May Wong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2007, 12:00am

Who is she? A veteran designer of household products and lifestyle gifts whose work has won her international acclaim. In 1993, she became a fellow member of the Chartered Society of Designers in Britain, the first female product designer from Hong Kong to do so. Her designs are sold under three brands: Living Gear, Tapas and Timestone.

What's her story? A graduate in design from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Wong joined the 'godfather' of Hong Kong product design, Ken Shimasaki, as a consultant for three years, working with clients such as Panasonic and Philips. In 1989, she set up her own consultancy company and six years later, a design company, Gear Atelier.

'When you have an idea, after many layers of scrutiny and modifications [by clients], the product ends up being not what you wanted to produce,' says Wong. 'I thought I would be happier if I could design and produce my own products.'

Wong's first design for her company - the Cactus Orange Juicer (top right) - was a hit. On the first day of a trade fair at which she was exhibiting the juicer, she received an order for 50,000 pieces to be exported to Europe. It also won first prize in the prestigious Maison & Objet award in Paris in 1996. 'The inspiration for this came from a cactus that sat in my office for the longest time. One day I glanced at it and its top looked like an orange squeezer and I thought, 'Why not?' The ribs of the plant extract the juice while the pot serves as juice container.'

What are her sources of inspiration? Anything from her hobbies to her travels. During 1996 and 1997, Wong's passion for diving inspired her to design a series of ocean-themed products, including the Octopus Egg Cup, which stands on eight tentacles and resembles an octopus when an egg is placed in it. A trip to Hawaii inspired her Gulu brush (bottom right), which is a caricature of native Hawaiians, whose grass skirts do the scrubbing. In 2002, Wong's bamboo-shaped glasses, which are injection moulded to create a crystal effect, won the Singapore Design Award's product design prize.

'There is appreciation of the wit and appearance of my designs in Europe,' says Wong. 'In the United States, customers put less emphasis on aesthetic appearance.' Locally, Wong says, the high demand for gift items gave her the impetus to start her Tapas line of products in 1999. Wong also oversees Timestone, which her husband started as a line of timepieces.

Where can I see her work? Her designs are found in more than 10 museum shops worldwide including the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Locally, visit the Hong Kong Designers Gallery at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. For a more comprehensive range, check out the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, which is holding a product design exhibition until June 25.