After earning his masters degree in storytelling in Sweden, Saran Yen Panya, the co-founder and creative director of 56thStudio, returned to Bangkok, where he has been turning heads with his eccentric, statement-making designs. Now he has a new project, OneMoreThing, in partnership with Narongsak Thongvatanavanich. He talks with us about that project, Thai design and more.
Tell us about 56thStudio.
We place emphasis on telling stories through various mediums—so we do literally everything that communication design can do—but I focus mostly on furniture because it has many aspects that I can play around with. We also work with many brands; usually they just tell us what they want and let us figure out the rest.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, but it’s more like a philosophy to me. I take anything that’s been overlooked, whether it’s outdated, bad, lacking value or uncool, and make it turn heads.

What are you trying to communicate with your designs?
I’m interested in subcultures, political issues and inequality in society. Through “Cheap Ass Elite” [a chair with a square fruit basket seat attached to sleek tapered-style legs], I want to shine light on the the social class structure in Thailand by juxtaposing the rich and the poor. I’m also fascinated by pop culture, Thai porn and taxi drivers rejecting passengers.   
What’s your next project? 
Our next step is to establish a platform like OneMoreThing that is going to drive businesses forward by changing the thinking and manufacturing process of companies. We have many things in the pipeline, but you can expect to see a documentary and tons of collaboration this year.

What is OneMoreThing?
OneMoreThing is my new mission to create a meaningful footprint. It all started when one business owner walked in and said that he’s been running a weaving factory for over 30 years and he was thinking about shutting it down but, at the same time, he didn’t want to let go of the machines and his employees. I stepped in and analyzed the capability and resources of his company; a year and much research later, I came up with a textile brand that produces new products using old sewing machines. OneMoreThing adds more value to the products, which helps improve the workers’ lives.

Do you think Thai design is on the up? 
Except for COVID-19, I think the power has shifted to Asia, and Asian designers are on the up—we’ve made it to many countries and have received a lot of appreciation for our designs. When it comes to Thai designers, we’ve got many talented people in this industry, but they’re faced with the obstacles of our country’s system, in terms of [a lack of] support and scholarships. 

Who are your favorite up-and-coming artists right now?
The word “up-and-coming” sounds superficial and I don’t value the “hype.” But there are artists who show integrity in their work, like Oat Montien, Nakrob Moonmanas—I’ve witnessed their growth through all these years, and everybody that has worked with 56thStudio.