a cute ring to it.
Timo I think during that time we were trying to find a name to register for a booth.
Priscilla It was a very applicational decision.
Timo We had to apply for a booth and we had to submit a portfolio of designs that we were going to show to qualify for that exhibition. It was like an exhibition for young designers, internationally.
Priscilla Of course we were toying with the idea to call ourselves Timo&Priscilla, Timo+Priscilla, TimoXPriscilla. Haha. Then it got a bit long, and of course with Patrick’s encouragement that we should perhaps come together to show as a collective, then we decided okay, we should have a name that represents us.
Timo I think during that time we were learning how to work together. There was a lot of give and take in our opinions. I seek your opinion, and you seek mine, and we try to resolve, and what’s the middle ground. So this whole collaborative process works very well for us, very respectful, there was a lot of giving and taking, mutual understanding. I think that synergy we had was something that we identified clearly. Oh, so maybe we should name ourselves something along this line – to give and to take.
Priscilla No compromise.
Timo No compromise – studio compromise!
Timo We went onto the internet and started searching for words and for meanings, you know, just very random. We stumbled upon this Japanese term – to give and to receive…
Priscilla I think it is a professional term, so it’s not commonly [used].
Priscilla It’s not commonly used. It’s called Juju.
Timo You don’t use it normally. There’s a description for this particular…
Timo To give something and to receive something. In a way physically, a document or something very formal. We didn’t consider so much what it really means, in our context. So this, okay, sounds nice, Juju. Maybe in a few years’ time, no one cares what it means. It just sounds nice.
So this whole collaborative process works very well for us, very respectful, there was a lot of giving and taking, mutual understanding. I think that synergy we had was something that we identified clearly. Oh, so maybe we should name ourselves something along this line – to give and to take.
I have to confess I did a quick Google and it turned out to be magic of some sort.
Timo Yes, so it means magic, something related to a totem.
Priscilla In Africa. African culture or something.
Priscilla In Finland…subsequently we meet some people in the fairs, and we have some Finnish friends who came to tell us – oh Juju, it means the happy trick.
Subsequently we meet some people in the fairs, and we made some Finnish friends who came to tell us – oh Juju, it means the happy trick.
Priscilla A trick that you perform to make a little child happy. So it has a nice ring to it.
It all worked out perfectly, didn’t it?
Priscilla Yes I’m glad it doesn’t mean something otherwise.
What does Studio Juju embody?
Priscilla I think now, after practising for over a few years, Studio Juju now has always strived to have a sense of freshness in our perspective and also in a sense of giving to the project, going into the project with some fresh idea, fresh angles, fresh outcomes. I think we always like the idea of something more optimistic and fresh.
Timo The question is how do you do that?
Yes, how do you keep up with that freshness…
Timo I think a lot of times, when we look at design… we always look inward, in a sense that we don’t really draw references. In fact, we don’t care about what the whole world is doing and what’s going on, but more like when we approach a project, there is always a very clear brief, or if it’s not a clear brief, how do we interpret the project. So a lot of times, it is our own working process and our own dialogue that kind of give birth to a, maybe a clearer essence of what this project should be, how we should approach it. So there is a lot of questioning between ourselves, not so much about what we should do, to be like this or that, and how do you do this and that.
Personally I find that a lot of times, what we see and what we experience has an impact on how we design. So everything is very personal. We like travelling a lot, we like reading a lot, like anyone else, but I think what is special is that these experiences are all different. So I think, to answer that question…
Priscilla It’s tough.
Timo Yes, it’s tough. It’s a personal quest. I don’t know how best to answer it clearly.
I think a lot of times, when we look at design… we always look inward, in a sense that we don’t really draw references. In fact, we don’t care about what the whole world is doing and what’s going on, but when we approach a project, there is always a very clear brief, or if it’s not a clear brief, how do we interpret the project.
You were talking about working together and how you decided to present as one. How did you make that happen? How was the process to become the perfect, or ideal collective?
Did it take a long time? Of course mutual respect as you mentioned is important, apart from that, can you share a little more about your experience of gelling together as designers?
Priscilla I think sometimes it takes one or two projects, you work together and you would know. Definitely there would be arguments or tensions, but I think in general, we see things quite in the same direction. We appreciate, mostly, usually, the same kind of aesthetics, and I think we appreciate the strengths of each other, that is, one is better than the other in certain aspects.
