Feature Friday

Interview with Shahril Faisal

Malaysian industrial designer Shahril Faisal has a design career that many people dream of, from designing car accessories for some of the biggest car manufacturers in Asia, to working and collaborating with designers in one of the most beautiful places in the world, The Netherlands. We managed to get a hold of Shahril amidst his busy schedule and got him to share his stories with us..


Bamboo table. Photo: Shahril Faisal

It’s always nice to meet another fellow Malaysian industrial designer. Can you tell us about how you started your career and how did you get to where you are now?

After graduating with a BSc in Industrial Design from UTM, I joined the fishing reel department in Shimano, Pekan Nanas. There, I learned from both fellow local and Japanese designers, and not only developed my design skills but also I learned a lot about manufacturing processes related to materials like metal, plastic, packaging and painting. After working for 3 years in Shimano, I went back to my hometown Kajang where I got involved with the automotive design sector. In the company I worked for, I was involved in designing and producing car accessories for brands like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Kia, and Toyota for the South East Asian market.

Like most of the guys, designing something to do with cars seemed to be cool, but after another 3 years I found myself wanting, at least to my own expectation – to seek new opportunities to challenge myself.

Then I heard about a furniture design competition called MOBILI, organised by MTIB. My submission for that competition got me selected in the top 5 best designs and since then, I became a part of the Tanggam family, got the chance to participate in the ISaloni Milan Italy, and I devoted my time fully to furniture and lighting designs.

What is your design philosophy?

I hold onto rigorous philosophical paradigms that are meant to evoke emotions, provoke thoughts and stimulate the senses. I believe it should be innovative in many ways, be it on appearance or functional aspects. It should also comprise of a story that users can relate to and appreciate. My style is generally mute and subtle in appearance but possesses strong meaning and affection towards the audience. Almost all of my designs have compositions of rectilinear lines with contoured profiles that create well balanced and harmonious forms. Those contour profiles would portray timeless objects of beauty which embeds the elegance, gracefulness and simplicity of traditional Malaysian roots.


Dropp Lamp. Photo: Shahril Faisal

Can you tell us about your time in The Netherlands?

I like it here, but not so much of the weather though. It makes me long for the tropical sun in Malaysia! Weather aside, I feel much more relaxed here and maybe it boils down to the fact that I don’t have to face traffic jams here. Like every other local, I enjoy riding the bicycle and train to get to where I need to be. The cities are well planned here so you don’t feel too stressed out when you have to run errands. I think that the less stressful you are, the better the outcomes of the work you produce.

Was it intimidating working in The Netherlands after having spent many years working as a designer in Malaysia? How did you adapt to the working lifestyle there?

Not at all. Firstly, during my time in Shimano, I was used to dealing with the Dutch staff from Shimano Europe, so I sort of already knew what to expect from them. Secondly I worked as an independent studio or they call it ZZP’er here so I don’t have to deal with many people day in day out. Besides, as part of a Tanggam member, I have the privilege of exhibition and visiting top world Expos almost every year, getting the chance to network with people from all around the world. So these experiences build up and eases communication as time goes by.


Lentur Vase. Photo: Shahril Faisal

How does the design industry differ in Europe compared to Malaysia and South East Asia?

In my opinion, we first need to understand the business nature between these two regions. In Europe, they emphasise more heavily towards the frontal creation phase while the latter deals more towards the production phase. Although a designer plays a role in overseeing both phases, they are more heavily involved in the early design phases. Certainly, the design industry in Europe is dynamic with regards to this. It is common for the design agencies in Europe to collaborate with small or big brands to develop their product lineups. We can always see independent designers being commissioned by these companies for projects.

However, during my recent exhibition in IFFS 2016 Singapore last March, I noticed more and more collaboration occurring between South East Asian designers and manufacturers. Manufacturers are now more open and have faith in local designers. Back then they used to only collaborate with European or Japanese designers. Moreover, the local designers should understand the local market and culture better than anyone else. It is also good to see more designers emerging to venture into business where they produce their own designs and put them into the market. They become designpreneurs, if you will.

What can local designers learn from Western philosophies while keeping to traditional Malaysian roots?

We can take Nordic design philosophies as a comparison. Nature has always been the centre for their design inspiration. They bring nature into their interior in order to radiate a distinct cosiness and warmth that contrasts with the cold Nordic climate. That is why most of the colour palettes used are light and pale. Furthermore, because of their high respect for nature they build a sound understanding on how to utilise the possibilities of materials. Hence they fancy designs that are simple, easy to produce and are minimal in shape and form so that it is appealing and easily accepted by the masses.

By understanding this, it facilitates the designer to see the relation of how surroundings and culture influences the design philosophies in certain regions. This would definitely help designers to produce designs that have soul and are close to the hearts of the audience. Consequently, they may develop their own original and unique style. Malaysian roots have too many good value embedded in their creation and it is up to us to unfold them to be reinterpreted in a modern context.


Twinelight Suspension Lamp. Photo: Shahril Faisal

How important is it for designers to familiarise themselves with both Eastern and Western design trends?

I personally think that the more exposure you have with diversity enables you to tune your designs to fit the target audience better. You get the chance to attain fresher insights and out-of-the-box ideas or uncommon and novel approaches to your designs.

What exciting and upcoming projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on my next series of furniture and lighting designs for next year’s I Saloni Milan. And I am also working on new collaborations with local European companies, based on previous concept designs that I had been working on. Other than that, I’m also currently working on a watch project for the upcoming Tanggam brand.


Twine Chair. Photo: Shahril Faisal

Finally, can you give a piece of advice for young designers?

Hmm.. I actually consider myself as a newbie in this field, at least in the furniture industry. However, to share my experience, for the young designer, I think that they should set their goals earlier. Think of where you would like to see yourself in the next 10 or 20 years and work hard towards that goal. If you want to become an independent designer, you can start early by working under companies that can provide you with the know-how and knowledge that you need further on in achieving your goal. Bear in mind though, that if you want to work independently, you need to invest a lot.. in terms of time, energy, commitment, and even financially. You need to be really passionate about what you are doing and you need to endure hardships in the beginning of the journey. There are still so many areas in which design can progress and I hope that young designers will succeed in their endeavours to play a part in raising and strengthening the Malaysian design community.

Thank you Shahril for sharing your experiences with us and all the best to you.

You can check out the rest of his work on his website here.

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