Most people can't explain what makes a good design. Ask and out come the oft-used phrases 'well suited to the purpose', 'form and function' or 'efficient and effective'. Even designers have trouble analysing their equations for success. According to Hong Kong industrial designer Alexis Pepall it's down to the 'lizard button'; a kind of animal instinct. For lifestyle guru Douglas Young, its having a strong gut instinct and sense of humour. Good designers have intrinsic talents and attitudes that are difficult to acquire but, as David Evans discovers, the increasing presence of local designers on the regional and international stage is proving that Hong Kong's creators extraordinaire have it in spades. Douglas Young (40) Day job: Goods Of Desire. Co-founder/creative director. www.god.com.hk Provenance: Born in Hong Kong, Young trained as an architect at Britain's Sheffield University and The Architectural Association in London. Following a successful stint as an interior designer, he established the G.O.D lifestyle label with business partner Benjamin Lau in 1996. And the winner is ...: Asia Pacific Interior Design Award 2004 for the signature Yaumati range, which is based on pictures of old Hong Kong buildings. Something inspired: Young drew on his love of British smutty humour when he designed 'Year of the Cock' T-shirts to celebrate the Chinese lunar Year of the Rooster. The cheeky top sold out in weeks. Worth a mention: During his years as an interior designer, Young was consulted by Joyce, DKNY and Durban. Didn't I throw that out? A browse through G.O.D's flagship Causeway Bay store reveals how Young is exploiting Hong Kong's throwaway mentality. The store is littered with old radios, tins and boxes from the 1950s and 60s. Some are for decoration but others are labelled the 'Vintage Collection' and have price tags in excess of $1,000. 'I find them on the street. The idea that these throw-away items have value is alien to most people. I'm trying to make people re-evaluate what they are throwing away.' Young on his inspiration: 'Print is a very good way of expressing my identity ... and views. There are many aspects of Hong Kong that people are totally ignorant of. The Yaumati series was to make people re-examine the importance of old buildings. The message is, 'There are lots of interesting things in Hong Kong if you just open your eyes'. I go about my daily business and suddenly something goes 'bing'. Hong Kong is a rich source of inspiration that other designers are not taking advantage of. It's an untapped source, an iconic city, and I'm lucky to have a hold on that. I like the British sense of humour and I incorporate that into my designs. We don't have enough of that here. I'm not so serious with my designs. I like to raise a smile.' Alexis Pepall (35) Day job: Pepall Design. Founder/designer. www.pepall.com.hk Provenance: A British national, Pepall was raised in the Netherlands and attended university in Italy. He also studied at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. And the winner is ...: Holder of the prestigious 'red dot' and three iF Design - 1999, 2002, 2004 - awards. Hong Kong Designers Association 2002 'Silver', 'Gold' and 'Judges' awards. Something inspired: 'The Groove pleasure suit' is a portable music system incorporated into a sleeveless vest for groovers on the move. Worth a mention: Pepall's designs are on permanent exhibition in Germany's Design Zentrum Nordrhein-Westfalen museum; Japan's Industrial Design Promotion museum; and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. His clients include high-end electronics manufacturers such as Grundig, Philips, Hitachi and Saba. It's a reptile thing: According to Pepall, for a design to be successful it needs to have soul. No soul, no mass-market appeal. 'I try to hit what psychologists refer to as the 'lizard button'. The appeal that makes us want something. It's not just about aesthetics. It's a complex amalgamation of factors: economics, durability, marketability and manufacture.' Pepall on the buzz: 'Industrial design is about thinking ahead to reduce problems down the line. The exciting thing is that we are working on the future. Everything I'm working on now will be made in three, six or 12 months' time. You're creating a baby that will go out into the world and grow up. A product has to have purpose. Designers are trying to make our world more functional, useful and economical. Intuitive design comes from the heart. Whatever you learn from around you, you put back into the product. The buzz for me is knowing I've contributed something that millions can enjoy.' Andre Fu (30) Day job: AFSO. Co-founder/principle designer. Provenance: The Cambridge-educated Hong Kong native is a protege of minimalist designer John Pawson, who created the first- and business-class lounges for Cathay Pacific Airways.' And the winner is ...: The August edition of trend setting Travel + Leisure describes Fu as 'Designer of the moment'. He received special recognition from Wallpaper* magazine as an upcoming talent in 2003 and has been named as one of the 'Hot 100' designers by Elle Decor UK. Something inspired: The Arch (right) is a 1.8-metre tall floor lamp, while the Hakabench is a multi-purpose coffee table that, with its cushioned leather surface, doubles as a seat. Worth a mention: Fu is the mastermind behind Opia restaurant and lounge at Philippe Starck's JIA boutique hotel in Causeway Bay, as well as the Zen bar in Shanghai's Xintiandi district. He also designed the Hong Kong home of international film star Michelle Yeoh. Boy wonder: Despite being something of an old hand in the local design business, Fu says his youthful looks sometimes catch clients off guard. 'They look at me and I can tell they are thinking, 'My God, I've got a summer intern standing in my office talking about interior design!'' Fu on Scandinavian retro: 'I like a very ordered and structured layout and build on that using patterns and waves. I like the juxtaposition of various architectural disciplines and how I can rein them all in with my own vocabulary. Once you've done that, you can add the playfulness. 'I draw on the late 1950s and early 60s. Not the psychedelic look, but a Scandinavian look ... not so much the retro style, but their use of woods and patterns. It's not very Chinese or western looking - that's not what I see myself a product of. I never say I'm trying to interpret Chinese things with western influence. 