In general, if there are tensions and arguments… because we are generally looking in the same direction, and we don’t need to quarrel over what is a subjective matter because aesthetics is very subjective. But if you generally have the same perspective on aesthetics, then it becomes objective. It’s not something we need to argue about. I think it is important that whatever we are arguing about is actually not pulling the project in two different directions but pushing forward in the same direction, to find a better way. It is harder actually if the designers are arguing about the project and pulling the project in two different directions. Then that synergy is not there.
Timo One thing I think is important to the synergy between the design partners, is actually putting down your ego, what you think is right and what you insist you think is right.
For us, I think we are lucky because when we met at the Design Incubation Centre where we were formerly employed, I think we started looking at the bigger world of design, travelled together because of work. And our growth as designers was actually on the same path, same time, we saw and experienced the same things, we worked together. We kind of grew together in the same direction. Things that we saw were quite similar. So actually I think for our case, we find it easy to be able to see eye-to-eye with one another. However, opinions will always be different and I think that’s where sometimes we have arguments about what’s right and what’s not, but sometimes it’s not about right and wrong. Just let time wash away these feelings.
Timo Like maybe two days later, we’d continue that conversation. One of us will say – hmm…maybe you’re right.
If you generally have the same perspective on aesthetics, then it becomes objective. It’s not something we need to argue about. I think it is important that whatever we are arguing about is actually not pulling the project in two different directions but pushing forward in the same direction, to find a better way.
Take a step back, yeah?
Timo Take a step back and lay down that personal quest, you know. Then you realise that maybe what you see then wasn’t as clear as the other person. So I think for us, it is this way of working, plus we are already looking at the same things, or looking and heading towards the same direction. That makes working together easy.
You are also partners in life. Does that bring challenges?
Priscilla Yeah, of course.
Timo Definitely. We were working partners before. There are actually perks also. You can talk about work all the time.
Is that good or bad?
Timo Yes and no.
Priscilla We don’t have to WhatsApp each other.
Timo We don’t have to second guess what that text means – text with no emotions. It’s good and bad. Because the way we design, we don’t really sit down and design, and start drawing, discussing our project. Sometimes ideas and inspiration come from everywhere. We spent time sitting down together to execute a project most of the time. A lot of time, a lot of ideation, design, discussion is always done in a very free manner. We could be doing something outside, or doing housework or reading a book. It becomes very fluid. Work and life interweave together. For that purpose is good, because we are very free. But somehow the way we work, we have a very strict way of saying – okay, today we don’t talk about work, and we don’t talk about work. We’d spend time doing something with our kid, doing an activity that’s not work. So I think there’s more freedom than, you know, when work and life is hitting one another head to head. For us it’s not the case.
A lot of time, a lot of ideation, design, discussion is always done in a very free manner. We could be doing something outside, or doing housework or reading a book. It becomes very fluid. Work and life interweave together.
Am I right to assume you have very similar design philosophies?
Timo Yeah, we have.
What is this design philosophy?
Timo I think this is something I struggle with to explain. It just ends up sounding like it's from everywhere. I think it really depends on the project. Whether it’s a cliented project or whether it’s a self-initiated project, or whether it’s a collaboration. I think our aim in each project is always to question the status quo. That means how do we look at this project that’s not usual. How do we bring this project to fruition, to be viewed in a different way, to have a fresh perspective. So a lot of these… philosophies, how do we look at design - it is actually very fluid. We never really talk about it. It’s always based on a project, how do we execute it.
Priscilla Very often, I think we try - in our works, whether it’s clientele or our own - to have an emotion in that project, and also have something new, it’s not an innovation, it’s more like a new way of looking at the same thing, or how the project outcome can create something new that maybe people haven’t experienced before, but in a subtle way. Definitely because we always think of it in that perspective, and we frame that up in that way, so indirectly, we are also trying to get the user or the audience, whoever encounters it – whether it is furniture or space – to experience an emotion. The existence of that design is not just for functionality alone. Beyond that, there is some kind of atmosphere it generates or some kind of positive feeling one can bring away.
Timo I think we can sum up the way we work, so-called method, philosophy. I think we are always experiential-centric. When we work on a project, we think of how someone would experience the project and what are the emotional connections. This is on top of all things on the level of function and aesthetics.
To us, how you encounter something is really important. Because when you draw that connection emotionally, that experience is important because it lasts. The human experience, experiencing the design…it sticks better and it will last longer. Simple things like a chair; all chairs can be sat on. But how would you experience a chair in terms of comfort, how it looks in the house, it’s basically that additional emotional connection that makes you want to keep something longer, feel good; that piece of work is making you feel good in that space. So for us, that emotional attachment is important.
The existence of that design is not just for functionality alone. Beyond that, there is some kind of atmosphere it generates or some kind of positive feeling one can bring away.
