Wu Zhuoyang is a product designer based in Beijing. Originally from Dalian, he graduated from CAFA in 2008 and continues to teach there. We bumped into him at Xiao Tianyu’s store and ended up discussing design education, craftsmanship and sustainability over a few cups of tea.
Tell us more about what you do.
I focus on creating products – mainly furniture – for exhibitions or personal collections (I have no interest in mass production). I have also developed a special interest in wood.
How much do you focus on crafts in your work?
A lot. I use traditional craftsmanship to inform contemporary design ideas. The results are not necessarily “Chinese”, but I adopt “the old way of doing things” - traditional techniques and skills - during my process.
How much does your own working process influence what you teach?
In my opinion, Chinese design should be centered around finding and exploring the origin of craftsmanship. In Japan, for example, designs are considered modern, but they are a continuation of traditional skills. At CAFA, we are really trying to infuse these ideas into our teaching. We pay special attention to craftsmanship and ensure that students practice “making”, for example, how to process wood and clay. This is usually done by taking the students out to rural areas and getting them more involved in the local community. In this sense, CAFA is different from other institutions, which usually concentrate on renderings.
What have your students been working on lately?
One project includes working with reeds usually found in south China. Actually, we started off using willow, but this was harder to handle. Craftsmen based in Shandong Province (with workshops of about 4-5 people) demonstrated how to use these reeds to create objects. The men in these workshops create the structure, and the females complete the braiding.
How do you feel about “green” design in China?
I think that the masses don’t really understand the concept behind “green” design; this is mostly discussed in academic or design circles. Materials used in this area are usually recycled or bamboo. I myself understand sustainable design as being more practical i.e. combining many functions in one product.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on two brands under Song Tao. One has a traditional focus, and the other is more modern. I would like to continue working with reeds with my students and encourage them to go to the countryside more to practice traditional crafts and techniques. I am also researching urban/city life and visiting factories to witness manufacturing processes there.
Thanks to Lynn Zhang for interpreting.