Why study abroad?
Tao: Yes. The answer could be as similar as: “why study in China?” China is interesting too.
Yoko: The curiosity of the other places probably urged me the most to go abroad. The place surely refers to physical environments, let’s say some beautiful medieval towns and great architecture pieces, which interest many outsiders including me. But more important and appealing is the daily life there, no matter the routine of locals or adapting process of new comers. In a general sense, I am interested in human conditions grounded in different contexts, say Milanese policemen go to work by bike, neither Starbucks nor KFC exists in Italy etc., etc. In doing so, one may need an enough long period of settling down. Three years ago, I graduated from Hunan university with bachelor degree, then I felt necessary to further my study. Combining with the previous personal interest, I went abroad.
Is there anything happened impressed you?
两年前，我妈来看我的时候同样体会了我之前的惊讶。幸运的她在刚刚退休不久就看到了多样生活的可能性，认同之余便开始身体力行。回国之后，她有做不完的事情，比如跟君之学烘焙、实验新的菜谱、旅游、写博客、读上一堆养生的书籍等等。更幸运的我在23岁的时候就知道了这些，比我妈早了30年。首先，我看到了更多的可能性，并否定了那种被大部分中国人认同和实践的人生旅程——年龄会为将身心寄托在子女身上，放弃自治的同时给他人带来难以承受之重的行为辩护；年龄也会为停止求索式「享受」背后的懒惰辩护。（我否认人生会在退休之后终结，享受意味着要停止自我实现。）其次，它让我开始思考怎样做可以获得一个充满惊喜、可持续和高产的人生。从书本和网络可以看到很多启发性的想法，比如Tim Ferris的 The 4-hour Workweek和Stefan Sagmeister在TED的演讲。再者，我有好多好多时间可以一直分享我的想法给其他人。回答这个问题不就实现了一次分享吗？我衷心的希望这样的分享在中国可以激发更多关于有意识的思考生活的讨论，不管他们是二十岁还是六十岁。
▼Yoko Chang on mountain
▼drawing by Yoko Chang
Yoko: You know that Milan is quite near to the lake area and the middle Alps. I am crazy about mountain and often do some short hiking trips. Once in Matterhorn, Tao and I got trapped in the track leading to the summit. It was around 4000 meters high. Even at the beginning of September, the track was covered by ice, therefore quite slippery. At that time I haven’t yet got a proper pair of hiking shoes and Tao’s Scarpa (brand) bought in Iceland 2 years ago didn’t do a good job. In the fear of falling down, we kept still and desperately felt we would say goodbye to this world in a few seconds. Then, hands offered by an elderly couple enable us to escape the dangerous zone. They both had grey-white mixed pattern on their hair, sturdy body, bright eyes and friendly smile. After leaving us, they headed for the summit. I would never forget the experience—twenty something rescued by sixty something.
Yes, I would answer liveliness of elderly people. I have the impression that considerable many elderly people in Italy, Switzerland and probably France get involved in outdoor sports. They are indeed aged but full of vigor: in city parks, it is quite normal to see them jogging or riding racing bicycle as quick as wind; in Alps, we can encounter more elders than young people on some routes as long as several hours walking with more than one thousand meters ascent. All the above strongly hit me, just because what I saw here is too different from the living condition of
Chinese elders in my memory. The memory reminds me those of retirement age and up, bearing the idea that life-time hard working ends, children leaning starts, feel happy to be looked after. The vitality of physical body is deliberately lowered, keeping relatively still. The spirit and horizons gradually close up.