Am I right that chairs are your thing?
Priscilla We haven’t really designed chairs but we like to buy some chairs and collect some chairs.
Timo I mean we’re not in a rush or on a quest that we need to design a chair. It’s not an easy thing to design so we are not like – we have to design a chair because we are furniture designers. For that reason, we haven’t really… we have done before but not consistently. Our projects are actually very variable.
Priscilla Yeah, we do like to buy some chairs. Hahahaha
Timo We do like to buy and collect, buy and collect, buy and collect, find storage space. Hahahaha.
Priscilla Not that we have a lot lah.
What is the hook for you with chairs?
Timo I think chairs are very special because they connect with the body. And I look at chairs like little creatures because they have legs, they have a colour, they have a body. I think that the character that every design embodies, to me, is interesting. In terms of furniture, the chair is the typology that gels most with the human body and ergonomics. It says a lot about a person, it says a lot about the space. And I also think… it just has that character lah.
I think chairs are very special because they connect with the body. And I look at chairs like little creatures because they have legs, they have a colour, they have a body.
The world of design is expansive. What is your focus? You have mentioned you’re open to all sorts and you work on different projects. How do you choose your projects?
Timo When we first started, we were just thinking about exhibiting things that we could make. Simple things like small furniture and small accessories. That was how we were trained also in industrial design. The scale of design is also actually, pretty much, small. Didn’t have much clarity exactly how Studio Juju will evolve. It’s just by chance that we were given… during the time we exhibited some furniture works and we were given an award to create… the award entails some sort of exhibition where we were supposed to create some installation. That was the first time when we started doing art installation and it was in Basel during Design Miami – it was an exhibition. We did the installation. And when we came back, with the installation, we started making and selling them to some of the hotels – W hotel.
That’s when we started being interested in art-related installations. And then somehow we were curated to create artwork for one of the train stations which is in Tampines – Downtown Line. That was the second time doing an art-related project and I really enjoyed it because the scale was suddenly enlarged, compared with what we were doing before. That kind of punctuated our studio’s evolution.
We started looking at a bigger scale, and somehow in a very interesting way, we were asked to design furniture for a bank. So we started talking to the department in the bank to design furniture for the interior space and it eventually led on to the client asking us if we’d like to design the space because the chair became one of the main components of the space, it multiplies quite a lot because of the concept of the space. That was our first interior project.
Subsequently we started doing interior also. So we started being very explorative, like artists, doing interior design, picking up things someone would have learned in three years like drawing and stuff like that. Suddenly, after six, seven years, we were doing interior spaces, we were doing product design, furniture, we were doing art projects. So it’s like a variety of things. At that point of time, someone advised us that we should be focused on what we do, so that people know what you’re good for and what you’re good at, and they’d go to you, and you are clearly good for something. Well, we seek that advice but we found it very difficult because somehow that passion, and interest in what we like to do, is a variety of things. So at that time, it was not very clear how we should progress the studio to be business-wise, sustainable, or in terms of creative, how we should evolve ourselves.
But after a while, we did not change the way we function or the way we work but it also became clearer as we mature as business owners and designers, that we actually enjoy doing a variety of things. And I think it’s especially important to bring it back to starting out a studio in Singapore, a young studio. I find it encouraging - not to brag - that a young studio which is at all time, a two-man, or three-man studio, could do very small projects to very big projects. I think that should be the energy, or the kind of drive that a young studio should have. Whether or not it’s by chance, whether or not it’s by choice, I think we can actually be doing a variety of things. We can do things that are complicated, large scale all the way down to something small. I think that should be what creativity is. Unless it is in the realm of architectural works, they are not simple because there are many levels of details and engineering. For us, because we are industrial design-trained, I think it’s easy for us to weave in and out of different disciplines. I find that the way our studio has evolved… I find it to be very liberating for us.
I find it encouraging - not to brag - that a young studio which is at all time, a two-man, or three-man studio, could do very small projects to very big projects. I think that should be the energy, or the kind of drive that a young studio should have.
You are playing to your advantage as well, the fact that you can weave in and out of types of design?
Timo I find that liberating also because currently we are at the point of, we are at the position to think at this moment, to think should we continue with one component, further one component, or do we continue to do everything. I think we are at this juncture where we are considering again. Whether we should expand our team so that we do more easily or do we keep ourselves small and nifty. We are at this position after 11 years, 12 years.
I guess as long as you’re having fun. You want to be sustainable as a business but you’d also want to have fun? How big is the fun factor?
