Michael Young on Why Now Is a Good Time to Be in Design

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By Diana Budds
The prolific Hong Kong designer muses on how major brand collaborations are accelerating innovation.

With studios in Hong Kong and Brussels, British-born designer Michael Young uses the latest technological tools to push furniture forward. This year alone, he created a chair for Coalesse, launched his own furniture and lighting line, EOQ, and debuted a glassware prototype in memory of his dear friend (and fellow British expat) James Irvine. Here, he shares his take on material matters and reveals what he finds so exciting about the business of design today. 

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“History informs you more than the future. I don’t know what the future is.” —Michael Young

How does experimenting with materials play into your practice? 

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Young’s <5_MY chair for Coalesse, $1,700, is a cutting-edge carbon-fiber design that weighs in at less than five pounds. The chair was inspired by his work with bicycles, is stackable for easy storage, and can be customized to match any color using an app.

It’s pretty much the reason my studio is in Hong Kong, because you have some great factories. Anyone can design a classic chair and bang it out and there you go. I think to be involved in technology as it progresses through time is more relevant. It’s a pretty important part of the studio’s ethos to work with new precious materials and just progress, not stagnate. 

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Young lauched his EOQ line at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair, showcasing material-driven pieces like the Shindo chair, $2,775, a lightweight creation made from 20 layers of carbon-fiber twill weaves.

We see so many different contemporary designers collaborating with multiple companies—what’s that doing for contemporary design?  

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Chelsea Boy, a protoype gin-and-tonic glass dedicated to his late friend, designer James Irvine, was presented at Bar Basso during the Milan Furniture Fair.

Things seem to be getting more and more sophisticated, to be honest with you. You look at what’s going on with Magis and Moroso and Moooi and Emeco. Design is getting better. The manufacturing ability and sophistication of objects is growing very beautifully. The demand is increasing. I think it’s a really good moment where designers are now doing better and better work, and technology’s getting more sophisticated. This is really a very good decade for design. 

Do you think this collaboration runs the risk of everything looking too similar? 

There’s definitely a danger of that. How do you differentiate with chair design any longer? There are so many chairs on the market. I don’t think it’s about making a difference. It’s about evolution, really. I think a lot of the things that Kartell and Vitra and Magis are doing are showing that level of poetry, using new technologies to repeat history. 

Are manufacturing processes where furniture design can evolve the most?

Yes. In many ways, most things have been done before, and it’s technology where you can make that small change. At the end of the day, furniture really shouldn’t look like it belongs in a spaceship. I love warm, authentic aesthetics. I guess the Coalesse chair is a fairly modern take on a chair, but it’s got its market segment, and that’s it. We know the market exists for that particular chair, so that’s why it was designed.