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Shan Design Studio

Shan is a Beijing-based, multi-disciplinary design studio that places great emphasis on culture and concept. Founding designers Yao Ye and Lee Xibin exhibited in Milan last year and were recent recipients of the JP TDC 2011 award from Tokyo Type Directors Club. I caught up with Yao Ye and Lee Xibin to find out more.

Where are you both from and what did you study?
Yao Ye (YY): I was born in Dalian and Lee Xibin is from Changsha, Hunan. We both studied Industrial Design at CAFA, although we actually had very little understanding of design before we got there! The 4 years we studied at CAFA were really influential as we learnt all about the industry. We also learnt a lot about traditional Chinese culture and how to integrate aspects of it into our work. Deriving inspiration from culture is extremely important.

Tell us more about your studio.
Lee Xibin (LX): Shan is multi-disciplinary because we strongly believe that every design discipline is interconnected. We use graphics as a medium to communicate our industrial designs, for example, and even developed our own typeface to reflect the character of our studio.

YY: We also focus on concept and believe that a balance between conceptual and market-orientated designs can be achieved. Our course at CAFA heavily promoted the process [of designing] from start to finish, which opened up our eyes.

Tell us about some of your most recent projects.
LX: One of our most recent projects is Sit for Reading where we integrated a selection of our favourite books into the base of a chair we designed. We are also working on a light inspired by the moon.

Other notable projects include Lazy Furniture and Hanzi Life, inspired by different parts of Chinese characters. We eventually made these shapes into scarves and pillows. There’s also our origami bag and a project that studies how people of varying walks of life use their shoes.

YY: This project – “Xiu” Shoes Design - transpired from the idea that there are many stories buried in shoes. We collected various pairs of shoes, interviewed their owners and really analysed how they had been used before designing a pair of our own in response. Our design features two layers and different parts of the sole are revealed according to how the shoes are worn.

LX: One of our most conceptual projects entailed placing a chair on a lake. The aim was to explore our relationship with nature; for example, during the summer, few people are able to access the chair unless they make an effort to swim or hire a boat. During wintertime, however, the lake freezes over and many more people can use it. This is Chinese zen - following nature’s will.

What are you working on right now?
LX: We are collaborating with Triple Major again (we designed their visual identity) on some new works. Most other designers that work with Triple Major design just clothes; we are going to do things a little different and design fabric patterns also. We are really excited for our cross-disciplinary collaboration - and for the results!

We are also looking at expanding the chair on the lake project and, perhaps, turning it into a series. We want to enhance the aesthetics of the chair, for example, by making it gold or silver to increase desirability and see how reactions differ.

What does the future hold for Shan?
YY: We just want to continue what we’re doing and to explore our interests.

Thanks to Lynn Zhang for co-ordinating and translating.