Indonesian Wooden Radio Succeeds with Good Design

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


One Indonesian industrial designer has pioneered an innovative business that has rejuvenated the economy of a farming village and improved the sustainability of local forests – and he’s doing it all with wood.

A range of wooden radios ( hold pride of place for the Magno brand (, which has carved out a niche as a maker of high-quality, crafted products that marry traditional skills with modern design. Magno is creating jobs and skills while also creating a unique, exportable product that commands a good price.

Indonesian designer Singgih Susilo Kartono developed the radio design concepts while at the Faculty of Fine Art and Design in Bandung, Java, Indonesia in the 1990s.

He takes an organic approach to designing, enjoying the journey and not necessarily being sure where he is going.

“I never start my design according to the market research or demand. I design by absorbing events, global or local events and even mundane daily life things that happen around me. Consequently, I start to think what will be good and better for these people,” he explains in his brochure.

The workshop in which the radios are made is a handsome wooden-roofed building and craftspeople sit at long wooden tables to assemble the models.

Each radio is made from a single piece of wood and takes a craftsperson 16 hours to construct, drawing on traditional woodworking skills. The radios are made from Indian rosewood, which is often used to manufacture many musical instruments because of its excellent sound resonance.

The radios are made in stages, with more than 20 steps involved in assembling each one. The individual parts are precision cut by machines before being assembled using a tongue and groove ( construction technique.

Some radio models have a chunky, retro appearance and mix dark and light wood to give an eye-pleasing contrast. Others are more modern designs with a sleek profile. There is a large version, a ‘Mini’, a sleek modern Cube’ version and a rectangular version. There is also a round clock and a wooden desktop office set with various essentials like a wooden stapler.

The radios sell for between Euros 99 (US $124) and Euros 220 (US $276), and are shipped to Europe via Singapore to Hamburg in Germany.

“To me, wood is somewhat a perfect material – especially if I compare it to synthetic ones,” Kartono said. “In wood we could find strength and weakness, advantages and disadvantages or roughness and also softness. Wood is hard and solid but yet it is 100 per cent eco-friendly as it is degradable and leaves no waste materials on the earth.”

Great care is taken in selecting the wood and ensuring it is from local, sustainable plantation sources. According to its website, Magno used 80 trees in 2010 for its radios but in turn planted 8,000 trees around the village. This regeneration has become part of the process of creating the radios.

Magno has won numerous awards, including the Brit Design Award (UK), Design Plus Award (Germany), Good Design Award/G-Mark (Japan) and the Indonesia Good Design Selection Awards.

“The wood I use for the manufacturing process may need as long as 50 years to reach maturity,” Kartono said. “I want people not only to think about exotic or precious woods but likewise about the fact that good things require time. All objects that surround us should be thought-provoking. Craftsmanship originally was the art of dealing with raw materials in a sensible and economical way.”

As Kartono tells it, he faced the typical university graduate’s dilemma about his career path. Should he work as an in-house designer in a city or return to his home village of Kandangan and start a business? His choice was unusual. Once somebody with a university education leaves a small village, it is rare they return. And at first, Kartono did not.

But he was drawn back by the dire situation in the village, and decided to apply his knowledge of product design to revive its economic fortunes. He started by visiting just twice a year because that was all he could afford. This had the advantage of giving him perspective on the situation in the village.

“At first glance, these changes (happening to the village) were seen as a ‘progress,'” he said. “But when I looked more closely I concluded that it was only the ‘surface’ which experienced change. The basic structure of the village did not undergo any changes; moreover, some was actually deteriorating.”

He concluded that the village was being damaged by various government attempts to modernize agricultural practices. The debt problems this caused meant many farmers lost their farms and were forced to seek work in the city or look for another way to make money.

Craft work seemed to be the answer to this problem. It has many advantages, as Kartono sees it. It is something that can grow and fits well with village lifestyles. It is labour intensive, doesn’t need sophisticated technology and can use already existing local resources.

Kartono was inspired by one of his teachers at university, an advocate of the ‘New Craft’ approach, which applies modern management techniques to traditional craftsmanship. The idea is simple but very effective. It begins with making sure every step of the manufacturing process is standardized to ensure consistent quality and materials. A new product or design is first broken down into steps and a product manual is put together. Only then is the manufacturing process carried out.

While the New Craft method sounds simple and obvious, many craft makers do not take this approach. By following this methodology, it is possible to quickly train new craft workers and start up manufacturing in a new village or community. Craft is increasingly being seen as a good way to re-employ people who formerly worked in farming. The New Craft approach can create high-quality products that would sell well in the export market. A common problem with crafts is either poor quality control or inconsistent manufacturing methods. This can feed stereotypes of craft products and make them look second-rate in comparison to machine-manufactured products in the marketplace.

“Design for us is more than just creating a well-designed product that is produced and consumed in colossal amount,” Kartono said. “Design must be a way to solve and minimize problems.”


1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. It is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Website:

2) Rio+20: At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Website:

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