My mom who visited me here 2 years ago also got surprised by the very fact. Shortly after her retirement, luckily, she saw how colorful the life of European is. She fulfills her spare time with many activities: baking, learning new recipes, traveling, blogging, reading books about heath and so on. Even luckier, I got to know this at 23 year-old, three decades prior to the age of mom. First of all, it means that I have options other than the common route that most Chinese people follow: Age justifies the sad situation of depending on younger generation physically and emotionally, losing one’s autonomous and burdening heavily the others; Age justifies the laziness of those who cease to explore and learn in the sake of time to enjoy after “life-time” endeavor. (There are two fallacies lying here. Human life hardly ends after retirement, and enjoying does not mean withdraw from self-enrichment.) Secondly, it made me to think how I should arrange my pace in an amazing, sustainable, and productive way. Interesting ideas are many, like Tim Ferris’ The 4-hour Workweek and Stefan Sagmeister’s TED speech. Last but not least, I would be able to keep sharing this for decades. It serves the reason that I answered the question in this way. Heartily hope to raise the question of living in the consciousness of Chinese people, no matter in their twenties or sixties.
这样的极少主义真是打动了我，它并不是「看起来简单」，而是「真的很简单」。意大利人发现了把几种最常用的食材完美搭配的方法，你只需要把他们放一块儿，一点不多，一点不少，就好吃。比如「Spaghetti cacio e pepe」、「Penne all’arabiatta」、「Spaghetti alla carbonara」、「Carpaccio」，等等等等。然后所有人都可以做！学习的时间极短，做的时间也极短。太厉害啦。我在这儿不想谈设计的，但是你知道，它真的让我想到设计师应该像一个写菜谱的人，而不是餐厅里的大厨。你可能会想到那种教你优化各种本来就没设计好的东西的电视节目（生活小窍门）——这样的节目很好，但是我觉得应该可以更好。
最后我想极力推荐你们试试「Limone e Tonno」（柠檬和鲔鱼），跟spaghetti一起，6分钟搞定。这是我的最爱。
▼cacio e ova by Zui Tao
▼croissant by Zui Tao
▼pizzoccheri by Zui Tao
▼Zui Tao on mountain
Tao: For sure yes, but too much to figure out a hierarchy—for the word impressive, normally horrible things prevailing. Similar as Yoko, I want to share something related with life here: food. Italian food fully impressed me and even changed my taste.
In the whole three years, due to our skinny wallet and very few social encounters, we rarely went to restaurant, maximum 20 times. Instead we cook by ourselves. We never no why, but there was a certain point from which we suddenly shift our routinized dishes from Chinese to Italian: It’s Easy, quick, cheap, and tasty. We found we started to expect the next meal. Although we enjoy cooking, sometimes Chinese dishes are just time-wised luxury. For sure there are also time-costing Italian cuisines, like the famous “Ragu di Bolognese”, it costs 8 hours approximately to prepare, but if we talk about the average, there’re far more 10-minute-options than in Chinese dishes.
Such kind of minimalism really impressed me, not in the sense “it seems simple”, but “it’s really simple”. Italian found the best combination of some most common ingredients, and you just put them together, nothing more, nothing less, you get a good dish. Many examples like “Spaghetti cacio e pepe”, “Penne all’arabiatta”, “Spaghetti alla carbonara”, “Carpaccio”, etc., etc. And everybody can do it! Learning process is short, doing process is short too. It’s brilliant. I don’t want to mention design here but you know, it really inspired me to think about designer as a recipe writer but not a master chef in a restaurant. You may think about those TV program teaches how to DIY some tricky little stuffs to solving problems of some problematic designs—those programs are good, but I believe it can be better.
At last, I highly recommend you to try “Limone e Tonno” (Lemon and Tunna), with spaghetti, you make it in 6 minutes. It’s my favorite.
What do you miss most about China?
Tao: Rather than miss, I would say expect. I expect China to be a better country, definitely. It grows so fast and I am growing too, which makes me more and more like a stranger. But for sure I will miss it if it grows in a worse way .
Yoko: Honestly speaking, I have never missed China, though I have never been back since I went abroad. It may be pointless to say only that I missed Chinese cuisine a lot due to the easiness of overcoming so — cook by yourself. Moreover, I used to read that the nostalgia of this kind is largely because of food. Besides, I must say that I would like to be back and see the environment I used to be, but with a whole new pair of eyes.
