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In-Conversation Michael Young talks to us about his new Richard chair, his Brit Pop beginnings and gardening with cobras
February 2021

Which is better and why, your Richard chair or Richard’s Michael stool?

They are both great designs, pure and simple, commercial no-nonsense with unique integrity that comes through, the materiality and engineering of it, great global team work and straight to the point. I’ve really enjoyed these projects and working with Modus, Richard always delivers a great stool.


Your Richard chair is made using 100% post-consumer plastic, do you think it is practicable to avoid virgin plastic?

I think the best word we can use for this is, ‘harvest’, we need to harvest the planet, we can’t claim to be 100% pure but if you make a little bit of effort, year by year we can claim back material and clean up the damage that we have done. This is going to be a long process. I am guilty of using a lot of plastic without understanding its impact but now I am in a position to tidy up my patch with partners in design.


As the number of new consumers booms into billions, how can we guard against over consumption and live within planetary boundaries?

I think we need to do exactly what we have done with the Richard chair, which is to be conscious about materials and how we use  them.  Design has become such a ubiquitous word that labels any thing in the home now. Good or bad design is not the point, they have always co-existed and the fact that bad design often sells as much, if not more than good design, is positive if it cleans up the planet. Being pragmatic is painfully important.


You have talked about opening up your own ecommerce site and manufacturing your own product, bypassing design brands, why?

At the end of the day, it’s a brave move to manufacture anything, it’s really hard work but I’ve been in the business for so long that I have all the connections to do it and this is the way people are buying things. I think it’s a feature of how we survive as designers and creative people. It’s not the way I want it to be but it’s the way I realise I have to change to make a living as an industrial designer. I will always have cooperation with friends and brands that have a legacy like Modus. In Asia my name has become the brand that sells the brands so it makes sense to do this and support the brands I already work with.


What is it about mass production that excites you and how do you celebrate traditional materials and craftsmanship when manufacturing on an industrial scale?

Mass production makes things available to the market you really want to reach because of the economies of scale. Of course, I love craftsmanship and this isn’t something that is limited to small scale production. Mass production is about working with artisans on every single level, if we do this on the scale we wish to, we will succeed in giving things to people that they normally cannot afford.


Richard (Hutten) once described your approach as rigorous and polished. How would you describe his approach and from where do you think the root of these two approaches stems?

Both Richard and I know what time served means so we don’t have an issue about making things and working with clients like yourselves. I think we deliver real things to real clients, it’s real materials and experience. That could sound arrogant but we are not getting any younger and doing good things becomes more important to both of us.

We started as young punks 30 years ago, this was a time when we made things alone by hand, more like artists creating functional work. I was from what they called Brit Pop design and Richard from Droog Gen - things were very transparent then if they had substance. We worked from the heart and soul, met to eat and drink, mainly to drink I think ....when I first heard of Richard and Droog it was like raising peace flags and creating a unity, hey, we found a new country with people who do what we do, it was that rare back then. 


Do you think that technology can save us from our own destruction?

I think only hindsight will save us - it always has but if we look into the future as best we can, I think we can do our best to make sure the mistakes of the past are not made again. If you look at the work that was done after the Second World War, everything was made for people that needed real things and that’s really what we should go back to, being diligent about just doing things for the right reasons. I am curating a new show in Hebei Provence, China, about the impact of technology on real human needs rather than what it’s capable of. Here is a prototype city in China and we are in a position to avoid destruction via initiatives like this.


If you hadn’t become an industrial designer, what do you think you would be doing now?

I’d like to be a gardener, I really appreciate the land. I like to sieve soil and nurture plants and cook, it’s a microcosmos out there, my garden however, is not like the average garden you dream about in the countryside of Great Britain, we have wild snakes, vipers and cobras and at sun set wild pigs drop by.


You have been brewing beer for a little while now, will you be drinking your Michael Young Beer Shack Experience beer over the holidays? 

I would love to, we are making organic beer and making it a bit funky. I’m giving it away to people, it’s a special beer for design events and my friends in the design community. When I opened my office in Shenzhen I realised I owned so much stuff from around the world so I put it all in a room for the public to use and serve beer, the locals don’t get to travel much so I brought a world to them. Sadly, I can’t get there as the border has been closed for close to a year.


What has your experience of working with us been like and would you like to work with us again?

Hey, it’s been so good working with a British company, we’ve loved it every inch of the way I’m talking metric, no I’m talking imperial! It’s so lovely to work with a company that has tradition in culture, it’s quite rare to work with history and as an all-time Londoner I’m really proud to be part of a community that has ethics. Design is a business built from passion, I think that way round is important. I want to build the relationship and evolve with Modus, we learn from our last opportunity.


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