Priscilla I think it has to be enjoyable. That is important, knowing your likes and don’t-likes. After a while, doing things that we don’t like will kind of absorb all the energy, wears us down. I think that whatever happened previously… I think our youth afforded us those opportunities. But youth is only a certain amount of time. Haha. But of course after that, all the opportunities led us to discover that it is really enjoyable to do all these various kinds of creative projects. So definitely the element of fun. Fun per se is not havoc fun but definitely you’re enjoying it, and that’s important.
Timo Not so much about the fun factor.
That is important, knowing your likes and don’t-likes. After a while, doing things that we don’t like will kind of absorb all the energy, wears us down.
As young designers, you had early exposure to the global world of design… impacting your path. Can you talk a little about these experiences and stimuli that you’ve received abroad?
Priscilla When we first came out to exhibit, it was just after the economic crisis in Europe, 2007, 2008. And that whole sense of recovery, the design scene seemed to be booming again, in 2009, onwards. Probably we were at the right time when we started going there. Of course we previously didn’t know what was going on in the previous years but just at that moment when we were there, everything was vibrant and we were exhibiting at Saloni Satellite which is a young showcase for young designers in the Milan Furniture Fair. And we were having a lot of support also from DesignSingapore. At that moment DesignSingapore was really developing very fast, and they were very supportive of all designers in terms of all industries, going forward, going to different countries. To say that we are almost at the right time… being in Europe to see the fairs was definitely, it opened up our eyes to many aspects…
In Singapore, what you see is just within our boundaries. If you go beyond that, you see what is going on in Europe, and you start to attend fairs in Japan, you start to go to Tokyo to look at the exhibitions there, and then you start to go to Scandinavia to have a look at what’s going on there, you’d realise that there’s also a lot of things that are ongoing at the same time. And that was important for us to see what’s going on.
Timo In other words when you’re at a younger age where you’re experiencing this abroad, you see the contrasts between each country, region. You bring that experience back to Singapore, you will then again see the contrast between Singapore and another location and another place. I think geographically all different, culturally all different, but the practice of design is actually quite similar – the designers and companies in their pursuit of their creative vision. But the way things are being executed and opportunities that are available are all very different. That kind of perspective at that age, when we came back to Singapore, asking ourselves – to be practising in Singapore, how should we practise? How do we make it work for us? That perspective was very important.
For example, if you are a furniture designer in Europe, you’d probably get more opportunities working with different lifestyle and furniture brands, so you probably can make a living purely designing furniture. And that’s perfect because there’s tons of clients over there. But the challenge is also a lot of designers in the industry. When you come back to Singapore, we don’t really have, in fact very very few brands or manufacturers, so it makes us think how we should practise in Singapore when there’s a lack of clientele. We have to find a way – are we looking at regional or purely Singapore? Or we find a unique position to practise in the same way.
I think the travelling gave us a certain perspective on how we want to exist and practise in Singapore. That’s how we actually started working with clients that are not furniture brands. We work with clients in different kinds of businesses, designing furniture and interior spaces, artworks. That gives us the opportunity to still do what we love. So we know that these people and industries are who we should go to, to be able to do what we like. There’s a little bit of the business component in that experience, the travel.
When you’re at a younger age where you’re experiencing this abroad, you see the contrasts between each country, region. You bring that experience back to Singapore, you will then again see the contrast between Singapore and another location and another place. I think geographically all different, culturally all different, but the practice of design is actually quite similar.
What are your favourite books and music?
Timo We read a lot of design books and magazines. So boring, hahaha.
Very diverse lah. So my last book was “Shoe Dog”. “Shoe Dog” was about how Nike was established. Music wise, I listened to a lot of punk rock when I was young. Yes, I’m still young and I still listen to them. Punk rock like Green Day, Foo Fighters. Now I listen to everything. Sometimes when I’m working, we go into the mode of listening to Chinese pop, K-pop or any kind of pop.
If you are a furniture designer in Europe, you’d probably get more opportunities working with different lifestyle and furniture brands, so you probably can make a living purely designing furniture. And that’s perfect because there’s tons of clients over there. But the challenge is also a lot of designers in the industry. When you come back to Singapore, we don’t really have, in fact very very few brands or manufacturers, so it makes us think how we should practise in Singapore when there’s a lack of clientele.
Working and pop, any kind of pop, go together?
Timo No, working and classical music go together. Hahaha.
Priscilla I can’t really work with pop music or rock.
Timo Pop is when we are making models. When we need some rhythm, you know paper and foam cutting, folding.