Will you come back? Why?
Tao: But what does “come back” here mean? Never leave again? I do not really have a sense of “coming back”, but “going to”, I would say. If there’s opportunity, I am always open to go here and there, but I do not want to have a clear root somewhere. I will go to my mother, but not back to her… You know what I mean?
And if we change the words into “going to China”, I can imagine countless reasons. Too see the land’s change, to see the people’s change, to see many many new things.
Yoko: Currently no. As you may know, we always welcome the cooperation with different people in different contexts. The Internet significantly breaks the geographic limitation of doing so. For example, this year we made two projects, interior design and logo for an artist in Wuhan and a friend in Canada respectively without physically being together. Hence, these may undermine the importance of this issue. Besides, I cannot agree with Tao more about the replacement of “back” into “to” due to the same reason.
Is it more distinct to view China in a different environment after going abroad? Any thought?
Tao: More and more clear, for sure, but far from enough. It might derive from reading but not being in a different background. This background has facebook and that one doesn’t, but many many important books were translated in the 60s and 70s in Chinese and extremely cheap. Enlightenment is always the first step, you have to have a ruler—of course, if you really want to see it in a clearer way.
Many people, including me in the past, do not give the word “clear” endorsement as it is quite western, quite linear, quite something. And I am clear about even this fact now. I think there are basically two ways to see the world, universe-center, and human-center. The former one indicates that human is just a part of the whole universe, the equivalence as a whole is always there, if we die, we ought to die—simply speaking it’s a “never mind” approach; the later one, if you prefer this one, you have to devote your whole life to become more and more clear, under the clear fact that you may not, or cannot. You have to find your own reason to define what is a good world, what is a better world, and how can we human become better human, and mostly important how can “I” become a better human. To be clear also means to be able to communicate with the others.
In some occasions like enjoying art pieces or find a way out when being in a painful situation, I will use the first approach, to “re-read” the fact, and enjoy, or release; but in the other occasions, the second one seems to be the only option, otherwise I get lost.
So go back to the point to look China in a clearer way, I would say firstly, whether you want to do it or not, and secondly whether you want to become a better human or not, and lastly, whether you think a better human is a clearer human or not. I think you can do this without leaving China. I mean if we are only talking about “look”.
Yoko: Certainly more clear but not because of being out of there but self-improvement. After living three years longer and being afraid of spending time in vain, I believe that I am now a better person who ought to be more clear about many things: work, personal life, dealing with people, and so on. I have difficulty of understanding the subject of view in the question — China. I may be more clear about the relationship between my parent and me, between the food quality there and here and numerous others. They are pieces of facts and thoughts. Once I could connect all these into a relatively integrated image, which entitles me to understand China as a whole, then I may put some words on the table. Now it is hard to ensure the credibility of the thought I am expected to say.
What is your favorite artist? What is the influence?
Tao: Like I answered in the previous question, I have my favorite food, but I don’t have my favorite artist. I encountered many art pieces that inspired me a lot, and I think more than a half of them I cannot speak who is the creator. If we talk about person, the artist, I have to mention three artists with whom I have or had personal contacts. They influenced me a lot in the sense of what I am still researching now: cooperation.
Cai Kai is a Chinese artist. He looks like a designer, but he is an artist. When I just entered the school of architecture for less than one year and kissing the black and white photos of Tadao Ando and Richard Meier together with many other students (ok I didn’t do it, someone did, I believe), he introduced me one of the few architects he know, Yona Friedman. It opened a new door, and a new way, that inspired me to curse architects and designers for the next many years, until someday I felt wrong.
Elaine W. Ho is a Chinese/American artist. I got to know her at the same period of knowing Cai Kai. I didn’t know what she was doing at that timeexactly, but felt fun. When I thought I know what she was doing, I thought I was inspired. An ethnographic, everyday life-based and bottom-up approach, I would say, influenced my way of approaching design.
