My Fourth Year in Shanghai
Greetings to the new reader who stumbled on this outdated blog!
Another greeting to the very occasional revisiting reader of this non lively blog!
It is a shame that I haven’t touched this site for more than a year.
Yesterday, I was rechecking this site and reread my own very first posts and I was touched by the motivating comments by the good hearted folks like you.
Also it reminded me the purpose of starting this blog: sharing my industrial design career development, experience and life in Shanghai, China!
Wow, I am already living and working here for more than 3 years, since I left my little peaceful ‘kikkerland’ (read Holland). And you know what? I haven’t been thinking going back at all.
So what is my status now? Well, I am still working at Speck Design since I joined it in august 2009 and it has given me a tremendous learning boost in a very short time.
I have been working on many different projects for both Chinese and Western clients. My responsibilities are varying from researching, designing, engineering, prototyping, managing, recruiting, sales to improving company culture and process.
And the best experience of all, is to get know the Chinese clients and to learn how to serve them. They are, in general, much different than the western clients in some ways.
I have spoken about the key characteristics of Chinese clients to a group of 30 Dutch product design students who were traveling to Shanghai to have glimpse of industrial design in China.
The big difference is that Chinese are more concrete thinkers VS abstract thinkers among the Western people. This difference explains almost everything of how design works here in China.
Have you ever wondered why Chinese are so fast in detailed 2D renderings or super fast in 3D modeling?
Why are so few Chinese product designers less skilled in sketching?
No wonder why so few design studios here has their own workshop, to build quick and dirty mockups or more refined foam models.
The answer is that most Chinese clients are not able to think abstract or conceptual.
And what is the underlying reason of that? It is all about costs and afraid to fail!
Many companies do not have an innovative culture, as costs are extremely sensitive in product development decisions, so therefore clients are used to judge designs on costs in the very early phase of a design process. Consequence of this, is that designers need to provide them design drawings with as much details as possible. No way that you give them concept sketches.
Low costs means there is no time for process, so usually Chinese clients do not appreciate research work, which is in most cases too abstract for them. Also, it means there is no way to go through an iterative design process, in which different design concepts can be explored
Many company cultures and hierarchy issues create this non innovative culture, as the big boss cannot fail and lose face, and therefore his subordinates cannot try things out and innovate through trial and error.
The fierce competition between many companies don’t give them time to think about what to do next, no time for design strategy consult, at least no long term planning. This is a very dynamic economy with unexpected things that can happen in a short time.
But the next question is, does China need a lot of innovative companies now? It depends on how you define innovation. Let’s say that we agree that the iPhone is an innovative product here.
Hey, check this ‘Shan Zhai‘ product here. What do you think it is?
A Chinese designer told me that you can divide Chinese clients into:
- Pathfinders: very few of them are pioneers and they do invest in innovative product development, like JiuYang
- Leaders: companies like ChangHong who has a big market share, but not really developing breakthrough products. Some of them become pathfinders.
- Followers: many companies here are following the leaders, developing the same products, but with different aesthetics, extra functions, lowers costs and quality, but still making a lot of profits. And very few of them want to become leaders or pathfinders by being more original in design.
- Copycats: too many companies here are creating ShanZhai products, like the one in the picture above.
Anyways, the Chinese market is much different than the Western market (I am talking about Europe and North America), and is actually not asking too much for innovative products, like the iPhone. Be aware that most Chinese consumers are less educated or poor to buy and appreciate design products. But it has been changing very fast since the last decade.
This is also explaining why Chinese designers seem to be less creative. I am hearing and reading this statement from the West a lot, and I want to defend it. They are creative and has great potential! But it is just that they have very few opportunities to show and develop their talents.
One day, design is mature here. Companies are learning to use design in the correct ways. So be ready, build relationships and prepare yourself for a lot of real innovative design work in the near future in this huge market here!