The Man Behind Mobi: David Chang and the Modern Library Cart6 min read

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By Michelle Kay


“There’s something humbling about craft…for a while, people were into high-tech, super sleek materials, which are really alienating. Right now when times are uncertain, it’s nice to go back to something familiar, and a bit more welcoming and relatable.”


Unlike museums and art galleries, which offer a wealth of knowledge and come across as hip, sleek and stylish, libraries can come off as musty, ancient and stagnant. The difference lies in the fact that libraries are meant to be accessible for everyone in the community, providing vital services and access to books regardless of income or status. Nowadays with the widespread use of the Internet for information, libraries are sometimes seen as outdated.

David Hyun Chang is someone who has spent a great deal inside and outside libraries, researching how users view the library. The Toronto-born designer graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design with a fine arts degree and from the University of Toronto with an industrial design degree. Chang—who won UX Connection Blog’s Design Student of the Month in June 2008—came up with a unique idea for his year end thesis project. The project set out to create new experiences in spaces that need revitalization and re-energizing. Chang, 27, decided to focus on the library and much of his research involved speaking with patrons about their experiences in the space; he began to question how a revered institution for public learning acquired such a stodgy reputation.

Working with environmental design student, Matthew Nye, and graphic design student, Tegan Mierle, Chang came up with Mobi, a modern take on the library cart fused with a movable table. “I came up with a mobile library cart that also happened to have a personal desk,” says Chang. “I worked under the analogy that the library is almost like a supermarket. I was comparing the aisles of books to the aisles of products.” The point was to understand how the library patron navigates the space. The cart was designed with the patron in mind, who walks around carrying cumbersome, heavy books trying to locate a vacant spot to work. “I thought maybe it’s about bringing your workspace with you, [storing] all your belongings with you in this one unit, enabling you to find your own space to study in.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto Public Library had been going through its own revitalization and expansion process, by renovating branches and introducing a variety of events designed to draw the public in. The addition of public speakers, artwork, musicians and local bands such as Gentleman Reg, Masia One and Slim Twig, has attracted a different crowd and vibe to the institution.

Though his thesis advisors weren’t so keen on his project at first—thinking the invention too irrelevant—Chang insisted that the project was worthwhile. Chang was quite happy with the end result and got a chance to work closely with the Toronto Public Library. The final prototype was a sleek and modern-looking swivel table on three wheels complete with an orange handle and a beautifully woven black basket for books. The cart was also designed to link up to other carts, allowing a group of library patrons to work together as a group. Affectionately known as Mobi, the cart measures about 30 inches in length and 18 inches in width. In addition to its maneuverability between aisles, Mobi is big enough to hold a laptop and books, allowing its user to work comfortably.

Chang’s project was driven by a desire to get people to frequent the library again, by providing a space that felt vibrant and fun to work in. “Libraries, in many cities, are kind of iconic structures,” says Chang, “People go to the New York Library, also the Seattle Library…they’re places that even tourists visit. We thought this was actually the perfect time to re-invent libraries and see how we can make them a space for everyone, really.”

Chang, who is of Korean heritage, comes from a creative and artistic family. His father is a sculptor, his sister works in fashion design and his brother works on educational online programs. Chang admits that he has always dabbled in design and, over the years, developed a clean, simple aesthetic. His work draws inspiration from his surroundings and community. “I definitely like to work around narrative and telling stories through objects,” says Chang, who manages to inject playful and quirky elements into his work.

When asked whether his Korean background influences his work, Chang says a good portion of his drive and success is about work ethics. “My parents have instilled a very strong work ethic in me. As much it has always been about the larger picture, it has been about looking at the details to make sure everything has been well thought through. I wouldn’t say that’s a Korean thing [specifically], but at least that was how I was brought up,” says Chang. He also credits his parents’ upbringing in an agricultural environment in Korea for his affinity towards working with wood and other natural materials. “There is a certain kind of beauty working with wood…the natural qualities of the wood grains…I find it cathartic.” Working with wood allows Chang to manipulate a traditional material, using traditional processes to make it look modern. “There’s something humbling about craft…for a while, people were into high-tech, super sleek materials, which are really alienating. Right now when times are uncertain, it’s nice to go back to something familiar, and a bit more welcoming and relatable.”

Chang has an easy-going, thoughtful manner, carefully crafting his words. His sense of style is classic and simple, yet modern. Chang’s mannerism is somewhat reserved at times, and admits that he doesn’t like talking about himself. He prefers to let his work showcase itself, and indeed, it speaks volumes.

Nowadays, Chang spends less of his time in libraries and more in department stores. Since graduating, Chang found a job at Canada’s top luxury department store, Holt Renfrew, where he works as a visual stylist: designing installations, headpieces and window displays in the flagship store in downtown Toronto. He says he loves the opportunity to work with a fantastic, creative team. He also has quite a bit of artistic freedom, which allows him to branch out and experiment with new materials such as lace and other textiles. Last year, Chang even had the opportunity to try his hand in millinery, creating fantastic headpieces for Christian Dior’s 60th Anniversary.

Chang’s curiosity, talent and willingness to try new things make him a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. He recently participated in Come Up to My Room, an “alternative design event” that transformed the rooms in the beloved Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Aside from product and visual design, Chang has also experimented with fashion and footwear design: “There are so many things I want to do…I don’t want to spread myself too thin. But as long as I’m creative, I’ll always be happy.”

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