Wolfgang Weileder is a German/British artist. Like Cai Kai, he looks like a designer, but he is an artist. We talked about “clear” in the previous question. Wolfgang is far more clear than most of designers, especially architects I have ever seen. I never thought an artist should be such clear, no good artwork in this way. However Wolfgang is clear about everything from how to brew an idea, how to realize it to most importantly, how to explain the idea to the audience (user, in design). It impressed me a lot. When we talked about “how artist can benefit the world”, he stated that, “At least artists never do bad things, not like scientists. As a scientist, you will contribute a lot for sure, but it’s almost sure too that you contribute to something painful.”
It is indeed hard to grab one person since the same artist may do great jobs as well as bad ones. It does not prevent me from pointing out tons of favorite works: Satoshi Kon’s all animations, Breaking bad season 1 to 5, Chibi Maruko Chan, some albums of Yellow Magic Orchestra, All Around Us (2008) and many others. Other than direct influence on creative works, I would say they are more on shaping my personal qualities by raising critical questions, introducing unique viewpoint, bringing new knowledge bodies and so on. For instance, Murakami Haruki’s book What We Talk When We Talk about Running made me start to jog routinely, the first time in my life. This further led me to think about the role of my physical body in my life and work. In China, at least based on my experience, physical training was handled extremely bad in schools, from primary school to university, as well as in families. Time wasting, distraction, secondary thing and conflict with study were frequently used to describe it. Children were occupied fully by study and examinations. What the parents can do is to feed them as nutritious as possible and keep them still in front of desk. Till now, my parent barely ask me whether you do some exercise whereas always notice me to eat more and good. Although the previous environment never introduce me to the topic, I, myself, got the idea of using properly my physical body for achieving good and better quality of life and work. You see, all because of Haruki’s book.
What amazing character do your works have?
We would like to answer by taking the words in the preface of our portfolio. Here they are:In the very first moment of brewing this portfolio, we thought it to be a digestive one with maximum ten pages, A4, cool and with distinctive graphics, very little texts, which will makes us stand out from millions of graduates and find us a job. Later, it turned out to be a book. Why?
Because except haven’t got a job yet, we’ve already tried all the other things. We cannot stand out. It seems we are not good at it. Not good at fascinating people. However, if we take a step back, we have already made many people happy by the projects shown in this book. These people are users of our design. Therefore, compared with a show that fulfills you expectation of an employee, in this book, you may find more a talk that tells you the happiness we delivered to users — maybe we are better at it.
When we talk about encounter between designer and user, normally there are three types: one, user is designer him or herself. I make something for myself, since I know what I need and I know how to satisfy myself– by myself. Two, design for one or more users with whom the designer can talk directly. It happens since people who have an idea may not know how to realize it or simply have no idea but can feel something wrong. Mostly, they are private projects; and three, users who cannot be reached virtually but through agent in-between: real-estate agency, government, etc., etc. The reason could be the number of users in this case is too big to make the talk feasible, or simply there is no user yet. They could be both public projects and private projects.
Anything new? No, indeed, these are purely common sense. The fact that makes us happy is that learning architecture for eight years (Tao with one year in Economics), luckily, we encountered them all. The first two are always in real contexts and sometimes realized while the last one is sometimes in real context but never be realized. In this book, we selected some of them in each category, not only relying on personal preference, but also the quality of feedback we got from involvers.
We appreciate the cooperation within ourselves, with end users, and with agents. Cooperative way of design counts users in, hardly yielding a piece belongs to the designer who controls everything exclusively. Our long-term enthusiasm is to make the dialogue happen and improve the effectiveness, although still keep the suspicion of its omnipotent. Does better cooperation surely yields better solution? What makes the communication get stuck? Is there a common language that links different brains? How can people grasp it, both designer and user? And certainly many more questions.