Priscilla When I’m thinking or writing, classical music is the best. I like Radiohead, and sometimes K-pop. And I like… what else do I like? Little bit of news. When I’m cooking, I listen to Benjamin Clementine.
Timo I listen to a lot of Bob Marley also.
Priscilla Stevie Wonder, when I’m cooking.
Timo Michael Jackson. A lot of pop.
Priscilla We have a vinyl when he was still a Jackson 5.
Timo So a variety of music for different activities and occasions.
How do you choose your projects now?
Timo I want to say – when it comes and when it pays well. Hahaha.
Because we are a very small outfit so we don’t take on too many projects each time. Before COVID, we actually took on like an interior project, and another two or three smaller projects. So it really depends on what comes along. At any given point of time, somehow, it’s always a mixture of interior projects and furniture and art-related projects. Just before the circuit breaker, about two years ago, we just finished an interior space project for the Health Promotion Board, one of the offices, then that is considered a bigger project because it consists of many… it’s a bigger space and there are more stakeholders involved.
Previously, we worked on some projects with OCBC, we did their flagship. During that time, we worked on this OCBC for almost a stretch of one year. Alongside, it was just one or two smaller projects. So we are lucky. Much earlier, in the first half of [the time that] the studio [has been established], we had projects coming, like one project that pays well, very interesting, a lot of free play, and we had smaller projects to choose. But we don’t have a lot to start choosing and have to say “no” to people. It’s just somehow in a very lucky and timely way, that this request for new projects just started coming back to back. It was during COVID that a lot of projects were actually cancelled and postponed.
But we don’t have a lot to start choosing and have to say “no” to people. It’s just somehow in a very lucky and timely way, that this request for new projects just started coming back to back. It was during COVID that a lot of projects were actually cancelled and postponed.
Apart from the stalling of some of the projects, has the pandemic changed the way you look at design?
Timo It has affected the way we live, the way we work. The way we look at design, for me, not so much. Maybe I’m still hopeful that the way we practise and the way we look at projects of different nature will not change. And there is this natural feeling of going against it you know.
As an example, if you design a piece of furniture for a space, the client will ask you – did you think about social distancing? Then we’d think – maybe you should design the space or the furniture that is not meant for social distancing but create provisions that are well-thought out that allows for that if it’s needed to. Don’t let the situation shape the design. ‘Cos it’s actually unnatural.
Priscilla The way I look at design is still very much the same, in terms of appreciation, quality of living or the value of that physical touch of that object or the visual aesthetics or that emotional experience. I think it doesn’t change my own value to it, but definitely I think it does change the way projects are being run and the way people perceive the value of design.
If you talk in terms of this whole consumer industry, of course we are dispensable, the idea of design is very much dispensable in terms of trying to survive a pandemic or epidemic. What we all really need that is very dispensable is rice, water and a shelter over our heads. And all we need are 3M masks.
But for myself, whether it is in these kinds of circumstances, whether it changes my own value of how I value design, no I don’t think so. I still think it’s very important to surround myself with things that I like, and whatever I see must be something I like to see, I like to use. I cannot imagine going down to the bus-stop, and everything is awful right?
Timo I think design can find solutions for problems, be it temporary or in a more permanent way. But I think circumstances like this, a pandemic, I think as designers, we should still push forth to create or perform our… be in this position that we can still create good experiences for people, design good products for people, or good spaces for people. With respect to people who are fighting this pandemic, the doctors and the scientists, I think they are people who are trying to make things right again. So you have to respect these people who are doing their jobs, and we have to respect our positions that we are still pushing ahead in what we believe in.
If you talk in terms of this whole consumer industry, of course we are dispensable, the idea of design is very much dispensable in terms of trying to survive a pandemic or epidemic. What we all really need that is very dispensable is rice, water and a shelter over our heads. And all we need are 3M masks.
Quite a bit has been written about your signature pieces and creation, is there one that is lesser known that you can share? Or perhaps one in which you feel it addresses a problem with a solution whilst giving us the aesthetics?
Priscilla There are a few projects… but of course I like all our projects hahaha. But there are a few projects that I especially like more. One of them is actually the Big Round and Tall Long sculpture.
Timo Same for me.
Priscilla Yes, Tampines. I like it for the huge sense of scale and I feel that it really adds the whole atmosphere to the space. And I think ultimately I feel that it embodies the kind of optimism that I really enjoy to see in design. And it’s very subtle, the truth is… as much as it’s huge, the truth is it’s really subtle, what we are trying to communicate through this art work. It’s not something with a heavy message.
