BUDDIES AND BOATS: COME SEE BETABETA'S BOISTEROUS DEBUT
As kids, we probably have at one point or another, pinkie-sworn with friends to take on the world together as adults. While most of these promises remain childhood pies in the sky, primary school classmates, Melvin Ong and Ryan Tan, turned their pinkie-swear into reality.
Seasoned designers within the community — Melvin opened his design studio, Desinere, in 2011, while Ryan founded his creative agency, OuterEdit, that same year — the two men have now joined forces to demonstrate what happens when longstanding friendship and boundless creativity collide. The result is BetaBeta, an offbeat design studio with the goal of creating statement pieces for the home inspired by our human quirks.
Making their debut at Street of Clans, the two are behind the series of outdoor furniture inspired by the boats that used to traverse the seas, carrying goods, people, and more importantly, stories. In BetaBeta’s first ever tell all, Ryan and Melvin share about their desire to create meaningful design that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and why collaboration is crucial, especially when we’re all in the same boat together.
What’s the story behind BetaBeta?
BetaBeta was created as a platform and safe space for spontaneous design experiments and new ideas that people can relate to. We are a wave of new possibilities for the home. BetaBeta was borne out of a passion for creative, playful, and unconventional forms of expression for indoor (like homes, and places of work and leisure) and outdoor dwelling spaces (like void decks and parks).
We hope for BetaBeta to inspire people to engage with their imagination and embrace new perspectives through design! Design doesn’t always have to be serious or exclusive — in fact we want BetaBeta’s designs to be playful, fun, and approachable, while possessing the finesse and quality craftsmanship of a well-considered and well-made product. BetaBeta is really about igniting the inner-child within us all and it is our hope that people will join us in having fun with design.
BetaBeta will be designing the boat furniture for Street of Clans. Can you share how the significance of boats (as it relates to Street of Clans) resonates with you guys?
Within the context of Street of Clans, the boats symbolise unity in diversity, and are a subtle encouragement to visitors to lend a helping hand, since we all find ourselves in the same boat at some point of our lives, in one way or another. The fleet formation helps to further emphasise this message. We deliberately kept our design approach somewhat ambiguous to allow the public to explore, imagine, and be flexible with how they may wish to play and interact with the boats — much like a child’s introduction to wooden block toys for the very first time.
We’re proud that the boats also get to serve as canvasses for fellow collaborators to come together synergistically and be showcased together in a meaningful manner. This includes Panelogue for their wood materials; The Merry Men Works for their production expertise; and the community of artists and illustrators who will be painting the boats with their custom artwork. Beyond Street of Clans, we are also excited for the boats to be integrated into homes and dwelling spaces for people to enjoy, play and interact with further.
Where do you guys seek inspiration for your designs from?
Our starting points are where both our passions lie: in retro-futurism and nostalgic visions of the distant future; galactic space cats; interstellar anomalies; and pop-culture Easter eggs. We are, of course, open and excited to how our influences and creative direction for the brand will evolve and refine over time.
Does BetaBeta have a guiding philosophy when it comes to its design approach?
It comes down to whatever that’s fun for us and will make for a joyful experience for our customers and clients. While we take pride in the things we make, the product itself is not the end goal; it’s the kindling of fun and delight. We cannot expect people to have fun if we do not have fun ourselves. Living and learning through play is not just a concept for kindergarteners — to us, a day with play is a day well spent. These are the foundations which we hope to build our brand upon.
Do you guys think furniture has a way of bringing together certain communities of people?
Most certainly! In homes, it’s interesting how people create zones and organise their furniture around certain themes, activities, moods, or action. Take the dining table for example: it’s the place in the home where families naturally gravitate towards for meals and communal gatherings. With homes getting smaller, we believe furniture pieces can confer greater meaning and value to their owner beyond their functional and aesthetic attributes.
In that vein, public furniture act like shared spaces where communities can be brought together by design. The kind of design that takes an effort to understand the end-user’s needs wants, preferences, as well as what they might consider surprising, delightful, and share-worthy.
Melvin, given that you’ve worked in London before, are there any interesting differences between the design community here and in London?
I think the design community in London is a bit more organic and fearless. There's an element of boldness to take risks that I really appreciate and admire. I feel our local design community is very vibrant, with Singapore being a cultural hotpot. But in contrast, because we are a smaller community, there is a deeper sense of kinship, and desire to grow the local scene collectively.
In what ways do you guys think design has the power to impact people and communities?
On a macro level, designers have the opportunity, if not obligation, to see the world through fresh eyes and create viable solutions that improve lives. We think it’s not a single product, but rather a design frame-of-mind focused on change, that is likely to disrupt and impact societies the most.
Beyond the tangible aspects of design is the creative process and a sense of endeavour that we treasure deeply. We feel that the process of creating is fuelled by an innate passion to understand context and empathise with people, who are the end users. Ultimately, the goal is to connect people across generations, cultures, and upbringings with design that is disarmingly relatable and fun.
It's easy for a designer to feel overwhelmed and unequipped in the face of a mammoth brief such as to ‘drive impact to people and communities’. But that is why collaborative networks are so important. On one hand, working together allows for the creation of interesting bodies of work. On the other, it empowers designers to be able to look at challenges more holistically, with the support of a network, and to think ‘why not’ or ‘what if’.
You guys clearly value collaborative efforts among creatives highly.
Absolutely. Collaborative efforts encourage new ideas and fresh perspectives. Because design is so diverse, we limit ourselves if we stay within our own bubbles of expertise. We think collaborations are important to the creative ecosystem as they serve as platforms to celebrate, accelerate, and encourage each other to do more and do better. We are most interested in collaborations that feature both the ‘best and budding’ creatives (i.e. masters and apprentices), where one helps to carry, frame or profile the other, as well as collaborations that involve non-designers or non-commercial entities. These collaborations intrigue us because they go beyond merely working together — they use collaboration to better others.
Catch BetaBeta’s flotilla of boats moored in the middle of Bukit Pasoh during Street of Clans, featuring illustrations by Lim Kai Lee, Amanda Ong, Eugene Lim, Paula Pang, Edison Teo, and 8EyedSpud.
There will also be live community painting sessions on Friday (8 March) from 5-8pm, and the weekend (9 & 10 March) from 11am-1pm and 2.30-4.30pm. Grab a paintbrush and let’s go!