Writer : Editor Team
Translator : Parisa Pichitmarn
Photos : Teeraphon Pittapatee
Eggarat Wongcharit is considered a master of contemporary design who has been instrumental in putting Thai works under international spotlight. Even more so is his role as a curator for the highly successful exhibition “Slow Hand Design,” which presents Thai products on the international level by the Department of International Trade Promotion, Ministry of Commerce. Now in its 8th year running, he has brought “Thainess” to global stages such as Milan Fair, one of the most recognized fairs that showcases design products and creativity from all around the world.
Slow Hand Design
“My designs starts from creating a work concept from all the research I have done to understand what the consumers want. We see what the needs are for both customers inside and outside of Thailand and we predict what they will. I create a concept or story and that eventually leads to the end product, whether it’s as a curator for Slow Hand Design, as a furniture designer or whatever.”
Slow Hand Design began from the roots of research into Thainess that have been going on since 20 years ago, since he was still a professor at Rangsit University. It was a result of trying to create a curriculum that did not follow other famous design institutes such as Pratt and Bauhaus, where a program would be developed to focus on Thai design.
“At that time, I thought that we had the background to solve our own design problems. If you look at Thai temples or Thai architecture, they are all great sources of knowledge. But we’ve never really highlighted that, so I’ve always studied everything regarding Thainess and did not follow the West.”
Hand crafts and Thai roots
If we study the art history of famous German institute like Bauhaus, we will come across the phrase “form follows function,” meaning that practicality is always considered when designing. This is a result of revolution and industrialization, but if we look back to Thai roots, our design has grown out of tradition and culture.
“My Italian teacher taught me to not be an Italian. We have to see what our roots are to understand what we are and to do that to our best ability. When building Buddha statues, if you walk into the temple, the scale of the Buddha is enormous while we are very small. When you see Buddha’s eyes looking down at you, it causes you to feel at peace. These are the things that come out of the relationship between space and feelings,” Professor Eggarat says.
Besides that, the Thai roots in design is also tied to tradition, manners and behavior, all of which the professor has studied before receiving support from DITP that has developed into current day’s Slow Hand Design.
Going Against the Current
In the collective history of Silpathorn recipients, what has been said about Professor Eggarat’s work, as a past recipient of the award for Creative Design, is that he is a leading designer that can give practical and contemporary forms to ideals, all the while incorporating technology with local handicraft in order to create international-level works.
Currently, Professor Eggarat is still the Creative Director of Crafactor, which has been recognized by over 30 countries around the world. Not many years ago, he took part in the mega-luxurious hotel Iniala Beach Hotel at Phuket, where he was the only Thai designer in the whole project. This project has graced the cover of Decoration International, a design magazine that is well-known around the world.
“I may have some strange work thought processes and we’re a company in Thailand that does this because I started out from research and predicting whether it answers the needs of the market or not, whether the consumer will like it or not. Then I will develop it into a product. Let’s say we wanted to export. We cannot create from the basis of our own preferences and taste. For example, works in Thailand such as ICONSIAM brings on an international aesthetic but is given a local touch. But if we export, we need to look at the other way around because it’s a different person looking at it. You need to figure how to localize it so it can be globalized.”
“At first, people said I thought too much. Perhaps it is what I was taught in Italy. Most Italian design companies are like this. They start from the basis of knowledge and study behavior and generate ideas. Then it gets pitched and developed into a product. It could even be something digital.”
For him, knowledge comes first before form. This is an important direction that leads all his design development. It could be a source of opportunity if Thailand and more designers took notice, as the past decade has mainly saw that new designs was still based on old knowledge.
The Future of Thai Brands and Thailand
From his experience as a designer and curator who has been in the industry for many decades, he says, “Knowledge is a problem for every country. If you notice at the fairs in Italy, the people who are the cream of the crop are at Hall 20. They are all these thinkers that companies hire. The architect is the thinker and the company must have a vision. After they’ve worked for a year, lesser companies will try to get them too. Where do we stand? We are still lagging because we don’t invest in creating knowledge and only seek to represent through form. Our designers may be new and they may do new things, but knowledge-wise, we are still lacking.”
When asked about the future, the professor says, I believe that there is a way, but designers have to adapt. In 5 years things will change and the old materials will die. In 5 years everything will change so you need to look ahead 10 years and change. The online market is changing the landscape and people’s values. People don’t really care about handcrafts and today’s generation does not find entertainment in resting at home. They can change their ambiance by getting a room at booking.com and they don’t need to invest in new furniture to change their atmosphere.” As a realistic virtual future edges closer to take place of the real world, along with the growth of technology and AI, everything must change in order to survive—this including Slow Hand Design (now in its 9th year) as well as his other projects.
“This is what you need to look ahead to in 30 years. How do we make hand crafts survive in the world of AI? This is my next goal.”