Timo I think we’re also very happy with that project because the whole process of presenting the project to the panel who was deciding for the station, they all see our point in doing what we do, what we’ve presented. It’s really different aspects of the sculpture – the shapes were meant to be larger than life, big, as much as that space could afford, that location. There’s actually a function to it because when we visited the station - it was still in the construction stage - we noticed that the station is almost symmetrical except for one side where there’s a lift core, and on the other side there’s a bigger flight of stairs. In a more artistic sense, it’s actually quite beautiful because the architect actually decided that one of the walls should span from one end to the other and have a certain colour. A yellow. So it’s a big wall of yellow on one side. That wall is actually across the two ends so you can see it from the platform and the mezzanine. That station becomes very symmetrical.
For us, taking the train has a lot to do with polarity, knowing the direction of the train. One of the issues, not a problem, but one of things we identified is we wanted to create artwork that speaks of polarity. So if I’m a person who stays near the station, I take the train from the station everyday, the artwork provides for some sense of polarity…
Priscilla Some sense of direction.
Timo That’s why one of the artwork appears to be round and one appears to be very long. There’s a certain function to it and I think it’s very subtle, and the panel saw the point. Individually, they each have a certain character to describe the height of the station and the size of the station. That is in a way, conceptual. We also know that at the same time, we don’t want to understand the artwork when they start reading the text because we feel that sometimes, we don’t need to know for certain the art or what it meant. With the absence of explanation, I think people are invited to freely interpret what they think it is. We both really like that concept and sometimes, we feel that it may be ambiguous but during that presentation, I think most of the people on the panel got it, and they liked the idea. For us it was a success because maybe it was dangerous for us to propose an idea like that! There were a lot of little achievements along the way for that project.
At the same time, we don’t want to understand the artwork when they start reading into it because we feel that sometimes, we don’t need to know for certain the art or what it meant. With the absence of explanation, I think people are invited to freely interpret what they think it is. We both really like that concept and sometimes, we feel that it may be better off as being ambiguous.
What are you currently working on? Perhaps just a description
Timo We are working on an interior project for an agency… so it’s a lot of spatial planning and we are working on a brand, creating a brand. This is something we have been working on for a while. We’re probably going to launch it sometime, the mid or third quarter of this year. It’s going to be a brand that’s art directed by us and owned by us. It’s actually partially publicised; we took a grant from DesignSingapore, it’s called the Good Design Research. It’s a brand that we started, to find a way to challenge how things are being made. For the first collection, we actually engaged a couple of Singaporean industrial designers to work alongside us, to create a collection of products. It’d be quite interesting because it’s a couple of different designers with different directions in terms of the way they practise, , all put together in one brand.
Priscilla We are very excited about that. We are trying to tie up a lot of loose ends at the moment. Probably in the middle of the year to the third quarter. We hope to have more news on that soon.
What about the studio going forward? What do you envision? Are you going to expand?
Priscilla I think we still foresee ourselves to be a very small team, very nifty. Just working with some collaborators on some specific projects.
Timo For us, we still want to have our hands in everything. However, we think if anything were to grow, if the project or the brand were to grow, we’d need help and probably, a smaller team to assist us.
In hindsight, you’ve been designing for 10+ years, what do you think have been your triumphs and tribulations? Is the work what you imagined to be when you started?
Priscilla Of course, triumphs in these 10 years would be the completion of projects, completion of projects that are satisfying, satisfying for clients, for ourselves, and having some of our pieces being edited by brands. Like we have some small sets of tables with Living Divani, an Italian brand. We had previously a small set of tables with Desalto, also an Italian brand. Of course it’s out of production now, and then there are some smaller pieces that are with Industry Plus. And then, we had some pieces that are being sold in MoMA. So I think that was quite interesting for us, it’s a nice experience. I am quite happy to know that our things are out there and people are getting to know us because of these designs, and people want to acquire it or buy it because they appreciate that thinking, that approach, that aesthetics. So it seems like what we do is appreciated, or has made a difference in some people’s homes and living environment.
Tribulations… definitely for a small studio practising in Singapore, it’s not easy. There’s a high cost of operation, a high cost of living. We are not a huge team by choice, and once you are not a huge team, you don’t take on that many projects at the same time. There’s always this balancing of scale, balancing this, balancing that, at the same time trying to find that creative freedom. Creative freedom – always for us – it comes when we have no burden, or less burden from other things. Naturally in Singapore, there’s always this tension of your everyday life to deal with, then comes your creative freedom. Of course some people can say that creative freedom is birthed from going through some walk of fire, or working within constraints, but very often, when you are less burdened, you can actually have more time. Because time is necessary for some things to be worked out.
