Focused message key to G.O.D vision
Douglas Young says with a chuckle that 'the BlackBerry is the best thing ever invented'. He spoke in the G.O.D gallery at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei. The gallery, which is a public space and a source of inspiration for Young, is packed full of artefacts of yesteryear - old clocks, postboxes and black and white photographs cover the walls between stacks of wobbly wooden chairs and worn furnishings.
It seems an unlikely setting for Young, who co-founded the contemporary furniture, homeware and lifestyle accessories brand G.O.D (Goods of Desire) with Benjamin Lau in 1996, to speak about how important technology, especially communication technology such as mobile broadband, is to his business but he has always enjoyed the mix of old and new. 'I like to be retro as technology can be cold and inhumane. We present a human side of technology by injecting craftsmanship and traditional values into our products. When a customer holds one of our objects, they can feel it is crafted with care. That is the charm of a G.O.D product.'
But behind the nostalgic appeal of this much-loved Hong Kong brand is a vision ready to embrace the future.
'Technology enables us to compete,' Young says. 'It's always been this way for both companies and countries. Just think about China. Technology can give you the edge over your rivals, in everything from manufacturing, logistics and inventory management. Technology is a high priority at G.O.D.'
Communications technology is particularly important for Young on a work and personal level. He never watches television and, instead, watches videos on sites such as YouTube, and he turns to specialist websites for sources of information. For inspiration, he prefers first-hand experience, such as going to see great paintings or architecture in person, but for background knowledge on these works, the internet is his primary source and he sees it as a 'supplement to learning'.
Mobile communications technology is particularly time-saving, he says, as it offers immediate access and the portability means he can stay on top on his work wherever he goes.
'It means I can go on holiday,' he says. 'I go skiing sometimes four times in a season in Europe and I can bring my work with me. It can be hard for designers to switch off. I keep my BlackBerry by my bed as inspiration can come at any time. Moments of epiphany can sometimes come in the middle of the night, and I send an e-mail to myself at work so it'll be there for me in the morning.'
Young, who was born in Hong Kong in 1965, trained as an architect at Sheffield University and the Architectural Association in Britain. From 1991, he worked in design and architectural projects in Hong Kong, ranging from residential to retail interiors, before starting G.O.D.
At G.O.D, most of the merchandise is designed in-house by a multidisciplinary design team led by Young. The long-term vision of the company is to build a Hong Kong brand that is forward looking and proud to display its cultural origins.
The company has five stores throughout Hong Kong ranging in size from 3,000 sqft to the flagship store of 20,000 sqft. G.O.D products are available in department stores, boutiques and museum shops around the world.
Young attributes his success, although he does not call it that himself, to enjoying and being passionate about his work.
'There are many ways to judge success, and many companies are more profitable,' he says. 'But what keeps me going is that I enjoy work - work is my life - and this means I am happy. With no enjoyment or interest, I would switch off after 6pm. I'm also always dissatisfied. You have to find your passion or there's no energy, and then channel that passion into a business model.'
Communicating the company's vision is another key to success, and a skill that Young says is of utmost importance to leaders. Lines of communication must be clear and leaders should be able to delegate with focused and lucid messages.
'You have to be able to communicate your vision to your colleagues so that everyone is fighting the same battle,' he says. 'Communication technology helps to spread the word, polarise opinion and has a common, long-term goal. Great brands always have a focused message, and employees have pride in and believe in their company.'
Young says that when he is outside the office he communicates with his colleagues often through visual means, such as by commenting on and approving samples that he is sent images of, or taking a photograph of an object on the street to send to his designers through his mobile network so that it may serve as inspiration. For example, a 'manhole cover that inspired a design for a soapdish'.
'Sometimes I take a photo of a random object taken out of context, add a clue as to what it means, and send it to my designers as a way of inspiring them,' Young says.
And, to keep himself inspired, Young makes sure to keep an open mind and to put himself in a position to take advantage of opportunities.
'When I do something, I just do it. I've had failures with a product that didn't work out the way I planned and so on, and these experiences have taught me a great deal. But I'm always open to new challenges, be it on the ski slope, in new business models, technology or a magazine. I enjoy the learning process, and what I do next depends on the opportunities that I come across. That's the interesting thing about life.'