'My designs are open to interpretation. I never try to define too much. I never impose my style. I'm there to try to slate the client's vision with my vocabulary.' Tino Kwan (55) Day job: Tino Kwan Lighting Consultants. Founder and principle consultant. Provenance: Kwan is arguably Hong Kong's best-known lighting consultant, with his signature designs dotting the skyline of the city of his birth. A graduate in industrial design from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, his reputation stretches as far as the United States, where he is a member of the prestigious Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. And the winner is ...: Kwan has collected more than 10 awards since 1987, including the Hong Kong Institute of Architect's Medal of the Year in 2003 for One Peking Road. Something inspired: Kwan impressed the folks at luxury label Fendi so much they asked him to redesign the lighting for their flagship Hong Kong store. Worth a mention: With his reputation for bringing out the best in architecture - ranging from art deco to hi-tech - Kwan has worked with many leading international brands on their flagship buildings. Clients include Giorgio Armani, Hong Kong; Louis Vuitton, The Peninsula hotel, Hong Kong; Citic Tower, Hong Kong; the Grand Hyatt, Shanghai; the Peninsula Palace hotel, Beijing; and Hong Kong's tallest building, Two IFC. Ouch! 'Fendi asked me to solve their lighting problem. They had this dark concept for their stores but people kept tripping up and bumping into the shelves and hurting themselves. Where it should have been light it was too dark and where it was bright it could have been darker. It was difficult to see the merchandise.' Remaining within the dark brief, Kwan used his layer technique to highlight the merchandise with brighter lights while toning down the areas that didn't require so much exposure. Stairs and public areas were lit and muted tones were employed to help cut back on the number of mishaps. Kwan on layers: 'The philosophy behind my designs is to enhance an architectural space and bring out the best in it, like a make-up artist uses lipstick, eye-shadow or blusher to bring out the natural attributes in a face. A woman looks beautiful without make-up on, but she will look even more beautiful after the make-up has been applied. The challenge for me is to make beautiful things even more beautiful. 'Restaurants and bars are the best areas for me to express myself because, unlike large spaces, you are creating different moods for different times of the day. A bar in the early evening will appear different from late at night. 'My designs have layers of light similar to paintings. Where you have layers you can appreciate depth. My layer designs enable you to rest your eyes on the products and focus on what attracts you. Sometimes people walk into a department store, turn around and leave. A lot of people don't know why they do that. It's because of the lighting.' Barrie Ho (37) Day job: Barrie Ho Architecture Interiors. Founder/principal designer. www.barrieho.com Provenance: Hong Kong-born Ho trained with the renowned mutli-disciplinarian Tao Ho before branching out on his own in 1999. A graduate of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong, he is frequently described as being 'young of age, high in seniority'. And the winner is ...: Three Asia Pacific Interior Awards in 2003. Something inspired: Known for introducing Chinese culture into contemporary elements, beginning with his MING 2002 furniture series. The collection comprises chairs, desks and coffee tables. His round rest chair (right) is based on a classic Chinese design. Worth a mention: Describing himself as an 'architerior' designer, Ho's influence extends beyond furniture to bars and restaurants (Eurocafe, Central MTR station), institutions (Hong Kong Film Archive), residential projects (Laguna Verde, Hunghom) and club houses (New World Casa California, Guangzhou). Ho the non-conformist: Ho says his decision to branch out from architecture into furniture design had his contemporaries questioning his business acumen. 'People ask me, 'Why did you invest a big chunk of money from a successful architecture business into something new?' When I see all my classmates wandering around in suits and ties, I'm glad I did. I enjoy diversification. I'd like Nasa to call me up to help them build a space station, or design the inside of a train or plane.' Ho on tongue and groove: 'The challenge is everyone has chairs and everyone has seen Ming chairs. To re-interpret is difficult and dangerous. The Ching dynasty was more about unnecessary decoration while Ming is timeless; simple basic geometry; the square and circle held together using tongue and groove. It's a system that was used to support the roof on the Forbidden City so it can be used to hold a huge weight or for a simple chair. 'There has been no evolution for 400 years from the Ming dynasty until now. I believe in evolution. Everything should be continuous so I'm trying to distort that original meaning.' Winnif Pang (43) Day job: Zanif Advertising and Promotion. Co-founder/designer. www.zanif.com Provenance: Prior to founding Zanif Design Consultancy in 1989, Pang made a name for himself by being been voted Hong Kong Young Designer of the Year in 1987. Born in Hong Kong, he is a graduate of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. And the winner is ...: Holder of the prestigious 'red dot' and iF Design 2005 awards and Hong Kong Designers Association 2002 'Excellent' award. Something inspired: Cartoon inspired 'Worm-Up' salt and pepper shakers. Worth a mention: Own brand watches, clocks, novelty and household items and stationary. Show me the money: As the manufacturer of his own designs, Pang says he is no longer a designer but a businessman - something he appears to relish. 'Twelve years ago, I went to Japan and got a lot of satisfaction when I saw people queuing up to buy my products. Today, I get satisfaction when I open up my bank book and those queues have translated into a number.' Pang on pirates: 'More than 80 per cent of my products are copied. [Mainlanders] come to Hong Kong on a visitor's visa, go to the Trade Development Council's design gallery, buy all my products, then go back across the border and copy them. It takes them 15 days to get a product onto the retail market. I've taken out copyrights, registrations and patents, but the cost of a lawyer is very expensive compared with the small fines imposed. My inspiration comes from sensibility, rethinking and predicting a trend. 'My mouse and cheese designs; every culture knows about mice and cheese. It's a concept that's very easy to sell. And take the silicon Tea Spoon. I used to see people using a metal tea-ball with their best china, which could easily damage it. Dunking teabags is very clumsy and you are left with a soggy teabag on the side. Plus, you also need a spoon to stir the tea. So I thought, why not combine all this into one.'