As young and optimistic as we are, we do not afraid to show the difficulties we met, the questions we still have, and how far we have to go to be a better designer. Therefore, this book is not only supposed to be persuasive but inspiring. Why, what and how we did the projects were elaborated honestly and vividly, by which we hope that more thoughts could be aroused on the issue definitely towards the future.
When did you start to surf on gooood? Any suggestions?
Yoko&Tao: We are sorry to say it was a bit late, since we didn’t pay much attention to design medias. We got to know gooood on Weibo, since people frequently shared and talked about the things published on gooood. Till you published Dai Pu’s art museum, we started to focus you more seriously. Dai Pu is our good friend. Although we haven’t yet got a chance to visit the project unfortunately, thanks to gooood, we could see his work from abroad. Moreover, it gave us the impression that goood has strong interest in digging emerging designers, which is quite meaningful to design field and new stars themselves, like a positive circulation.
From our point of view, gooood is run in a good way. Besides the columns focusing young designer and student, which we appreciate a lot, there are also traditional categories like showing some crazy projects and theoretical discussions. Many different things can be seen there relatively effortless, since you organized fairly good.
For future, we hope to see a more open gooood where more different design approaches, visions and processes before-during-after (or we say stories) could be introduced and discussed, other than currently results of design occupying. User group is also worthy to be concerned more, which may give your readers a more fully image and sense about design.
In this project, we left some plants hanging on the door for softening an awkward boundary between private and public space. getting moresunlight, our plants grew better. passers-by stopped to see them. more happiness was created in the neighborhood.
Our first home in Milan was this one with a big door facing street directly. Functioning as window also,most of its surface was made of glass,although facing north; concerning privacy, semi-transparent glass was used. There were several of them at ground floor of the building. Theywould have been shops, we guess.Once being renovated into private house, over intimacy between privacy and public generatedembarrassment. We felt uneasy when we passed the door of neighbors, or we noticed somebody remaining in front of our door.
At the same time, we bought some small plants from supermarket. They need sun, they are not embarrassed at people, and our cat was tryingto kill them. Thus, door garden was made, an effective way of growing plants vertically. Surprisingly, it softened the edge between private andpublic space: after it had done, many people stopped to appreciate it, especially kids; we were also happy to see that from inside,no longerwondering why they stopped.Little embarrassment remained on each side.
For furthering such little interaction, we pasted some text notes on glass to talk to passers-by, as simple as“How are you today?” One day, oneof our beloved plant was stolen, we made a note, big size, with “please return it”. Then we heard some grand-parents sighed:“Bad guys!”.
After all, it was a try to make the relationship between us and the neighborhood closer. Through a simple design done by and for self, weamused the others and warmed the street.
The left door was our home. Our neighbour was a carpenter. You can tell publicness from privacy by the transparency level of glass. However,after completing door garden, our front door looked more friendly, even it was private.
You are Designed!/你被设计啦！
Our last home, Via Conte Rosso 36, was quite near to one of the exhibition place of Salone di Mobile (Milan design week). Official guide maprecommended people a visiting route from metro (also train station) to the exhibition area. It passed exactly by our balcony. Ahead of knowingthat, we had only known that our place located at the intersection of two road, facing one of them directly. We had good view and felt happy tosee not so many people come and go.
It was a normal April day in 2012. After breakfast, we started to work as usual, seeing a bit more people passing by. As time approaching tomidday, more and more people emerged, many of whom stopped at the intersection, wondering left or right. “Something is happening!” Wethought. Having a quick search on internet, we got to know the very fact mentioned in the first paragraph. It was so surprising and funny.
People not only passed by, but looked around purposely, trying to find the way or waiting for surprising. We had to do something. Design weekkindly brought that many audience to our front door, how could we let such an amazing opportunity go!
