Rockstar designers share the objects that made them

Dong-Ping Wong 

(Image credit: Dong-Ping Wong)

Dong-Ping Wong is the founding director of Food New York, co-founder of Friends of + POOL, and was a founding partner of Family New York with Oana Stanescu. Wong’s work has been featured in publications including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He trained as a designer at OMA and REX in New York and EHDD in San Francisco, specialising in public, cultural and hi-density mixed-use buildings. Wong has taught at Columbia University and is a frequent public speaker including talks at RISD, UCLA, the New Museum, Municipal Art Society, Oslo Design Council, AIGA, TedX and the World Summit on Innovation.

(Image credit: Dong-Ping Wong)

+ POOL Swiss Flag Postcard

“+ POOL is the world’s first water-filtering floating pool, and this is a postcard from Oana from the year it started, in 2010. She was still in Basel at the time and I think I had just visited her after we had won a competition that enabled us to travel around a bit and talk about big ideas like this. 

"The pool was still just a funny idea, but I think we’d already started working with the other two co-founders, Jeff and Archie of PlayLab, to get it out in to the world. I’m sure none of us at the time realised how much of our lives it would consume or how much of a challenge it would be, but also how many incredible people we’d meet and work with, how many cities we’d visit because of it, or how far and how large the project would get. 

"Nine years later and we have a pending patent for the filtration technology, we have a non-profit and a board, we’re in the fourth year of a youth swim program, and we’re a few years from it being completed. It is to this day still my dream and model project. Almost every project since has to try and live up to it in one way or another.”

(Image credit: Dong-Ping Wong)

Food Radio Behringer Xenyx QX1222 Mixer

“We started a project named Food Radio in autumn last year where we interviewed 40 artists in and around Chinatown about how they made money. We’d certainly never done a radio show before, but we’d been in the neighbourhood for a few years now and like + POOL, I wanted to initiate a project that engaged the local neighbourhood directly (only ideally with a project that wouldn’t take another 10+ years). 

"So we took over a storefront on East Broadway, bought a bunch of surprisingly inexpensive radio equipment, set up a long work table in the middle of the space, and invited people to stop by and hang out. The hope was that kids in the area would see people that looked like them (especially POC and women) doing rad and interesting stuff and actually making money from it. It’s probably the least architectural thing we’ve done and one of the most fun. We’ll be doing Season Two this autumn.”

Jon Cockley

(Image credit: Jon Cockley)

After a decade working in publishing, Jon Cockley set up Handsome Frank illustration agency with his cousin Tom. Working mainly in the areas of advertising, design, publishing and licensing, Handsome Frank represents 35 of the finest contemporary artists and illustrators, including Jean Julien, Malika Favre and Matt Saunders. 

(Image credit: Jon Cockley)

Frank painting

“Handsome Frank is named after my grandfather, Frank. Frank was a steam train driver, but he loved art and his house was full of paintings, drawings and carvings that used to fascinate me as a child. Often inspired by his travels around the world to what seemed like such exotic locations in the 1980s. 

"One painting, which hung in the dining room of the terraced house he shared with his wife Kate, had always stood out for me. I love the colours and naivety of the characters. The picture now hangs on the wall of my home office, where I work most days, surrounded by contemporary art by our illustrators. It’s a lovely reminder of him and my grandmother and a nice link to our company name.”

(Image credit: Jon Cockley)

Beatles photo 

“Okay, before you decide to break into my house and steal this, the signatures aren’t real. However, this is a genuine 1960s facsimile photograph, issued by the official Beatles fan club which my mum was a member of. I love it because I love The Beatles, especially their later albums; I also love what the photo represents. The band were one of the first to have a ‘fan club’ and they used to issue limited edition Christmas records for their loyal fans once a year with recorded messages and new songs. 

"When you look at how things have developed since the 60s, it’s almost like the earliest form of social media – the idea of rewarding ‘followers’ with bespoke content and building a loyal fanbase, albeit via the postal service.” 

(Image credit: Jon Cockley)

Handsome Frank Neon sign

“About 18 months after starting Handsome Frank, we realised we needed to make some changes. One thing that had to go was our original logo, so we commissioned designer Tom Morgan. When we saw the right design, we knew straight away. Realising that the ‘HF’ and the roundel was one seamless line, I had an epiphany: we were going to need a neon sign.

The reason I chose it for this article was what it symbolised for us as a company. It was the realisation that things were actually happening and that it had the ability to change our lives. It represented the end of working jobs we’d fallen out of love with and the start of something new and hugely fulfilling. I also love the fact that our first costly company purchase was a big, pink, neon sign!”

Next page: Jessica Hische

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Founder & director of Inkygoodness, Lisa is a published writer and arts journalist, focusing on creative business, graphic art and illustration and design education. Her words have appeared in Computer Arts magazine, Creative Bloq, Digital Arts and IdN.