Maia Ming Fong

Specialized in Kitchenware Design.

Maia Ming Fong

About Maia Ming Fong

Maia Ming Fong was born in Honolulu and currently works in Barcelona. She studied Product Design at Stanford University and then worked for many years as an art director and design consultant. Her designs have won awards and been published internationally. ( With growing demand for her ceramic work, Maia began reproducing her designs in series. Modern classics, with a tactile and whimsical flair, Maia Ming Designs offers a selection of ceramic table wares produced by artisans in Spain, Vietnam and Portugal. Like their creator, Maia’s ceramic designs are an aesthetic and philosophical fusion of Asian and Scandinavian cultures.

  • Winner of the A' Design Award.
  • Specialized in Kitchenware Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Kitchenware
EVA tea set Teapot and teacups

EVA tea set Teapot and teacups

Kitchenware Design

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Interview with Maia Ming Fong

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
Although I spent much of High School in the art room making ceramics, I never wanted to attend art school. I actually had no idea when I applied to university design was a career option. So I was incredibly lucky at Stanford, to discover the Product Design Engineering program and the mentors available there. Since graduation, I have had interesting jobs and opportunities do create many kinds of 2D and 3D designs.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
Maia Ming Designs began from a growing demand for my hand made ceramic work. I prefer to design objects that are produced in series rather than making one-of-a-kind pieces, so I began adapting and reproducing certain hand made ceramics with slip-cast moulds. My collection is small, but focused on functional ceramics for the home that enhance and inspire small moments of joy.
What is "design" for you?
For me good design feels familiar and unique at the same time. I try to create designs that appeal to different senses and are pleasurable to use and enhance daily rituals. Design is about solving a problem and often re-framing and defining what that problem is.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
I have designed products ranging from sports equipment to watches to furniture. But I have had a passion for ceramics since childhood. At the moment, all of the Maia Ming Designs products are ceramic, but I would like to branch out into homeware products made with other natural and sustainable materials. Also, I do prefer to design functional consumer products.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
My latest creations are always the ones I am most excited about; right now this is a collection of textured porcelain vases inspired by symmetries found in nature. One of my great joys is to have plants and flowers in my home, and having plants indoors has been shown to be beneficial to calm and well-being. Sometimes I use flowers that I've grown in my garden, but lately I've been picking little posies of wildflowers on my walks and arranging them in these porcelain bud vases. So instead of a full bouquet, just a couple of flowers in a simple arrangement make me happy and remind me of the walk I found them on.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
I spent a summer internship at Sottsass Associati where I worked on irons, serving trays and a few other products. Working in Ettore Sottsass' studio was an amazing and fun opportunity and my introduction to designing real world products. The first product that I designed with more of the final design decisions was perhaps the Crest toothbrush when I was an Art Director at Proctor & Gamble. This was my first job out of college and I art directed the first Crest co-moulded toothbrush with Deskey Designs.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
Porcelain, which can be incredibly tricky and frustrating at times, but is so beautiful when done right. Porcelain challenges me in ways that other clays and materials don't and with every project I learn more about the intricacies of working with this classic material. Another reason why I like porcelain is that I am inspired by ancient Chinese pottery and I love to create contemporary interpretations of classical products and themes.
When do you feel the most creative?
I get so caught up in the day-to-day requirements of running a business that I really appreciate the time I carve out to work in my ceramics studio. Also, I swim almost every day and this is a moment when I feel freest and most creative afterwards.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
With ceramics I'm very focused on the emotions and sensorial aspects of using and interacting with a product. Obviously there is the tactile feel, finish, and ergonomic considerations, but the other senses come into play as well.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
All of them: happiness, frustration, fear, excitement, satisfaction, exhaustion...
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
I like designing physical products that I can hold and use and see out in the world being used by others. I don't feel the same satisfaction with virtual products. My emotions are mixed when a design of mine is realised, I am thrilled to see it out there, but over time I also see ways to redesign and refine it further.
What makes a design successful?
When a design is successful it just looks and feels right, when something is off it feels unresolved. A good design solves a need and a great design has a timeless quality.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
With most designs there is usually a gut reaction, though good and bad can be different for different people. I consider the beauty and functionality of a product to be key elements to a good design. I enjoy products that unfold over time as I learn the subtle nuances of the design choices that were made.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
Sustainability is a responsibility that all designers (and humans!) have in using and creating products. Ceramics is certainly more environmental in terms of an eco footprint than many materials, but I think having fewer products that we cherish and care for over a lifetime is probably the most important choice.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
Consumers have become much more discerning and design savvy in my lifetime and the whole maker movement is exciting and inspiring. This being said,there are days when I feel as though everybody has pretensions to being a designer and there are a lot of silly products that I don't relate to or understand. I appreciate the resurgence and appreciation for handmade goods, but also struggle with the realities of competing against global giants like IKEA.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
My last exhibition was a group show at the Musée National Adrien Dubouché, which is the porcelain museum in Limoges, France. The Associació de Ceramistes de Cataluyna in Barcelona had a group show there in which I was privileged to be a part of. It was extraordinary to exhibit in the heartland of European ceramics and to visit the factories there. I also exhibited last year in China and regularly in Barcelona.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
