Since their founding in 2015, YUUE has already made a name for themselves in the design world, having been exhibited globally and nominated for several awards (including the German Design Award). Weng opened up to us about the nature of their process, why they use design to reflect upon challenging social issues, and how they’re exploring interactivity in product design.
Weng wasn’t always on a creative path. He was actually on his way to becoming a translator when a friend pointed out that all of his personal interests and skills could be located under the umbrella of ‘product design’. So in a way, Weng had been training as a designer for years without even realizing it.
“I was very obsessed with computers, games, computer graphics. And I was also interested in making stuff, like small hobby things, DIY stuff, and doing drawings of these things... So even before I studied design I could render 3D scenes and 3D images.”
“The only name I knew at that moment was Bauhaus. So I checked online and I found this university Bauhaus University, Weimar in the centre of Germany. I just tried my luck and was happy to receive admission.”
And like that, Weng was all in. He graduated from Bauhaus and went on to form YUUE Studio in 2015 with his partner.
“At that time, I was with my girlfriend, so we just put the last two letters of our names together to coin this word, YUUE.”
They began on the circuit of European design fairs going to Frankfurt, Cologne, Stockholm, and more.
“During the fairs we were able to also get commissioned projects which secured our way to start our own projects.”
“In the beginning we were working from home, but because we need to make a lot of models and mock ups, we need plenty of space — and also more people — so we hired some interns and rented the space.”
I was curious if YUUE was founded with any kind of overarching philosophy to their process, but Weng explained that rather than adhering to a preformed framework of ideals, he preferred to follow his personal fascinations and interests with each project.
“I was just making the things I like. I was playing around with objects and thinking about how I can redesign them... How I could go back all the way to the essence of the thing and then start redesigning.”
Weng used a nearby light he had designed to illustrate his reflections.
“For example, if you have a light, usually you go to the wall to switch it on or off. That’s a very far away interaction. A remote interaction. So I was thinking, what if you can just turn on the light by directly touching it?... In older times, ventilators or electric fans had this kind of pull string to turn it on or off. I’m very obsessed with this interaction. And we had this client in Shanghai who produces fun, interactive stuff, so I thought I would combine the pull string directly with the light.”
Weng went on to demonstrate his desk lamp, “Balance”, which works by only raising and activating once the user places their smartphone into the counterbalanced slot. The concept of the lamp is to advocate a healthy life balance between work and amusement.
“I think we are too obsessed with our technology right now. I was quite obsessed, quite addicted to cell phones. So I would have to put down my cell phone during work. So I thought, what if I have a light which forces me to suspend my addiction so I can focus on work.”
Weng then took this concept of a counterbalanced lamp and developed it into a minimalist floor lamp for Norweigan design brand, Northern.
We then discussed the idea of ‘design pollution’. It’s a phrase coined by British designer Jasper Morrison to describe a design landscape overrun with products created purely to service the consumer culture of wanting something ‘new’ — as opposed to creating something out of necessity.
“Too many designs are just not necessary. They are just wasting our energy and resources. I think design itself is neutral, but people can use it for different purposes — and businesses can use it to exploit... There are many cases we see where design is exploited and it creates design pollution.”
This line of thinking was the foundation for Weng’s 2019 “Upcycling Shared Bicycle” project.
“In China, there are so many shared bicycles everywhere on the street, and some are just abandoned or wasted. It's surreal. There are tens of companies who just create and produce this bicycle and put them on the street to win as many users as possible. They're ignoring the fact that we actually don't need so many. It's a waste of resources and I really hate it. But I think it’s not the design that is to blame, it’s the intention behind it... It needed to be discussed and criticized but no one was.”
“So I collected some of the wasted bicycles, scrapped them and made them into furniture to show. I showed them in a tipping truck which is mostly used to dump waste. So it tips the platform almost like it’s dumping the furniture, like, ‘look, we are dumping useful things’.”
Thank you to Weng for the insightful conversation, and to the YUUE design studio team for hosting us.
You can find links to their work below.
Words and (monochrome) photos by Ewan Waddell.