At that time, we treated the event too seriously in thinking that visitors seemed to throw away their self-awareness happily, waiting for beingdictated by numerous different designs, good or bad. We were a bit panic about so and eagerly wanted to notice them “You are designed!”,implying don’t lose yourself, your judgment, your way of living and so on. In a very short time, we made a banner and pasted it on the wall next to our balcony by using black and white printer, A4 paper and scotch. Soon, people started to notice that. They either checked guide map to check ‘who is the designer of this’, or shot it with their big cameras. We also enjoyed observing them from inside. Discoveries are: 1) amongthose who took pic?ture, 90% were female; 2) among those who took pic?ture, 90% are single or in group of not exceeding 3 persons; 3) thosewho in group of more than 3 even can?not see it.
The wall with our banner on is again a boundary in between private and public space. Moreover, the publicity was significantly enlarged by thisfestival-like big event, temporarily. Thanks to the lucky place we occupied, by only adding a banner with three words, we established a dialoguewith a large number of people. It was extremely open due to the ambiguity of the words, the action itself, and the context we were in. Who knows how they thought about it!
Two years ago, when we moved into our last home, we needed a table lamp. Searching in IKEA, we found a lampstand with bargain price while lampshades were a bit expensive. Why not make one on our own? Soon, we got several ideas, tried and failed, neither too weak itself—you know we have a cat—nor too dark the light. Finally, we tried our colander, also from IKEA, with shade-like shape, a bit transparency, and gaps distributed evenly. It worked quite well. The light was bright enough and mild. Moreover, during a day round, draining occupied it for just several seconds. For the rest, it served as a shade.
The table had two functions on each sides of its long dimension—working and cooking, both light needed. Therefore, we made it movable by setting a sliding track. The track was made of wire and fixed on a wooden beam with proper location. Now, we got a shade and a track. How to connect them? —A hanging system made of clips. Why clip? First of all, we brought thousands of them from China for model making things. (An irrational action was justified by using them again.) Secondly, clips could be interlocked one after the other, forming a chain, meanwhile yield a lot of connection points. It made the height of shade adjustable in a hand-friendly way since we added a cork to be grabbed. Third, it is very easy to re-shape them by hand, making the whole thing feasible at that moment we didn’t have any meaningful tool.
This project was done through making-trying other than the normal separated thinking-producing process. Discussions were barely based on paper or screen, but body movement and object assembled or dissembled. Based on the “enough but decent” principle, we achieved a critical comfortable level by maximizing the value of what we got and could get, in terms of both utility and aesthetic. Cheap, easy, flexible, useful, or good looking, you can put any word to describe it. For us, unlike buying something and placing, *Lamp A* didn’t enrich our life as a solid object, but do more through bridging us with the place in a honest and positive manner, thus making the place home.
Looking at kitchen faucet besides sink, we cannot help thinking “why we need that handle?” The question has haunted us for a long time! Whenwe wash dishes with both hands in foam and dirt, feeling reluctant to touch the handle, we intend to manipulate it by elbow, wrist and arm, evennot so easy. All the above pushed out the idea *Strange Faucet*. The Handle part is integrated into the outlet of faucet. You can treat the whole
body as a giant handle, elbow-friendly. Raising up brings water out while pressing stops it. For temperature, as normal, turning left is hot while the opposite direction is cold.
In using cellphone, people normally hold it like this. Now, try to hold your phone as usual. Keep the gesture of holding hand exactly and use theother hand to move the phone 15cm onward and shot. Then, you get a picture of your hand in holding your cellphone. Set it as wallpaper,suddenly, your phone becomes transparent!
In this summer, Tao got an iPhone from his uncle, what ended the days of using an old B&W NOKIA. Tao had thought to get a cover, but the price made us hesitant. As a result, we bought some felt pads, round and light brown. We put two on the back, using the height of them to lift the cellphone a bit higher. In this way, camera is protected quite well. Referring to screen, putting the phone upside up makes it safe and Tao is not that obsessive about scratches. So, felt pads are enough for him: effective, cheap (2 pads cost only 1/20 of a normal cover), and funny!
Who：Zui Tao 陶醉
School and Office：Polytechnic University of Milan
Who：Yoko Chang 张叶子
School and Office：Polytechnic University of Milan