Lui Sik Peng, Priscilla
Lui Sik Peng, Priscilla graduated in 2006 and is the co-founder of Studio Juju with Timo Wong





So maybe for a start, where did you both meet?
T:We were previously from the NUS Design Incubation Centre (DIC). She graduated from NUS, while I graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), almost a decade ago.
What made you work for DIC after graduating from NYP?
T:I was taught by Patrick Chia from 2001 to 2003 at NYP. Subsequently we met a few times, and he suggested that I join the DIC team. P:I had just graduated from NUS DID when Dr. Yen approached me to join DIC. At that time, DIC was just starting out. They had just received the resources to form this department as a design exploration laboratory. The general direction for the centre was not fixed and Patrick had not yet joined the centre. When Patrick then joined as the design director of DIC, he started to create plans and programmes with the prototyping lab.
So I heard, or I read, somewhere that Patrick Chia was the one who said, “Hey why not the both of you work together?” Is that true?
T:Yes. So the first year when I joined, we both worked on a project together. And we realised that there was quite good work synergy. P:Yes, we started designing and making “Objects Around the Tablescape” for d.lab, and he noticed the synergy we had. Patrick then encouraged us to do something together. That maybe we could join SaloneSatellite, which is a platform for young designers in Milan every year.
I’m curious about why you two chose the name “Studio Juju”.
T:Haha! Well, we had to register a name for the exhibition. For the exhibition, we wanted to exhibit a collective work by two individuals. It so happened that Patrick was walking by while we were discussing and he thought maybe we should design something together instead of individually. So we decided to design together and we thought maybe naming ourselves in a way that describes the way we work would be meaningful. So we started searching for words and meanings freely and we came across this word 授受 (“juju”) which in Japanese, has the general meaning of “to give and to receive”.
So the roots are from Japanese!
T:Yes, but it is not because we were specifically looking for any Japanese name or words. We were just looking for words with meaning of “working together”, “communication”, “exchange”, “dialogue”, “teamwork” etc. After some time and by pure serendipity, we found “juju”, and it sounded nice, cute in a way and it described the way we work. And that’s how the name came about.Subsequently when we exhibited in Milan some Finnish people came and told us “juju” in Finnish means “a trick”, like, “a happy trick”. P:And in Africa it means a totem or some magic. Haha but we chose it mainly because it means “to give and to receive”. It has a good meaning with a pleasant sound.
Why as a design studio do you want to “give and receive”?
P:At that moment it was really about the process between us that was crucial. We want to use it as a way to describe how we work together, specifically the design process—to give ideas; to receive ideas; to give before you receive something good out of it. So that’s why we named it Studio Juju. T:But it’s not a motto.
Last year, Studio Juju won the President’s Design Award.
T:Yes! We were happy. We were happy to be acknowledged for the work we have done and are thankful to all who have been with us in our journey. But to us, winning an award doesn’t mean we’ve made it or reached some level of being a designer. It’s definitely an encouragement to continue this work we have started.
Tell us a bit more about the Rabbit & the Tortoise collection, particularly why it was titled that way.
T:It wasn’t intentional, we were thinking of what to design for our first Milan exhibition. That was the year we called ourselves Studio Juju.
Oh so this started from way back then?
T:Yes, it started as prototypes. We selected a few typologies of furniture to design and tables were one of them. When we were designing tables, we thought maybe we should not have any ideas or reference of what a table should be. To us, tables then were just surfaces that something could be placed on, so it became a free exploration. The sketching process was very fluid, “oh maybe this looks like a cloud”, “this looks like something else” It seemed to be a naïve way of thinking what a table was, something like a child’s doodle. But we had in mind that eventually it had to be something functional. We started sketching, and there were many shapes. They looked like islands, some were very long and some were awkward-looking. Putting them together, it felt like you’re putting islands together. We selected a few out of over a hundred models, put them together, juxtaposed the heights and composed the shapes, and they became a collection of tables, some high and some low. I mean, they could have been named, “The Whale and the Turtle”, but when we looked at the shapes, one of them resembled a rabbit, and another a tortoise; very abstractly of course.
