Before Singapore-based designer Jarrod Lim embarks on any project for a client, he makes it a point to research “the problem at hand and understand it fully before attempting to address it.”
He adds: “That includes understanding the company, the direction of the brand, the materials and the available fabrication processes. All of this information provides much of the inspiration for the designs. Sometimes I see something and it gives me a new idea but often my process is less about being ‘inspired’ and more about solving a problem.
Then, he proceeds to sketches and mock-up models of each design before prototyping and testing.
He continues: “I don’t think a design is ever absolutely perfect. It can always be improved, but at some point you need to move to the next step. There will always be compromises for manufacturability and commerciality, but the role of the designer is to work within these limitations and arrive at the best solution they can, based on these constraints.
“Throughout the entire process I’m constantly making decisions regarding the design such as its scale or proportion. Often, the decision to go with a certain size or angle is made through trial and error. Testing which variation works better.”
Lim regards the “Koi Chair” as perhaps, his most iconic piece. He recalls: “This was an idea that came to me very quickly because I was designing some outdoor furniture, and I was looking at the wrought-iron gates and window grilles around Singapore. These types of grills were something I hadn’t seen much of before in other countries, so they gave me the idea to transform them into a piece of furniture.”
Lim grew up with a wide diversity of cultural influences. The child of a Singaporean father and an Australian mother, he grew up in Melbourne, Australia where he also trained in Industrial Design. Travel and cultural differences have continually influenced him throughout his developing career. After graduation, he moved to Milan to work under design icon Patricia Urquiola, wanting to learn from the best and soak up the atmosphere of ‘international design.’ Urquiola’s studio was the perfect location as it was only small at the time and allowed him to have a hand in a huge variety of projects with only the best companies in Europe. That episode of his life was an “eye opener,” he declares.
A stint with SCP, a leading British design and furniture manufacturer, followed and then it was back to Melbourne to teach. However, he continued to nurture an ambition to open his own studio. He discovered the opportunity to do so in Singapore, a market that was just beginning to set up stakes in the design firmament.
Over the years, Lim has seen his style evolve. He describes it has having “become more pragmatic because now I’m working for more established companies that often have a long history or a strong background of working with designers. This works in my favour as it provides some boundaries, but also the staff are open to new ideas and understand what a designer can bring to the project.
“They also understand the design process and that great ideas and great products take time to come to fruition. There can be many iterations before the product is ready. A lot of companies are not willing to take this time to refine the idea and the design to such a point.”
Concerning the long-running debate on form versus function, he says: “They are inseparable. Each one needs to be addressed equally, and each one affects the other. Mostly the function informs the form, but the form also affects other items such as production. So, there are many issues at play.
“All of the factors are equally important for a successful product or interior. The secret is in knowing the correct balance for the desired end user. Some people will favour aesthetics above everything else, while other people want practicality first. If you understand your client or end-user then you can direct the design towards their ideals.”
Lim claims no preferences in working materials as “every material has its own merits, and it’s up to the designer to discover and enhance the qualities of each one.”
He observes that different materials work better in different situations, each one providing the user with a different experience and having a differing environmental impact. “For example, it might be unusual to have a water bottle made from bamboo, but with the right design and production processes, it may become a future, new method of manufacturing water bottles,” he says.
Most of Lim’s commissions comes from designing for other companies, who use their brand names in marketing his works. But he does have Hinika, his own furniture and product line, which is only available through a select group of stores. His office, where he generally works alone, outsourcing work when necessary, is located in the atmospheric East Coast district of Singapore.
Airing his opinion on consumer inclinations, Lim elaborates: “Furniture has become quite inexpensive these days, and its availability online has made it very cheap and easy for people to update their styles quickly. Design has become more of a fast-turnover commodity that companies use to sell a new product quickly before replacing it with an even newer version.
“Although many consumers claim that ‘design’ is very important to them, what they often mean is that ‘style’ is very important to them. “They are not looking for a design that has solved the issues and created a truly valuable product. What they are looking for is an aesthetically pleasing design, which is good and cheap and easily replaceable when they see something new. Furniture and product design has become very much like fashion in this sense.”
Has technology had an impact on his work?
“Technology has not affected my creativity,” he explains. “It is simply a tool to speed up the process of doing the work. Designer entrepreneurs generally face the same challenges as any other entrepreneur such as finding revenue sources, paying overheads, deadlines etc. It’s no different to any other business.
“The creative part of the design business is actually the easiest because it’s by far the most enjoyable. So, it’s easy to focus on that and ignore the difficult portions of the business. But they catch up at some point and need to be handled.
Accolades are not unfamiliar to this design star. Under his belt are trophies such as the Singapore Furniture Fair Design Award 2006, Singapore Tatler 50 Most Influential Designers in Singapore 2015 and Furniture Designer of the Future Award in Melbourne. But those pale beside, he says, “having the opportunity to work with good companies who understand the design process – that is a better recognition than any award.”