When spontaneity and lightness of Italian design collides with Japanese philosophy of balance between discipline and creativity, in the diverse and dynamic city of Hong Kong, what could possibly happen?
Recently, we had a conversation with Italian designer Andrea Ponti, Founder of Ponti Design Studio. Started working in Hong Kong since 2013, here he met his lifetime partner in both life and work, Shiori Kuroiwa. Andrea talked about the rationale behind his designs and the influence of Japanese culture and the diversity of Hong Kong on his works.
Island is a double-decker driverless tram designed for Hong Kong in post-Covid era.
P: Andrea Ponti
U: Can you tell us the story of Ponti Design Studio? How did two designers from Italy and Japan come together and found this company?
P: The idea of moving to Hong Kong and starting my own design company took shape in 2012.
However, my experience in Asia started in 2007 when I left Milan and moved to Japan to spend one year abroad as an international student.
The experience was so intense and captivating that I immediately decided to stay. I started to work as an industrial designer for multiple design consultancies, and after a couple of turbulent years I settled in Kyoto working on strictly hand-crafted, traditional products.
It wasn't ideal for me, as I wanted to design more forward-thinking products, but it helped me survive for a couple of years.
In 2013 I moved to Hong Kong and finally had a chance to focus on mass-produced, high end products - ultimately something that I always had desired to do.
During this time Shiori Kuroiwa became my partner, in both business and life, and today we do everything together. She’s a very talented designer and she plays a key role in our design team.
Left: Andrea Ponti; Right: Shiori Kuroiwa
U: How do Italian and Japanese cultures collide and influence your designs?
P: I’ve always been fascinated by the simplicity and timelessness of Japanese design and I would say that both the living and working experience in Japan still influences our design language.
Italian design is more about spontaneity and lightness. It can be quite emotional but there is something innate about it, in terms of creative thinking. It’s pure creative freedom. On the other hand, Japanese design is more about striking the right balance between a certain form of “discipline” and highly creative, innovative thoughts.
Hyobodo Fuoco is a side table that shows a modern take on traditional Japanese lacquer.
At Ponti Design Studio we try to find balance between these two very different design languages. We combine the simplicity of Japanese design with the creative thinking and expressive strength of Italian design, bringing out the best of both cultures and design languages.
Naturally, after working in Hong Kong for many years, we also tend to draw inspiration from the city and Southern China’s more pragmatic approach to design on a daily basis. Over the years, we’ve learnt how to be creative yet highly efficient; most importantly how to design products that really matter and resonate with end users.
U: You have very innovative designs like the "Island" that require advanced thinking and traditional designs like "Neel'' and "Fusion" which focus on craftmanship. What is behind the diversity? How do you combine the industrial design and craftmanship?
P: The design process behind every product we design is pretty much the same. No matter how complex a project could be, it always starts from a single idea or intuition.
The idea goes under multiple runs of iterations and when we think we are ready to give it a physical shape, we then start sketching and 3D modeling. Nowadays the design process is heavily digitalized, however we still enjoy sketching with pens and paper as we believe that tactile interaction within a more analog process leads to the creation of more authentic products.
Our design ethos is based on the idea that we are seen as a multifaceted Studio capable of designing any physical product, especially across different industries. That’s why in our current portfolio, you’ll find a diverse collection of innovative and traditional designs, ranging from more forward-thinking concepts like Island, Kite and Agora E, to simpler products such as Fuoco, Fusion and Neel.
Neel is a collection of 12 one-of-a-kind hand-paintedporcelain plates inspired by Rajasthan.
U: What has Hong Kong brought to your creativity? We find your designs quite different from other local designers as it is commonly seen that the "Hong Kong elements" are explicitly blended in the designs. Do you think you are interpreting Hong Kong in a different approach?
P: Well firstly, I think that Hong Kong-born designers are extremely talented. However I do feel that a lot of the time, the “Hong Kong elements” are interpreted in a rather descriptive and literal manner.
It definitely could be said that we interpret Hong Kong with a different approach as at our Studio, we enjoy taking those elements and translating them into something more abstract and conceptual. Over time, we have slowly refined this process that defines how we design, while ensuring that the original essence of the “Hong Kong elements” are still present.
U: What do you think about the industrial and product design landscape in Hong Kong? What challenges do you face working as a designer in this city?
P: Hong Kong is extremely diverse and dynamic, which is where, I believe, it gets its charm from. Because of this, there are countless opportunities that emerge on a very frequent basis, especially in the design industry.
Living and working in Hong Kong certainly has its challenges but they are in such a way that allows us to be in this constant creative and inspired state of mind. For example, looking at the movement, flow and density of people in the city may give rise to us thinking about and exploring alternative methods of public mobility. This was actually how Agora E came about as our most recent mobility-focused concept. Looking outwards, at least for Ponti Design Studio, our challenge may no longer solely lie within the designing of individual products, but rather the long-term improvement and evolution of future mobility in Hong Kong.
U: Which products are commercialized and where can we find them?
P: The majority of our products are designed for clients and they are currently on the market.
Aside from client work, we have a few concepts that are in our portfolio as we normally like to set aside time during and in-between projects to further refine our design language and to just enjoy what we love doing. With design being our passion, the intention of these projects is not to create something necessarily for the market, but instead to create something different that will help people better understand how design improves all aspects of life, and inspire young and upcoming designers.
Angora E is an autonomous Social Riding EV designed to promote in person social interaction in Hong Kong.
U: Which are your favorite designs and why?
P: This is a very tough question as I have thoroughly enjoyed working on all of my designs over the years. I think it would be quite unfair for me to name just one or two as each project is special and rich in their own ways and each design tells a story that is unique to them. Because of that, I would say that my favorite design is always the one that we haven’t started designing yet!
My mindset very much revolves around the idea of constant improvement and that is exactly what myself and the Studio strive for with each project that comes along. Nine times out of ten the next design would always be something that better embodies our design ethos and language.