So this is not linked to the Aesop’s fable at all?
T:No, although the concept is not linked to the Aesop’s fable, we thought it’s a nice name to give because it described the imaginative scenario when the shapes come together.. The naïve process of doodling shapes was also quite childlike, so we thought that the name was apt. P:Yes, I think a lot of times when we design, the idea of the form and interaction comes first. When they all come together, the concept really takes shape. And the naming of all these products usually comes right at the end. Same for Duck Lamp; we didn’t begin calling it a duck, but instead with the idea that we wanted a particular articulation and this articulation required a heavy base. This expression of the experience eventually gave birth to the formal quality.
So, Priscilla, was design training in NUS DID back then very user-centric also?
P:Yes, user-centricity was crucial; it seemed to be the crucial element throughout the four years. In Year 1, we studied the expression of forms through our interpretation of the door handle and buttons.
We still have the buttons project.
P:Yes, so that is a very user-centric exercise. Following that, in Year 2 we designed a trolley and a conceptual communication device that served to bring people together. So again we had people that’s right in the middle of the design process. No matter what, design is all about how the human is using the product, so the biggest takeaway was to be user-centric in our approach.
When you were doing your final year design thesis project, what made you start to do An Onion Thing?
P:Actually, I was doing something else for thesis. And subsequently there was no headway with that topic. After many consultations, I started to do more furniture-based explorations. An Onion Thing started as a small project selected for a DID Milan exhibition and I had the option to devote all my time to work on it as my thesis project. At that time I was just making a lot of sketches to create outdoor sitting furniture. The approach started with a lot of sketching, and there were a few of my sketches that I found more inspiring. So with that I decided to translate my sketch to a small model. I was experimenting with Styrofoam mold and using black sewing thread to coil around it and coating it with resin. Then I melted the entire Styrofoam mold with kerosene, leaving the black thread in resin. So it has a body, but it’s totally hollowed out. I was intrigued by that process and imagined the final form to be a curious seating experience, so I followed that route of exploration.
How was it like for both of you to come back toNUS to teach?
T:It’s different from working there. I guess it’s the responsibility of teaching as well. While we’re not full-time lecturers teaching there every day, the kind of content we want to create for the studio is a responsibility. Because eventually you have to be quite clear what the students are getting out of it and it’s not just what you would like to teach, or what you think you can bring to the table. It’s also about understanding the other lecturers who are conducting the other studios, so you want to have on the table a good mix of studio projects.
Okay, so maybe you can share something that someone from DID or DIC has said to you before which really inspired you or opened your mind?
T:Patrick would tell us, “The idea of a round, is rounder than a round itself.” It was meant to be a comment that was for fun and it meant something actually. It meant that when you have an idea, and you try to execute the idea right, the struggle is always to physically perfect something that would be the most ideal in your mind. It is a goal that is hard to achieve but you’re always striving towards it.
Any word of advice for students still in DID, or coming in?
P:Be open-minded about opinions and be willing to try or review the opinions of others critically before forming your own opinions. Be attentive to your lecturers. Enjoy all your hardships and cherish all your teamwork.
What is your vision of design? What does design mean? What does design do—what is the function of design?
P:The vision I have of design is multi-faceted. An inspiration, a drawing, a prototype, a question, an idea- they are always shapeless and non-definite. The process of working on a project is uncertain until the character of the project emerges. Then we try to make this idea, this character, become real, and design becomes very technical and controlled. It becomes precise. Design is this uncertain yet compelling process of questioning, talking, making, concentrating to finally professionally create something useful for people, efficient for production and beautiful to keep for a long time. Design is a positive discipline to solve existing problems, or to create new typologies. Through this process, it defines the culture of the moment. T:The function of design appropriates matters to assist and to be felt by our senses to intrigue emotions. Design is also closely linked with culture. It documents the aspirations of the human being of the time.