Timo Burden in life is apart from design right? Mindspace? The space that you have, not worrying about things.
Priscilla Not worrying about things really gets you to be able to have that nice space to be able to think creatively.
Creative freedom – always for us – it comes when we have no burden, or less burden from other things. Naturally in Singapore, there’s always this tension of your everyday life to deal with, then comes your creative freedom.
Does it always come easily? That creative idea?
Priscilla I think no. Unfortunately, I think it just gets harder and harder, especially now with the whole advancement of the society right. Your internet. You know, the internet is really such a new thing. It only happened just within the last few decades. The whole social media thing – it was really just the last 10 years ago. But because of all this technology, so much content is being shared, so how do you get something fresh, or new and I don’t think it’s that easy anymore. I think it’s harder.
Timo To be honest, there’s always this mental struggle. Like maybe before the internet, you find that there’s more freedom to design at ease. You just design, whether you’re inspired by the environment, or by whatever you see, it’s just no restrictions. But with the internet, has it been done before? And you start referring to what’s on the internet, there are tons of things on the internet that it starts to worry you that you need to come up with a new variation of something, I need to be you know, doing the research, has it been done, etc. I think this is a struggle for most designers.
Priscilla Or maybe you come up with something, and few months down the road, something comes up that looks like yours.
The whole social media thing – it was really just the last 10 years ago. But because of all this technology, so much content is being shared, so how do you get something fresh, or new and I don’t think it’s that easy anymore. I think it’s harder.
The question of IP?
Priscilla Not just that. The whole idea of something, someone is always pushing out something new everyday. I don’t think it gets easier.
What is your take on technology? How much does it play in your design work?
Priscilla A huge part actually. Right down to the phone, to have communication. And down to your 3D software, your CAD.
Timo A lot of the tools that we use, like software, and prototyping technology, it’s something that we’ve been using even from 10 years ago but of course there’s advancement in those tools and technology. But in design, in what we do, sometimes it is a very primitive process. Of course some things can be faster with technology. By primitive, I mean… by the end of the day, you’re designing for human use. Especially if it’s something tangible, a lot of things are actually quite primitive and low-technology. As designers, we also have to be more careful how we use technology and how we marry technology and physical design. Technology on its own is great; it enhances life and society. But when it comes to the practice of design, physical design, I think materialization of design itself is a very primitive thing. I mean we could 3D print which is high-tech, but what is the purpose of printing 3D, it’s because we want that physical end result. That physical end result is actually primitive because we still need that touch. But of course now we are talking about technology like NFT. Some of us own a house that is NFT, just want a name to the house but the physical house isn’t there. That’s a totally new idea. If we are talking about technology and design, I think we have to compare like that.
I believe that 10, 20, 30 years down the road, if we’re still holding a mug to drink water, the process of design will still be primitive.
As designers, we also have to be more careful how we use technology and how we marry technology and physical design. Technology on its own is great; it enhances life and society. But when it comes to the practice of design, physical design, I think materialisation of design itself is a very primitive thing.
Priscilla was talking about the internet and how that was becoming challenging in terms of design work. How do you get around that?
Timo It’s very natural that we’d go less on the internet. We’re on social media because we have friends and people we want to reach out to. We actually like the printed medium more, when we read about something, we just flip a magazine. We buy magazines sometimes in Italian and Japanese that we don’t even read. We just flip for the images. Those encounters are far more…
Priscilla I think for a lot of our spatial projects… I know you’ve heard of a lot of designers who use Pinterest as a tool board. Maybe it’s a little secret but we don’t do that. Hahaha. I tried using it. Oh no, then I find that it’s no good.
Timo So there’s this thing going on, using Pinterest to design, to kind of align the vision with the client. I think it’s no harm using pictures as mood boards to paint a visual representation of the space, or material or what the condition is, but I think it becomes quite dangerous when we kind of misuse the internet this way.
Priscilla Of course we still use the internet to source for images, for inspiration. But it’s a situation of how you use it.
Timo How you articulate those images.
Priscilla Knowing what we want first before we freely go to the internet for inspiration. Our starting point is most of the time, knowing what we want first, and very particularly looking for them. Rather than going very freely on the internet and downloading whatever we can find. That’s how we try to go around that.
Timo It’s also in our nature – I’m sure a lot of designers have this same thinking – if you go on the internet you look at images, some designers may look at trends and what appeal to clients, which is not wrong; some people will be anti-trend, to look at what is trendy and how to go against trend to create something unique. So that’s also another way that we can use those images.
