Designs through observing how people create things

Yang Di
Emotive Soil is a design and craft studio which aims to understand 'how people create' in different contexts.
Yang Di
Designs through observing  how people create things
Guan Li / Ti Gong

The studio was established by Chinese designers Yefeng Lyu and Kai Li, who both studied at the Royal College of Art. 

Who are they?

Emotive Soil is a design and craft studio. The aim of their design practice is to understand 'how people create' in different contexts, by observing how design is entangled with material, culture, geography and history. During the design process, the character of the studio shifts between designer, maker, narrator and others, allowing them to create with diverse methods. The studio was established by Chinese designers Yefeng Lyu and Kai Li, who both studied at the Royal College of Art. They have collaborated since doing field research together in Jingdezhen.

Tell us about some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of.

One of the product designs we are proud of is called Rollie, a vase design with inspiration from an unintentional "creative behavior" in day-to-day life. When bored, roll up a long strip of paper into a cylinder and extrude the central part of the undersurface. With subtle movements of your fingertips, you can create various shapes. The process of using fingers to shape the object based on an axis direction is very similar to the process of throwing and trimming in ceramic making. The former occurs in daily life, while the latter occurs in traditional craft. Rollie attempts to convey this "synesthesia" between the two. To imitate the feeling of a paper roll, it is necessary to engrave spiral lines on the surface in one go while throwing and trimming during the ceramic making, which is challenging. On the contrary, when testing what shapes can be rolled out of paper rolls, the attempt was made to imitate the traditional shapes of ware in the ceramic craft.

Designs through observing  how people create things
Coutesy of Emotive Soil / Ti Gong

Rollie collection

Are you currently involved with any project?

Currently, we have a plan to do research around local handicraft in different parts of China, and make related objects as a narrative method to document and express what we see, feel and think. Our project Shadowy Bloom is the first outcome of the research we did in Jingdezhen. It's an art installation about shadowy blue ware (Ying Qing ware) – a very representative ware type in the history of the ceramics industry in Jingdezhen.

Describe your design style.

We do not want to define our design style right now since we are still a very young studio. But as we mentioned, all the projects come from observing "how people create" within different contexts. For each project, we normally tend to think about how we'd like to make our audience feel. To achieve this, we might focus on different aspects – maybe an innovative way of using, a new point of view, a fresh narrative or an impressive story. We might choose different methods and media accordingly.

Where are you most creative?

The riverside near our studio. It's a good place to get refreshed and forget all the distractions. Sometimes, we'll come up with a lot of ideas while having a walk along the riverside.

What does your home mean to you?

It is a place to be brave, to be free and to explore our imagination.

What do you collect?

We've been collecting old objects with handicraft since we moved to Jingdezhen. These objects range from various vessels bought from a local night market called "Ghost Market" to a bamboo chair with someone's name on the back from the flea market. We also collect local material that we encounter in day-to-day life. These two collections are a very special source of inspiration to us.

What will be the next big design trend?

For many young Chinese designers, it will be rediscovering the notion of Chinese cultural identity through interdisciplinary design collaboration. 

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