Based in Singapore and focused internationally, Jason Ong is a designer who sees iconic beauty in the materiality of things. In 2008, Singapore-based designer Jason Ong unveiled his Living in Clover pendant lamp, a light conceived in collaboration with Singapore fashion designer Ben Wu. Now produced by Driade, this multi-petal light fitting initially adorned both the ceiling above a catwalk, as well as appearing as fine couture, with the hundreds of polypropylene petals draped around a model after being lowered from the ceiling. Trained in industrial design, but initially working as an interior designer in the architectural practice KNTA Architects upon graduation, Ong sees furniture and lighting in a spatial context.
Another of Ong’s designs, The Chair for Daydreamers, is a weightless, almost Salvador Dali-like expression in steel ‘perched’ in midair. “The Chair for Daydreamers gave me an enormous boost in confidence,” says Ong, who has collected a string of awards including President’s Young Talent Award in 2005 and Design Singapore Council’s 20/20 Designer in 2006.
Jason Ong modestly attributes his success to his varied design background. Before studying industrial design, Ong was both a graphic designer, as well as a photographic assistant. Later design choices included set design and public artwork. Given Ong’s experience, it’s not surprising that his design process varies for each project. “I dislike routines. I try to probe deeper into the specific context and work out if I can adopt certain development processes used by other creative practitioners. I can be influenced by minimal or serial music composition or I could as easily be inspired by 1960s conceptual artists. I’m a designer who is more interested in art than design,” says Ong.
Thinking carefully about the way he responds when asked about design icons, Ong considers a design icon to be more an image that’s recognisable by the masses. “A design icon has acquired its value [by] a breakthrough in technology, whether it’s through material, production or form,” he says. Ong also feels that the word ‘icon’ has a broader definition. “It can cover archetypes and even symbols of bad taste. Growing up in any country would yield a range of local icons.”
Ong considers Hans Wegner’s Wishbone chair, inspired by the traditional Ming chair, to be iconic. “I own one of these chairs. It’s still one of the most recognisable pieces of Danish Modernist design. Wegner reduced its form and weight to a minimum,” says Ong, who is also masterful at reducing a design to its essence. “Like most icons, it’s heavily imitated. It’s ironic, as the Wishbone chair highly references the Ming chair in the first place, which makes it a ‘copy’,” he says. However, the variety of timbers used by Wegner has created an entirely new feel from that of the Ming chair. “The timber makes the chair extremely sensual,” adds Ong.