Danny Fang on Dogs, Design and Lifestyle for Two
It was puppy love that inspired Danny Fang’s innovative pet-ware brand High5dogs. The Dutch designer has worked around the world with leading furniture and lifestyle agencies, including six years as the head product designer for Marcel Wanders Studio, designing everything from lamp to chairs. But his best friend and doggy companion Gizmo inspired him to branch into pet products. Danny took a leap of faith and moved to Hong Kong to launch his new start-up, and a recent collaboration with Lane Crawford has helped propel him into the limelight. We chat with him about his first big break, and how High5dogs is revolutionising city living.
When did you first get into design, and when/how did you get your first big break?
I knew when I was a teenager that I wanted to go to a college for fine arts. My secondary school didn’t offer an art course for our final year, which is the subjects and grades that count for any university application, so I motivated my peers to petition with me. We convinced the school to run the course, and we were the first to graduate with arts from our secondary school. Fighting for my love of the arts really solidified it for me, and combined with my fascination about how we make things, I was guided in the direction of design. My first big break was in 1999 when I was hired by the Dutch Institute for Applied Scientific Research to experiment with new technologies and find sensible applications for them. It was a feast to work with such brilliant scientist and to pull them out of their comfort zone and create really new things together.
You design everything from furniture to retail products. What kind of projects do you enjoy most?
The more complex a project is, the more fun it becomes. I don't really like to box myself and I enjoy developing lifestyle products more than anything because it’s so varied. I think it’s important to be involved in all areas of the design, though, from marketing to concept development, electronics to manufacturing techniques, and eventually getting it onto the market. Outsiders like me have something to add to the whole chain, as we tend to solve things in a non-traditional way, and that is what makes a project super satisfying.
What is your design process?
Rather than sketching a hundred shapes, I prefer to create a story on why we need another "thing" and let the concept dictate my direction. I always demand to have more than one reason to do something: I look at how we all behave and ask why. It’s exciting to live in a time where technology is thriving as it is, as we get the opportunity to challenge the reasons and the way we do things.
How did the idea for High5Dogs come about?
It all came from Gizmo. He's the best - loyal, funny, playful, sweet, crazy, and empathetic and he has the biggest eyes. It makes leaving him behind impossible, especially when he always wants to come along for the adventure. But it wasn’t practical to take him out on every errand I ran because I didn't have a leash that allowed us to easily tie and untie him. So it was then that I decided to develop a leash that would allow me to tether him with only one available hand. After I started developing it, I realised that there was nothing else like it on the market, so we applied for patents. It was a great opportunity for me to bring into practice what I have been telling clients for years, and to put my own money where my mouth is. It’s been a great adventure and I get to spend more time with Gizmo.
What makes High5Dogs products so unique?
We believe that functionality and style are not mutually exclusive, we come up with more simple and practical solutions than many other pet brands, and we focus on 'lifestyle for two' – my main goal is to create products that enable you to spend more time with your dog. Especially in a city, having a pet and spending quality time together can be tough, so I want to make spending that time together easier whatever your lifestyle is.
How do you focus your creativity and continue producing fresh and innovative designs?
It's all about staying curious and playful. Set out to create things that are close to the heart, that fascinate you and that make you happy, and the rest will follow.
How did the partnership with Lane Crawford come about?
A few months ago they posted an ad that they were looking for the next new products and brands, and I applied with High5dogs. I guess they recognised my passion for what I do and the quality of the product that we make, and they gave me the opportunity to sell my products through their channels. They’ve been so supportive, and have a very dedicated team who have helped to open up the marketplace to me.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
Don't look too much at what others are doing. Create your own story in your own handwriting, and follow what you think is really good.