From the perspective of one that was born and raised in the populated urban city of Sydney, the chance to stay in the small village of Kelingan and experience their simple lifestyle amongst the trees and coffee plantations was a blessing. However, as the saying goes, the grass is greener on the other side; villagers prefer to find work in the city and young Indonesian children are becoming more and more interested in outsider products. Industrial designer, Singgih Kartono, recognised that the villages were dying out due to external attraction along with a sense of shame attached to the rural lifestyle, and has since returned to his local village to work on his belief of “village revitalisation”. I had the opportunity to interview Kartono about Magno, his product line that includes the iconic, internationally-awarded IKoNO wooden radio, and his design philosophy.
Kartono’s return to the village of Kandangan was an impulsive one, with no proper structure or planning to his ideas of starting up a business (Magno n.d.) and at the same time, the concept for his wooden radio also wasn’t planned. The then-toy-designer was inspired by a radio sitting in his friend’s house which incorporated bamboo into the casing. After experimenting with different types of wood materials and around ten years of struggling to find provisions for electronic parts, the IKoNO radio was finally released and received attention worldwide. The design itself is minimal and sleek with two-toned wood pieces, its form and function cut down to the essentials, and was seen to successfully combine a traditional material such as wood with modern technology (Dunn 2014).
The brand name ‘Magno’ which comes from his first product, the magnifying glass, aims to express the quality craftsmanship that goes into his designs, and highlight the details of the product, with no two products the same. On a deeper level, Magno is able to provide initially unskilled villagers with the ability to be part of a modern manufacturing process where the focus is on maintaining standard procedures to guarantee a high quality traditional craft finish. This production also generates income that can boost the economy of the village (Magno n.d.). When I asked Kartono, ‘why wood?’ he gave me several reasons. With a strong belief that items have a soul, he too described wood as a material that captures life within its rings and unique markings. He has also made the material sustainable for his factory as the small products only use two trees per year, and at the same time Magno’s reforestation scheme ensures that more trees are grown in replacement.
Today, the line includes a small variety of wooden goods, from radios and clocks to stationery. The brand has received various international awards such as the International Design Resource Awards from America and Good Design Award from Japan, and sales statistics have also shown a change in local mindset where Indonesians are appreciative of and more willing to spend on local quality crafts (Tjokro 2015). At the end of the interview, Kartono expresses that he is unsure what the future holds for Magno, but he believes it’s okay if a product is not long-lasting because the focus should be on sustainability and heading the future in the right direction.
Dunn, L. 2014, ‘Wooden radios, bamboo bicycles and human cocoons’, Inside Indonesia, October–December, viewed 23 February 2016, <http://www.insideindonesia.org/wooden-radios-bamboo-bicycles-and-human-cocoons>.
Magno n.d., Magno, viewed 14 March 2016, <http://www.magno-design.com>.
Tjokro, S. 2015, ‘MAGNO TIMELESS BEAUTY’, NOW Jakarta, 9 August, viewed 14 March 2016, <http://nowjakarta.co.id/magno-timeless-beauty>.
Notes from Interview with Singgih Kartono, dated 21 February 2016.
*All photos were taken by the author, unless stated otherwise.