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Suzy Annetta, Editor-in-chief, Design Anthology
GROWING UP IN a single parent household, Suzy Annetta and her mother moved from one rental home to another. The pair would visit showhouses on the weekends, dreaming of what they would buy if they won the lottery. Perhaps it was this obsession with homes and living spaces that led Ms Annetta to pursue interior decoration at RMIT and later to work as an interior designer.
The story goes about how she started a blog, writing about things that caught her eye. Before long, many designers were following her blog, which led her to think about starting an actual magazine. In 2014, Design Anthology was born, partly because she felt there wasn’t a credible enough magazine that was accessible to both designers and anyone interested in the subject. By 2018, Design Anthology had launched its European edition, followed by an Australian one in 2019. Currently, it enjoys a worldwide readership of over 140,000.
Her original plan had been to launch the magazine online, but was advised that without print copies, her work wouldn’t be taken seriously. Despite the high cost, Ms Annetta took the plunge, and firmly believes Design Anthology would not have succeeded if she had gone online.
Now, after a life of rental homes, she resides in the southside of Hong Kong island in a converted industrial space, with views of the mountains. Her home is filled with furniture accumulated over the years, none of which match, says Ms Annetta. She also has a lot of books, travel souvenirs and artworks that are not worth a lot of money but which she deeply treasures.
PEOPLE SAY PRINT IS DEAD, BUT YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T THINK SO?
Speaking to designers and architects around the world, I’m reminded why I don’t think print will die. There is a special connection between the creative community and print - they seem to really appreciate the tactile qualities - the smell, the feel and texture. Those qualities can never be replicated digitally. I don’t know if it will ever go out of fashion, but I imagine it may become more of a luxury item in the future. The cost of paper, printing and shipping is not going to start going down anytime soon. The quality of the paper we use is quite different. Readers appreciate that it looks and feels more like a book that is to be treasured and collected, rather than a throwaway (or to be recycled) glossy catalogue.
A LOT OF PRINT MEDIA HAVE CLOSED DUE TO FALLING REVENUE AND REDUCED CIRCULATION, IS THAT SOMETHING YOU FACE? HOW DOES THE MAGAZINE SUSTAIN ITSELF?
Aside from production values, there really isn’t another magazine that concentrates on the design scene in Asia quite like Design Anthology. We’ve now extended that regional focus globally, with editions in Australia/New Zealand as well as UK/Europe. So far we are faring well. Obviously it’s a very difficult time for everyone around the world, and the media are suffering particularly as marketing budgets are being cut. Hong Kong has had a difficult 12 months with the political unrest we suffered in the lead up to the outbreak of Covid-19. We have been very fortunate in that we have already diversified and have advertising revenue from places outside of Hong Kong. We also have a creative agency arm under our parent company Fifth Black. The corporate client work side of the business is still going strong and takes the pressure of any reduction in ad revenue, so we are fortunate that way.
WHAT ROLE DOES DESIGN OR A DESIGN MAGAZINE HAVE TO PLAY IN A PANDEMIC LIKE NOW?
Design always plays an important role in our lives, especially now with so many people around the world in lockdown or quarantined at home. Design is not just how something looks, it’s how it feels, sounds and functions. Bad design can waste time, make you sick and even be lethal. On the other hand, good design can uplift, inspire, improve productivity and improve quality of life. The role of design media is to inform and educate about these benefits and we need that now more than ever. A print magazine, as opposed to digital, is the best way to read and experience design. I think this is because it’s a way to unplug. It is a way to get away from the computer, which is where all of our work is done these days. It’s that digital detox that allows readers to pour over the images and stories and to save the information they want.
ASIA IS A BIG CONTINENT, AND EACH COUNTRY HAS THEIR OWN UNIQUE HISTORY, CULTURE, AND DESIGN. SINCE THE ASIAN EDITION SHOWCASES DESIGN AND DESIGNERS IN ASIA, WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT ASIAN DESIGN?
I think the uniqueness comes from exactly as you’ve said - it’s a large region, with vastly different cultures, languages, faiths, art and craft heritage, materials, climates etc. There is an assumption by many in the West that Asia is homogeneous. But each country’s design scene is largely influenced by its own unique history and context. We decided to focus specifically on Asia not so much to show how different it is, but more really to show how equally great it can be. The other assumption, even within the region, is that design from Asia is of inferior quality, consists of poorly made reproductions from China, or is cheap and not of equal value. This is simply not true and that’s one of the main reasons we love to tell the stories that we do.
WHICH ASIAN COUNTRIES ARE YOU SEEING THE MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS IN DESIGN AND WHY?
I’d say South Korea for product design. There is a vast number of young creatives graduating from local universities and/or overseas and they have such a unique eye. There is a certain scale and proportion and a colour palette that is unique to Korea. There is also a really interesting marriage of industry and craft which I find fascinating, so I am always keen to see what’s new from there. And I’d say Indonesia for architecture. Again, it’s the vast number of students graduating. But I am also fascinated to see how they are bounding ahead in terms of sustainability, with the use of natural and biodegradable materials and designing for natural light and ventilation. I also just love their aesthetic, so I’m always excited to see what’s next.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE MOST POWERFUL ARCHITECTS/DESIGNERS THAT YOU ADMIRE MOST?
There are so many, but in terms of trailblazers I have to say Kenya Hara is quite amazing. It is not just the work he has produced but the thought that goes on behind it. I had an opportunity to interview him at his office in Tokyo a few years ago and he took 30 mins to answer my first question. I thought he’d forgotten what the question was, but he so poetically framed his response, then circled back and summed it up so succinctly. I was mesmerized. I also greatly admire the work that Neri & Hu produce, I admire the thought process that goes on behind it, and that they are reshaping assumptions about design in China.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE MOST PROMISING TALENTS IN ASIA THAT YOU THINK WE’LL BE SEEING A LOT MORE OF IN THE FUTURE?
There really are too many to name, and like a mother I wouldn’t want to single anyone out. But I think just because of the sheer size of the country, we will see a lot more great talent coming from China in the not too distant future. It’s already happening