Making designs that embody both skill and knowledge seems to be a common thread uniting craft-skilled designers. Jean Prouvé’s knowledge of dynamic seat loads and weight distribution on chairs, to take one example, led him to incorporate thicker, stronger back legs into his designs. He understood the properties of metal down to the fundamental physics, a knowledge which his design conveyed. They had a meaning and a purpose, and became a staple of his furniture design.
Seungjin Yang, a Korean furniture designer known for using balloons to explore fascinating and fun forms in his work, is another such craft technician. Similar to Prouvé, his work immediately communicates a rare, deeper understanding of the materials he works with. His design philosophy involves taking something pliable and unstable by itself, and turning it into a solid piece of functional furniture.
Seungjin received a degree in metal art and design from Hongik University in 2013. Since then, some say the designer has been trying to achieve the impossible.
Metal has always had a cozy home in pockets of design globally. It is a keystone material we interact with daily with an extensive base of knowledge regarding use and properties.
With a material like metal, the guiding principles are laid out for you. You must learn techniques, and there is not much unique experimentation left that has not been done extensively before. Seungjin clearly realized this, and aimed for an uncharted piece of design history where he could write the guiding principles himself, a radical step in the sometimes stagnant space of furniture design.
When I think of a balloon what comes to mind is its freeness of shape. Many forms can be made from twisting, turning and stretching the rubber. Seungjin’s motivation for starting to work with balloons was the unknown properties of such a fragile medium. He devised a method of coating the balloons with layers of epoxy to increase rigidity and structure, allowing the piece to bear weight without deflation. But there were questions. Could it bear weight consistently? What would long term durability look like?
Skepticism aside, Seungjin’s challenging and unexplored use of material was a breath of fresh air in furniture design. The bright colours and shiny epoxy coatings make his pieces feel vibrant and exciting, an entirely new methodology for furniture design.
There are endless possibilities with such an easily manipulated material. Most other materials used in mainstream design today have fixed structure the second they are produced, narrowing the possibilities of creation. Not so with balloons.
Seungjin’s medium forces him to work backwards. Traditionally, the framework or skeleton of a chair provides the structure, and the secondary material provides some design aesthetic and comfort. This is the case with most upholstery.
But Seungjin can dream up any structurally sound shape, create it by manipulating balloons, and then add structure to the piece afterwards. It took him years of research and development to balance free form with structural reliability, but Seungjin's choice to take this road today allows him to blend youthful joy with tactically masterful design.
Seungjin attributes his inspirations to the people he interacts with on a daily basis and their stories. His populism is reflect in the choice of accessable materials. By choosing to use something as cheap as a balloon, Seungjin’s work exemplifies a democratic design mindset. The work could be in a dollar store or a mansion. Appealing to both paradigms in design is something that few designers can do successfully, and allows his works to live in a grey area occupied by other great minds in the furniture design space such as Enzo Mari, Marcel Breuer and Harry Bertoia.
Seungjin's intuitive process communicates knowledge and great passion. His adept ability to create will allow him to bring more fascinating forms to fruition. Expect to see more groundbreaking creativity out of his Seoul-based design studio in the near future.