Interview: Start Jamming With Design Phnom Penh

An upcoming community with designs to integrate stylish abstractions into everyday objects, Design Phnom Penh is all about the celebration of creativity. If you have previously heard of the MOD event series, you would have noticed a bike with a lock designed into it. In a bold statement, it is about looking outside of the box, and wondering what else can be done to the box while you are outside. This ardent curiosity was the one of the first common thread to connect the two members, Akira Morita and Boris Maguire, and now they are here to continue weaving the community spirit on a national scale.

(This interview has been edited for clarity.)


Hello guys! So who is Design Phnom Penh, and what is it all about?

Akira: Design Phnom Penh is a fun, informal, open group of people who are enthusiastic and curious about creating opportunities to explore and promote creative design in Phnom Penh. We believe that to design is to reimagine the world around us. Design is a major building block in solving the biggest problems that we face today. From diverse backgrounds, we came together to spread the values of design thinking: openness, empathy, and exploration.

Photo Credits: Design Phnom Penh

Photo Credits: Design Phnom Penh

Boris: There are about twenty of us in the group currently, and it is all based on a very casual loose network. The attitude behind the group is really to gather interest and curiosity to form a friendly collection of creative ideas. There is absolutely no pressure or need for skills and experience, just plain curiosity and open-mindedness.

And how did everything first begin? 

Akira: I first came to Cambodia in March and got to know Rithy Thul from SmallWorld, who in turn introduced me to the startup world here. I saw a huge hole, an opportunity, to make a difference through design; and I thought, “I want to help. Let’s do something.” Rithy and I started to brainstorm and we thought that workshops were too easy. We really wanted to do something different, or rather, what can we do different using design?

A small group started to meet regularly in May, and at the first meeting I was like, “So, what do you want to do?” I got all these people there, each with a busy schedule, and said this, very nonchalantly. They were like, “What do you mean?” but I was dead serious. I wanted to make it about us as a group, and not about pushing just one guy’s agenda. I don’t really have or want to drive any agenda; I just want to know what they wanted to do. And remarkably, we stuck through this ambiguous period and came out with some great ideas.

Speaking of ideas, what is the idea behind Design Phnom Penh’s first few MOD events?

Boris: MOD is essentially the theme behind the two events, MOD Jam and MOD Slam. “Mod” can stand for anything, like modify, modulate and modernized. We want to kick off the community, so the first day will follow a camp structure to rile up the energy, and the second day will be more open (for the public). For MOD Jam, the name is a direct translation from jamming sessions, like a music jam where people just get together to share what they are passionate about. We will have a series of stations teaching different design aspects to the teams, and at the same time, encouraging concepts and freedom to “mod” objects.

Photo Credits: Design Phnom Penh

Photo Credits: Design Phnom Penh

Most people consider design and technology at two different ends of the spectrum completely. How closely associated are the two subjects to Design Phnom Penh?

Boris: Usually, there will be no connection because people are only concentrating on the aesthetic facet of the matter. However, bring in something like 3D printing, and you see a very tangible equation. It is all at once super high tech and modish, so it becomes like a middle ground with the ability bring the tech startup and design worlds together.

Akira: Technology is definitely one of the ways is to get people used to playing with the idea of design more. Design can be present in any part of a process. For example, the community is a product of design itself! Our role is to expose people at different levels of design and get the general crowd excited. We really hope that people will be able to start applying their own theories and scale up their ideas into the future.

Well, you guys have certainly made your point with the apt name of your community! Was the simplicity of it intentional?

Akira: Design Phnom Penh stands for a very generic and open intention towards design. It could be designing in Phnom Penh or about the design in Phnom Penh, or even the design people of Phnom Penh. It leaves an open interpretation to the audience and whatever they want the term to stand for.

Before we wrap this up, how about a shoutout for the MOD events this coming weekend?

Akira: Come and find out what it is all about. Or rather, come and play!

Boris: We welcome anyone: aggressive or passive, participation or observation. It is all about jamming together to really get the design ideas flowing.

Thanks guys!


The MOD Jam event is free and will take place from 10am to 2pm, 9 August 2014, at the ARC Hub PNH Centre. The MOD Slam event will take place from 10am to 5pm, 10 August 2014, at the same venue. Both the events will be held along with the official launch of the ARC Hub PNH Centre. You can RSVP your attendance here for the events!

ARC Hub PNH Centre is located at #8, St. 118, Sangkat Phsar Kandal 1, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 12200.