Francis Lye candidly delves into his industrial design history with details that touch on the essence of what design means to him and crystallization, to the best of his ability, of what the essence of design is and/or should be.  The Malaysian born design award winner has navigated through various channels of industrial design armed with a passion for the creation of things that can yield increased utility from the excellence of their design.  Francis Lye designs everything from electronics to furniture but one thing that remains unwavering in all is work is that fact that all his designs are slaves to purpose – in this sense, there is nothing wasted and features are never thrown in just for vanity – all aspects of his designs serve a purpose.  See the interview below …

“My work ranges from consumer electronics to furniture and everything in between, I always try to approach design from an honest …”

Tell us a little about where and how you grew up?

I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, in a small family where nobody has any relations with creativity. Therefore, it was a great surprise for my family members that I became an industrial designer.

I always had a feeling during my childhood; I played with toys that somehow were a forecast of my future life. I was building cars, aircrafts, houses and many other things in Lego at 6 year old, I was always making things and wanted to know how stuff worked but I honestly cannot remember when I decided to be an industrial designer.

Could you give us a sense of your educational background and what subjects you were generally drawn to?

I have an undergraduate degree in industrial design from Limkokwing University in Kuala Lumpur. I took a year of undergraduate courses in design before I started the graduate program. I took courses in mechanical engineering, material technology and product design studios.

Years later my apprenticeship in Motorola and Sharp Electronics gave me this rather technical part of my career, forming my insight into the whole process of building products. Learning how design serves functionality and usability of a product was more or less the first contact with the meaning of design and how design could serve us in our daily lives.

When did you realize that you had the eye and ability for industrial design?

I did not find out until I was looking for graduate schools. I had always been interested in drawing, model making and building things. When I saw the examples of projects in an exhibition of work from an industrial design program, I remember thinking ‘what the hell is industrial design?’. But I knew it was a field I would be interested in.

I went to design school because I wanted to design cars. To become a car designer, generally one completes an industrial design degree and then goes and does a postgraduate in vehicle design somewhere like the Coventry University in the UK. It soon became clear to me that it was going to be very difficult to go down that route. And then, while I was doing my industrial design degree I fell in love with consumer electronics design.

I felt already confident with industrial design projects and the personality I had developed with sketching and product conception.

How do ideas for designs come to you – do you have a creative/inspiration-inducing process?

I live my life observing every day and looking outside of our industry. There are tons of interesting inventions and developments going on in other industries that we can learn from; architecture, automotive, fashion, or technology. If you’re serious about design you always have to keep an eye on what’s going on in other industries because design relates to all these areas and they all cross pollinate one another eventually, be it in terms of engineering, construction methods, materials or surface finish. Be open to anything and embrace the unexpected, never think that you have anything completely figured out, this habit keeps you curious and creative.

My creative process consists in building a rock-solid routine to be creative for hours every day, giving a structure, rhythm and purpose to my creations. Somehow I need to create a framework for inspiration and creative process and I’m always concerned about finding something very solid. A stunning design takes time and I put my creative work first (before reactive work) to stay focused.

Your designs vary in terms of item and function – what is the common thread (if any) among your designs?

My work ranges from consumer electronics to furniture and everything in between, I always try to approach design from an honest point of view. If you’re designing a product, it should highlight all of the reasons someone might want to buy it for instance – its usefulness, ergonomics, aesthetics and etc. rather than create an illusion of filling the role of something it doesn’t.

There are so many products out there that we always have to find an approach that gives a good reason to work on a new project, to develop something and to put it on the market; because it’s not anymore a question of need, it’s a question of what is the intention behind new products.  This is because new doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s not a question of life, or surviving… very often it’s a question of market. With this point, I think we always have to answer these questions while developing a new product.

Your company states that you create “disruptive, brand-building products and experiences that connect emotionally with users” – could you please expand on this?

Nowadays, the design industry is “saturated”. Every designer seems to be designing the same thing that offers the same features. In order to stand out from the crowd, we must dare to be different, and not jump on the bandwagon. Everything we design should have meaning and create new value propositions for the brand and user. It should have personal meaning for the user, and it should either contribute to the economy and/or the world in a meaningful way. 

Artistically, philosophically, aesthetically and commercially, what do you think are the most important aspects of your design?

I think ‘problem solving’ is the most important aspect of design.  Design should somehow strike a strong emotional chord with the people that will use them.  The ability to think about the end product development, from design to manufacturing to marketing to distribution to inventory forecasts is extremely important.

Do you ever collaborate with other designers, and if yes, what criteria do you look for in collaborators?

Yes, quite a number of my projects have come through collaborations with other designers. I think it is important to stay in touch with others to keep you up to date. Since design is not as well-known as other fields, getting together with other designers gives you a chance to talk about design with others that share your passion.

Having an eye on the detail of how something is actually made and never being satisfied with the status quo are the important criteria. The best way to maintain quality in our work is to pay exceptional attention to detail in each project.

How do the awards you have already won for design affect your future aspirations and do these awards directly help you commercially?

Awards are a stimulant; they push us to welcome more creative sparks in our minds and they inspire us to create even better designs. The awards serve as a media platform which allows many people to know of our design. It also creates great exposure and helps communicate credibility to our clients.

How can people get updates about your design, hire you or purchase some of your work? 

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