A/D/O by MINI | YUUE's designs explore China past and present



YUUE's designs explore China past and present

Designer Weng Xinyu plumbs China’s rich history and contemporary challenges to create meaningful products, from playful lighting to upcycled bicycle furniture.

“We love design because we love physical objects – the interaction between humans and objects, how our senses allow us to experience objects in different ways. We aim to reimagine objects for daily life,” said Weng Xinyu, the designer behind Berlin studio YUUE, which he founded with his partner and fellow Bauhaus University Weimar graduate Tao Haiyue in 2015. 

Weng, 32, and Tao, 31, both hail from China’s Shanghai municipality but met during their studies, bonding over their shared passion for meaningful design. They relocated to Berlin after graduating, where Weng now runs the Prenzlauer Berg-based studio, the name of which combines the last two letters of the pair’s names. Tao meanwhile is currently focussing her efforts on a new agency centered on exporting European design to China.

YUUE's Oops lamp is an example of the studio's playful designs.

Weng is an emotional designer, as well as an interactive one: his graduate project, titled Good Medicine Tastes Bitter, included a photo frame that blurs over time to obscure the picture behind it, clearing only when the glass is touched. Such an approach defines YUUE’s multifarious output, which spans furniture, lighting and household objects, all of which beg to be experienced and aim to trigger different responses. 

There’s the Oops! lamp, for instance, a conical ceiling lamp with a central pull-cord that turns on the light. This action simultaneously causes the bulb to drop below the shade, prompting an initial “oops, I’ve broken it” sensation.

Similarly, the Balance lamp requires the user to insert their smartphone to switch it on.

Then there’s the Balance desk lamp, a simple beechwood design with a seesaw-like arm from which the lamp’s head hangs down when not in use. To switch the light on, the user must insert their smartphone into a slot on the other end of the arm so that its weight tilts the head upwards. “So many people are addicted to their phones,” Weng told The Journal, “so I wanted to create something that would encourage users to put down their phones and focus on what they’re doing: it’s sort of a trade off.”

Since leaving his native country almost a decade ago, Weng has become increasingly interested in China’s history and design legacy, frequently rifling through books and visiting museums for inspiration. “There’s still so much treasure that’s yet to be uncovered,” he said. “The way of life in China has become very modernized under the influence of the Western world, which I’m not against – I just think it’s important to revisit our own traditions too. Design is yet to play much of a role in reviving Chinese culture, but I think it could, and that this could lead to some truly unique designs.”

Items in the Puzzle Porcelain Set, created with Ryan Xiangfei, reinterpret Song Dynasty vessels.

At this year’s Salone Satellite exhibition in Milan, YUUE showed a playful porcelain tableware collection, in collaboration with designer Ryan Xiangfei, that reinterprets the mysterious Yaoci vessels of the Song Dynasty era. Dubbed the Puzzle Porcelain Set, it includes a "fairness teacup" to encourage modesty – if you pour too much liquid into your cup, it spills out – and a rotund cactus carafe with a hidden opening on its underside, leaving viewers intrigued as to how it’s filled.

For one of the regular pop-up events YUUE hosts in its street-facing studio, meanwhile, Weng produced a series of arresting, geometrically rendered table/chair combinations influenced by China's street food culture and the tradition of bringing a small stool with you to the marketplace so as to use the larger stools provided as tables.

YUUE's Bistro chairs reference China's street food culture.

But it’s not just China’s past that inspires the designer: as the Balance lamp and its reflection on digital obsession attests, he is keen to look at the ways design can help tackle contemporary issues facing society, both globally and in his native country. One of his most recent projects was motivated by the excess of abandoned shared bicycles in major Chinese cities.

Upcycling Shared Bicycle, as its name suggests, “converts discarded bicycle parts into furniture,” Weng explained. “The bikes are very well designed, but competition between companies and subsequent overproduction means that they often go to waste.” Weng’s five-part collection offers an elegant solution to the problem, with pieces ranging from a lounge chair made from the bike’s “surprisingly ergonomic” wave-like frame to a floor lamp comprising a wheel-shaped shade, held in place by the bike’s front fork.

Each item in the Upcycling Shared Bicycle collection is made from parts of abandoned bicycles.

The collection has garnered much praise, while prompting important discussions on upcycling possibilities both in China and Europe – London’s V&A museum recently approached YUUE about acquiring the pieces for its collection. The studio will also likely keep with this direction going forward.

“I want to continue doing projects that challenge the commercial nature of product design,” Weng said of his aspirations for the coming years. “I’m hoping to focus on the problem of product copying in the design industry next. There are so many products in the world, and so much pollution, that I really want to use design to raise awareness and hopefully invoke some change, and also make sure that the commercial products I do make are really unique and necessary.”

The YUUE studio is located in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg.
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