TECASTUDIO organized two parallel workshops in China and the UK. In the parallel workshops we intended to explore the different approaches to innovation and design between the UK and China. Drawing from our experiences as a UK design company working in China aimed to enhance the partnership and exchange between UK and Chinese companies, helping both parties to understand of each others design ethos and values, improving the way UK companies work with Chinese companies/designers and vice versa and helping UK design companies understand what design for the Chinese market involves.
Trend studies and information on Western markets have a long history and are well documented, finding up to date analysis of user aspirations in the fast changing markets of China is not so easy. We wanted to use this study to help to understand the current state and direction of Chinese design sense and through the eyes of designers working for some of China’s most prominent brands gain insight into the future.
Below is the report of the workshop. Enjoy reading!
Creative workshop UK – China
New innovative products require different development techniques from ‘me too’ designs and this means a new way of working for many designers in developing markets such as China.
By conducting parallel workshops with designers in the UK and China we explored the different creative ways of working, the different design values and the different end results from each group.
The UK has a proud history of new innovation and still sets the trend in fashion and style for much of the world, yet now has very little manufacturing industry.
China is now trying to change from a county which manufactures products to a country which creates them, design and innovation is still a new and developing area but one strategic to the nation’s growth and strongly supported by the government.
The workshop in China was attended by designers from many of the leading manufacturers such as ZTE, TCL and Huawei; a good representative selection of China’s design community.
In the UK the workshop was attended by designers from some of the country’s top design firms such as Seymour Powell, Kinneir Dufort, Frazer etc. as well as academics and young graduates.
The aim was to work though a set innovation process to find new ideas for mobile phones. The participants were taken though the stages of user focused observation, brain storming and sketch modeling. The results were then viewed and discussed as a group.
Differences in creative ways of working
The workshop was designed specifically for designers in China. From our experience most creative activities need a lot of preparation in China. The idea of brainstorming is still new and it does not come naturally to people to express their thoughts openly, they need a lot of encouragement and support to do so, and the procedure we used was intended to allow this to happen more freely. In the UK where designers are used to the challenge
of ‘thinking outside the box’ the same questions and tasks were easy to work through and perhaps even a limited the designers’ creativity.
For every four or eight designers in China it was necessary to assign a helper or facilitator to ensure people were comfortable to take part and give reassurance that they were going about things the right way, in the UK none were needed and the design process
happened very naturally.
Both workshops had teams of two, and each participant was expected to show his own work in the group discussion at the end of the workshop. In China we found that many groups had been working together on both designs and were more comfortable presenting them together; the designers preferred working in groups even if the task was to work individually. In the UK personal ownership of the work was much more noticeable.
Differences in the understanding of Design
Design is a very important part of product development in the UK and well respected, the notion of design as a value adding tool in a wider business sense of has also been adopted by many companies.
In China engineering and manufacturing lead the way and the developing creative industries are still often seen here as an add-on activity not connected with the business as a whole. Perhaps for this reason the link between product / service and user is badly resolved in China. Our workshop emphasized the link with the end-user, focusing primarily on the customer rather than the engineering team.
Phone Trend Differences
In the UK most phones are now sold together with a contract from any one of a number of network providers. In China it’s more common to buy a handset separately and upgrade this regularly creating a buoyant second hand market. New models with the latest functions and technology are adopted very quickly with 30% of all internet use in China now happening via a mobile phone.
Due to early adoption, touch screen phones have become very popular in the Chinese market. The ease of writing using a stylus for Chinese characters
rather than the slower ‘pingying’ typing and selection with button phones is a major factor.
Entertainment and game functions are defiantly important in the Chinese market. Long commutes and waiting times combined with a greater need to create personal space makes MP3, Radio and Video applications nearly as important as communication.
Differences in concept direction
In China many designs focused on all-in-one solutions. Multi-functional ‘PDA’ style devices; a very practical and conventional direction with the emphasis placed on new software functions; perhaps a realistic prediction of devices currently under development in their own organizations. The UK placed much more importance on reducing unnecessary functions, easier accessibility and a more personal device to suit their own needs.
The designers in China expressed an interest in the mobile phone integrating even more functions including a credit card system for making payments, a security system to replace keys and much more. Companies like Haier and Hisense have already been making prototypes for phones that communicate with other home appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners.
The use of materials in the phone had a significant meaning for China, the chosen materials were important to show exclusivity and wealth. In the West the materials were chosen to add some character and personal feeling to the phone rather than wealth or status.
Security and theft was a big concern in the UK. As the phones become more integrated with computers, data loss and personal information theft is an increasing worry, as well as the loss of the hardware itself. The ability to easily back-up the data was of prime importance in the UK. Additionally the security and privacy of the actual communication, both voice and text based, was noted.
No one in China expressed any concerns about data theft. Extra functions for preventing pick-pocketing and mugging were discussed, and these included built-in theft alarms and even electric shock deterrents for thieves.
The battery life of the phones was another highlighted issue. Many ideas in both countries were inspired by new more sustainable sources of energy that could be available at all times such as solar or nuclear energy. However in China the environmental aspect was less important than maximizing talking time.
China is well known for very loud phone conversations. Competing noise levels and lack of personal space result in many phone conversations being happily shared with the world at large. In the UK some design solutions were concerned with making calls more private and preventing third party eavesdropping. Other solutions stressed an importance for improved higher sound quality.
Both countries predicted larger screens. China is currently embracing the touch screen phone especially with the use of a stylus; sending text messages using Chinese characters can be much easier with a touch screen. Designers in the UK had several ideas for using foldable and flexible screens to make non rigid phone designs.
The results of the workshop have shown us that the creative ability of designer’s weather in China or the UK is very similar. Many times identical concepts occurred independently in both countries although variations specific to localized culture and use were also apparent.
The Chinese Design group needed much more encouragement and structure to enable them to express their ideas to others, it was even necessary to provide extra support staff to reassure and guide them through the process. There was always a strong preference to work as a group and personal ownership was not taken easily. But the end results where just as developed and creative as in the UK.
Engaging directly with the user and viewing the design task from the customers’ point of view really helped to encourage more innovative thinking. The fact that most Chinese design departments are regarded as a subdivision of engineering was still apparent in the approach to some of the concepts. The functional features seemed more important than the style, the hard technical requirements came first and a sense of value and status was often added by using expensive materials.
In China the functions are a strong selling point to a phone and many designers tried to visually emphasise these capabilities. Adding more functions to the phone was a common approach; the all-in-one concept came up again and again.
The UK group was much more comfortable and at home in the design process. Innovation flowed freely and the results were more conceptual and less practical to manufacture.
The UK designers tended to construct their brief carefully and then make a design that matched their clients’ style and attitude. The users tended to want more personalized functions in the design removing the features they would not use. A long time was spent thinking about how best to integrate these specific functions into the design the UK group were clearly more experienced at taking time to find an elegant approach to the solution.
When the process of innovation and design is clearly defined and controlled the range and quality of the ideas from China and the UK of was the same for each group.
This article was submitted by Dina Guth, business director of TECAtech. Next week, we will publish the second part of the workshop, which is the result of a design questionnaire about the design philosophy and influences of Chinese designers and designers from the UK.
TECAtech was founded in 1998 and is an internationally active Innovation and Design Company. It is the first UK design company to open a permanent office in China. We produce totally original design and innovation to top international standards. They have worked together with companies like Thomson, Procter and Gamble, Mitsubishi and RCA to produce market leading product solutions which sell globally.
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