Everywhere. I spent a morning recently at the Musée Guimet in Paris looking at their extraordinary Asian ceramics collection. It's important for me to get out of the office and visit tradeshows and studios where I can exchange ideas, but whether online or in the real world, I look at both ancient and contemporary designs all the time.
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
My company tagline is Beauty. Texture. Whimsy. Simple pleasures in daily rituals. Simple with a touch of whimsy actually sums up my ceramics collection pretty well. When I design for clients, the design brief usually outlines if there are other specifics to focus on.
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
I have lived for the last four years in Barcelona, Spain. Before that I lived in New York and California, and before that in Italy, Hawaii, and Sweden. My cultural heritage is a Eurasian fusion and that reflects in my designs. The pros of living in Spain are that I immersed myself in ceramics here and I have some great resources. The disadvantage is the harsh economic reality that Spain is going through right now, I can't tell you how many design stores I see struggling and going out of business.
How do you work with companies?
In the past I have worked as a design consultant to companies. At the moment I am working with artisan manufacturers in Spain, Portugal and Vietnam to make my ceramics.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
Find someone whose aesthetic appeals to you and who is flexible to learning and adapting designs to manufacturing.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
Once I have an idea or design brief in hand I start sketching. This evolves fairly quickly into hand made prototypes which then help me to refine the design and drawings. Only once I feel confident about a design and have a good prototype do I invest in a sample mold. Often there are refinements made to the design and mold to address manufacturing issues. I sometimes don't consider a design completed even after it is in production, I might still be making little tweaks and refinements to improve it.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
I'm a huge fan of Alessi and have used my Michael Graves tea kettle for years. Antonio Citterio designed a folding table for Kartell that is in my kitchen. I collect salt and pepper shakers, one my favorite sets is Mr. and Mrs. Muse by Jonathan Adler. I've designed a lot of my own furniture in cherry wood, there are some end tables I especially like. And lastly, my new EVA tea pot and cups!
Can you describe a day in your life?
Wake up at 7, get the kids off to school, savor my tea for a moment with my cat before the day really starts. A few yoga stretches and an email check to deal with urgent issues. I have a "to do" list every day that I work through, this can range from meetings with clients and manufacturers to working at home. I have a window during the day while the kids are at school to get things accomplished. In the evenings I'm the soccer mom and have to make dinner. I try to fit in a short swim somewhere. In the evening I finish up and reply to emails and make my list for the next day.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
Go work for a range of different companies, it's a great way to gain experience and learn about real world practicalities. In the meantime, explore and develop your own voice with personal projects.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
I've mostly been pretty happy as a designer, design is a profession that utilizes my humanistic and geeky characteristics. Sometimes my complaint has been that there are decisions out of my control that affect me and or my designs adversely, but this happens in most professions.
What skills are most important for a designer?
A designer needs to be able to communicate his/her ideas, whether verbally, visually, in writing, or all and more of the above.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
I use Photoshop and Illustrator regularly, probably daily. I'm very inspired by classical Asian and Western ceramics. My other sources of inspiration are more haphazard, I follow a few design blogs, and am inspired by the things I encounter every day.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
Right now I am a little overwhelmed and am seeking help in PR/Marketing so I can devote more time to design and other aspects of running the company. I make a lot of lists and drawings to plan things out.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
That depends on the object and certain designs resolve in fewer steps than others. I have projects I started way before the EVA that are still not finished, whereas the EVA was started and finished in less than a year.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
How did you become a designer? Lucky accident walking into the right class room one day.
What was your most important job experience?
Seven years working as Art Director for Giro Sport Design in Santa Cruz, California. At Giro I got to do a bit of everything from graphics to packaging to product detailing and marketing stuff. It's both fun and handy being able to do a bit of everything.
Who are some of your clients?
I like to think that my end customers for Maia Ming Designs are design conscious individuals.Some of my previous clients from consulting days include: Specialized Bike Components, Hydrapak, Easton Technical Products, Black Diamond, and Brewery Ommegang.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
I enjoy designing home furnishings and kitchen wares, mainly because they are products that are relevant to me.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
I would like to grow Maia Ming Designs ceramic collection and eventually expand into other lifestyle and home wares products.
Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
Finding the right partners to develop a product is key to success. I have an amazing model and mould maker in Spain. I also have a partner relationship with Big Arrow Ceramics in Chaozhou, China. Many of my products are hand prototyped before making samples and moulds but I am also starting to develop 3D archives and to create products from those, it all depends on the project. Sometimes I find someone else who can develop part of a product better than I could! My friend and ceramics teacher, Corrie Bain, made the little elephant and dragon figures that are on the Guardians jars lids.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
Yes, I've been working on some textile designs as well as exploring recycled glass concepts. I'm also starting to work a bit with wood and cork combined with ceramics in products. Every new material and process that I add complicates my product development logistics, but I do want to work with more materials.
Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
A few quotes from Eva Zeisel that I like..."Beautiful things make people happy.""My designs are meant to attract the hand as well as the eye.""When I design something, I think of it as a gift to somebody else."

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