For us, we always use the internet to look at what is the trend, and whether there’s a more refreshing way to interpret something. Not to create a new trend but to go against that trend, or maybe go a little bit further. For design, it’s not about creating something that’s totally out of this world, totally not seen before. It’s to create something that’s appropriate for the client, number one. And the next thing is how do you refresh that perspective or that approach. If you have a very sound or objective reason for using the internet for images you can find, then I think it’s perfectly fine to go on Pinterest to search for images or work that’s been done.
Our starting point is most of the time, knowing what we want first, and very particularly looking for them. Rather than going very freely on the internet and downloading whatever we can find.
What do you think of Singapore’s design landscape and how has that evolved?
Timo Maybe we can answer the question not as a designer, but as someone who experienced design as a student all the way till now.
I see Singapore as a prototyping country, where we are constantly prototyping new ideas, we are constantly renewing what we do in the context of design, renewing our approach on design. I remember as a student, or as a very young designer, I attended one of these design weeks, that was called Utter Rubbish in City Hall before it became the National Gallery. I remember during that time, my idea of what Singapore design culture and a Design Week looks like, it was actually rooted back at that particular year. To me, there was a lot of creativity, a lot of freedom but as the years go by, because of technology, because of how society evolves, I think there’s always this renewing of what design is.
In that context, it feels like for me the overarching purpose of me as a designer is I have to constantly be updating my approach. If I use design fairs, or design community, the culture in Singapore, it feels like it has never evolved from where it first started but it has always been trying to be new, a new self, a new version of itself. It’s not exactly growing. So in that context, I feel like it’s a prototype. You are constantly coming up with new ideas, new approaches but you’re not growing something that is having a certain heritage, a certain kind of root.
If I may bring a contrast or comparison… if you look at Italian culture 10 years ago and now, they are still talking about the same thing, but talking about how it has evolved. But over here we don’t talk about how things have evolved. We talk about what is new again. To me, the design culture here is like that. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily bad, or is it bad or is it good. To be very realistic, I think design has a certain component, that is, it needs to evolve with society; it needs to evolve with the way people live.
And the way Singapore progresses, you can tell how design will progress. Because we have problems conserving buildings. We have problems keeping the old. How do we keep growing something that has heritage? Or a certain type of story that can be – you know, a 10-year story that becomes a 100-year story? We can’t. We have to constantly renew ourselves. So I think design to me is like that, in Singapore.
Priscilla Interestingly, I agree and at the same time, I also find that the design landscape has constantly changed and has grown a little.
Timo You said a little…
Priscilla Has grown. What I mean is, way back and definitely now, more people know what is design, understand what is design, design is a buzz word even, used in business and in different sectors, infiltrating even the government agencies.
But I really find, what I really wish, for this whole landscape of design, is not just about design thinking. And it’s not just about problem solving to add value to things. But really to see value. Design that people see value and appreciate. To have that sense and culture of appreciating design in the most basic levels, even in pre-school, primary school, they should not be teaching design thinking, but appreciation of how things are made, cultures that are well preserved, habits that are considerate, I think all these are designs actually. And to have a kind of appreciation for nature, to have that kind of appreciation for culture, calligraphy, drawing , poetry, arts. From a very young age, people are attending plays because they see how much enjoyment it can give to the lifestyle, or they are attending musicals and they are attending rock band concerts. They are really appreciating the arts and culture in this way. I think that is called design. A whole culture that is from young, not just primary school using design thinking to solve problems. I think design is more than that.
I see Singapore as a prototyping country, where we are constantly prototyping new ideas, we are constantly renewing what we do in the context of design, renewing our approach on design.
What kind of designers do you see yourselves in 10 years?
Priscilla Maybe still the same.
What would you like to see?
Timo Hmmm… I’ve not thought about that. I’ve never thought about what I will be, where I’d be or who I’d be. I certainly hope that through what we do, and how we function as a studio, we can encourage younger studios to find their own unique ways. For me, that’s important. It’s important that design is constantly evolving, and I think for design to evolve, you always need younger people to come out and do something, anything in their own unique perspective.
So I hope I could be an inspiration to younger designers. And not just go by the book that I should be doing interior, or doing furniture, or be an architect, work somewhere for a few years and then where I should be going after that. So maybe I’d want to be inspiring younger designers to be open-minded, free thinking and I think they can find opportunities from there.
For me, that’s important. It’s important that design is constantly evolving, and I think for design to evolve, you always need younger people to come out and do something, anything in their own unique perspective.
What about Priscilla?
Priscilla I’d also do that, it can be the same.
Timo If it’s different, then I think it’d be a problem!