DFA Design for Asia Awards: Impacting Asia’s Future with Design

Tunnel of Light by MAD Architects from Mainland China

After going through months of a rigorous judging process, DFA Awards has recently revealed the cream of the crop of this year’s Asian design! Since 2003, the awards have recognised over 1,600 outstanding design projects and around 200 creative talents who have made an impact in Asia. Among its 5 award programmes,  DFA Design for Asia Awards (DFA DFAA)  celebrate design excellence in Asia, for Asia. It is an internationally acclaimed stage for design talents to showcase their projects and endeavours to the world.

This year, among more than 1,100 entries, 211 were conferred the accolades, including 9 Grand Awards, 1 Grand Award for Culture, 1 Grand Award for Sustainability and 1 Grand Award for Technology, among other award categories. We had the pleasure to talk with Hong Kong fashion brand  Rhys , a Grand Award winner this year, to have a deeper look at their project and insights on Asian design.

“Design means innovation and finding new solutions to problems.”

“The award came as a complete surprise to us,” said Ophelia Kot, Founder of Rhys, “as our brand only started in 2017.” But the young venture’s innovativeness has already shown promising potential. Rhys targets at two demographics largely missed out by mainstream fashion businesses — the elderly and the disabled. Customising to these groups’ practical needs, they strip away the stigma associated with items like bibs and onesies by making them chic. “To people with real needs, well-designed apparel can be a profound blessing and give them a sense of care and respect.”

Ophelia, who has more than three decades’ experience in the fashion industry, chose to defy fast fashion business rules and employ local dressmakers to revive the dormant manufacturing power of Hong Kong. Rhys exemplifies the emerging global trend of solving local social problems with design solutions. “Design means innovation and finding new solutions to problems. We hope to inspire more designers to observe the needs of others and come up with wise solutions.”

Asia’s diverse cultures render the region’s designers to innovate in countless ways. Reviving traditional cultures with modern models and aesthetics is another important trait evident in DFA DFAA.  Tunnel of Light  by  MAD Architects  from Mainland China, also a Grand Award winner, restored a historic lookout tunnel for Echigo-Tsumari Triennale, a leading art festival in Japan. The triennale, aiming to reinvigorate a rural region dispirited by an ageing and declining population, seeks to reconnect people with the place. Across the 750-metre-long Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel, MAD Architects created multiple sets of breathtaking five-element-themed installations which are spirited up by the majestic beauty of the surrounding nature. Since its opening in 2017, the number of visitors tripled from around 60,000 to more than 180,000. It made a significant contribution to the triennale’s tourism draw and the revitalisation of the region’s economy. The project is a prime example of how art, design and nature can come together to rejuvenate ageing communities.

“Winning the award will surely help us get more exposure and make known the situation of the elderly and the disabled in Hong Kong.”

DFA DFAA’s winning projects bespeak the vision and sophistication of contemporary Asian design. Accolades like DFA Awards give international visibility to brilliant Asian designers and projects, as well as distinctive regional issues and stories. Rhys’s Ophelia said, “Winning the award will surely help us get more exposure and make known the situation of the elderly and the disabled in Hong Kong.” She spoke with faith about the future of Asian design, “We have many resources here, and we see a great future ahead. Talented new buds have been emerging in the region’s design industries. Given the abundance of quality materials and significant consumer markets, many things can happen in Asia.”

Hong Kong fashion brand Rhys

Connecting to the international design scene also means facing competition on a global scale. What can Asian designers do to step up their game? “They should hone their skills by observing, learning, thinking and creating. I think these are key to keeping one’s mind clear, so that one can come up with new designs that meet people’s needs.”

And what does Rhys hope to do next? “We are hoping to start a new service for our community by enabling members to create their customised products in our workshops. This will bring a positive effect to the wellbeing of and mutual understanding between the elderly, carers and even the general public. We hope to make more impact on society and help alleviate the pressing problems of the caring industry.” From Ophelia’s plan for Rhys, evolving continuously with the needs of your design targets is probably also the life force for creating genuinely impactful designs.

In addition to DFA DFAA, the results of DFA Hong Kong Young Design Talent Award have also been announced. Meanwhile, the results of  DFA Lifetime Achievement Award , DFA Design Leadership Award and  DFA World’s Outstanding Chinese Designer  will be announced in mid-November. The presentation ceremony will be held this December at  Business of Design Week . Some of the winners will share their design projects and philosophy during the summit. Stay tuned!