Nancy Ji 2018 Front / Centre winner

Fresh from her win at DENFAIR’s Front / Centre design competition we had an interview with architect and designer Nancy Ji, creator of the Archie table. Nancy spoke with Manuela Milla, better known as Meanwhile in Melbourne via Skype from Japan where she is currently travelling, learning Japanese and doing research for future projects.

Nancy is a high achiever, as a registered architect and Bates Smart alum and winner of various design competitions, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy learning a bit more about her design journey below.

MM: What does it mean to you to be the recipient of the Front / Centre award?

NJ: It really inspires me to keep designing! I am grateful for other people, especially those I admire and have been in the industry for some time, to recognize and support what I am doing. I am especially thankful for the sponsors and entities like Craft Victoria for their support. It is encouraging to know that my work speaks to others and can have an impact.

MM: What is the importance of front centre to you?

NJ: Front Centre has been a great way for me to showcase my work. By providing a platform for young designers to put their work out there is not only great exposure but a great way to connect and meet people in the industry. It is also valuable to see other’s works, both emerging and established individuals and companies to see the diverse ways of working possible in this industry.

MM: What was the inspiration behind your winning Front/Centre piece?

NJ: It wasn’t really inspired by one thing, it was more the process or the idea of trying to utilize a single sheet of material. I always used to laser cut models at university where I would always try to nest everything neatly, but there’s always going to be some sort of waste. One day I thought up a really simple way to use a whole sheet of material without any waste. I called a local tile company that we use at work and they were really nice and cut it for me and sent it over, and I as soon as I saw it I knew ‘yeah that’s it’.

MM: How do you define yourself? Do you think of yourself as a designer or an architect?

NJ: I do see it as a holistic profession, in the end it’s all design. I found that architectural skills can transfer into different scales. My end goal is still to be an architect, but it is fun to be able to do my own projects at a smaller scale. I feel like I’m branching out rather than going away from architecture. It’s more about becoming multidisciplinary, and that’s really exciting.

MM: How has your approach to designing and making changed over the past few years?

NJ: I had made simple things out of timber before, just at home DIY style. But to actually make things out of steel and other materials you need a proper workshop so it was pretty cool to get a chance to do that with Tait and Signorino. It opened my eyes to how many manufacturers we have in Melbourne and how you can just call them up and say “hey let’s work together.” I appreciate how close-knit the Melbourne design industry is. I feel like as designers we have a sort of image in our head but we can learn so much from manufacturers and builders to understand the best and most efficient process to bring our ideas to life.

MM: How would you define your style?

NJ: That’s a hard one! At this point I don’t want to narrow it down too much, especially because it’s still pretty early on in my career. I think it’s great to have freedom just to experiment, and most importantly have fun while doing so. Coming from an architecture background I do value functionality but even more so the power of design to make people look twice or address a broader agenda.

I think that designers have the skills to make something that not only looks good but works well and has a little twist or unique playful element to it. It’s important for the product to show the level of thinking and care that has been put into the design itself which makes it different to all the other products out there. I feel like I myself will always want to own something that has a story or a deeper meaning behind it.

MM: What have been some challenges you have encountered while designing this piece?

NJ: I think through every project you learn about materials and the manufacturing process. The hardest thing for me is understanding the manufacturing process and the cost associated with it. It’s one thing to do a prototype but to make it market ready – that’s a learning curve at the moment. For now Archie is more of an art piece as every piece is honed individually by hand. However the concept has potential to translate to other materials and shapes which is more suited for mass production, which I would like to explore in the future.

MM: What do you plan to do for your stand at DENFAIR 2019?

NJ: It definitely sets up a goal to come up with something new to show for next year. There are no concrete plans yet but I am pondering as I am travelling and researching here in Tokyo, so possibly something inspired by my travels. I am excited and thankful for the opportunity!

MM: What advice would you give to upcoming designers?

NJ: Three words; JUST DO IT. Put yourself out there because there’s a lot of opportunities and competitions out there. You just kind of have to keep at it and continue to produce work. Try to aim for certain exhibitions as they are a good way to set yourself a deadline.

Another piece of advice I received early on was to take it seriously when you are producing the work and give it your best shot. When you are finished, don’t take it too seriously. Sometimes you won’t get it perfect the first time and rather than getting hung up on it, move on to the next project. It’s important to keep moving forward.

MM: How do you see yourself in the future?

NJ: The goal in the future is definitely to have my own studio one day. I guess I’m conscious that there is still so much for me to learn,  which is why I’m here in Japan doing research and getting some experience in design offices that I really admire to see how they’re doing it.

I would love to set up a design practice that is multidisciplinary as well and see how that may work. It would be ideal to work on a house one day, a chair the other and teach in between. The goal now is to learn skills that I can use later and find out what I really enjoy doing. Then hopefully the money will follow! You have to have a passion.

MM: If you are not a designer/architect what would you be?

NJ: That’s a good question. I guess travelling non-stop, like being a journalist or an artist. I  had a blog when I lived in Japan previously and I loved going to places, taking photos and writing about my encounters and experiences.

My ideal lifestyle would be going to different cities and sketching the beautiful sights I see, and then writing about the different places I visited and the delicious things I ate. In my ideal world, designing something in each city and showing it at an exhibition  before heading to the next destination. One day in Milan, one day in Stockholm and then on to Tokyo! Of course I would always come back to Melbourne at the end of it all to reflect and be inspired for the next collection of projects.

MM: What do you do to relax?

NJ: I eat; I love going to all the different restaurants, just going out for a drink with friends, and just going out for coffee. Going to exhibitions and going to see shows. I guess just leisurely exploring the city, that is relaxing for me, whether that is eating, or checking out an exhibition or finding a new store. Also cooking at home, going to the market on a Sunday and having a slow enjoyable day just eating and relaxing.

This interview was conducting in collaboration between DENFAIR x Made in Melbourne. To read the original version, visit the Meanwhile in Melbourne website. 

Related Topics:

Australian Design - Emerging Design - Front/Centre - Furniture - Nancy Ji