experiencing design abroad
This past summer I interned at S.POINT design firm in Shanghai, China. A member of Cordence Worldwide, a global management consulting partnership, S.POINT is a product innovation company with over 20 years of experience. Their projects have won a number of honors including Red Dot Awards and iF China Awards. From my time there, I gained much professional insight working as a designer in a different culture.
My mentor and the majority of professionals working with me were international, coming from many different countries — Indonesia, India, France, and Italy, to name a few. Over the summer, I learned about their backgrounds and the paths that led them to Shanghai. I also gained new perspectives on potential careers paths and concentrations and was able to observe their various approaches to the design process and problem solving.
My work during the summer was for paying clients or is confidential for S.POINT, so I am not allowed to post any of my design process or product renderings.
I was mentored by a senior product designer and I worked on projects he was assigned to.
I was first put on a consulting project and designed fitness machines for a Chinese company. I worked alongside my mentor and a few other designers to come up with designs for a new line of machines based on parameters of the existing models (materials, dimensions, brand image).
We worked as a small team, individually sketching out concepts and consulting each other until we narrowed down to three designs. One of my designs was chosen for the final three. From there, we rendered out the designs and formatted them in a formal presentation that we then presented to the client.
My next project was to help the firm design a product for their own brand. For this project, I took part in the beginning stages of product development. I was tasked with researching potential design opportunities. I benchmarked existing products and conducted interviews with target audience members to find if/where there were opportunities for the company to offer their own products.
Lastly, I assisted in a product photoshoot. I helped set up and model for one of the firm’s product releases. I was able to watch and listen to the corrections and guidance of the photographer and designer; one side working to make an attractive image and the other working to highlight the product features.
Working abroad was an insightful design experience. It was eye opening to see how this Chinese design firm went about organizing projects and how the education and backgrounds of various international designers affected their design choices and focuses. Some designed more for practicality or portability, some for manufacturing, and some for visuals.
I also had to transition into the styles of Asian customers and client companies. In the US, I had experience working with a variety of brand images and aesthetics, but they all fell under a similar hierarchy of style. However, in China, the styles were different. What was considered attractive and trendy in the US was sometimes considered boring or too simplistic/traditional in China. China had a stronger focus on light and very modern and active visuals.
Working in a Chinese design firm also meant having more direct access to manufacturing. In my US internship, I had interacted with manufacturing via emails. The process of choosing materials and finishes and finalizing the production of products was stretched out due to long distance communication. However, with China being a huge production and manufacturing center, the majority of the designers took day trips to visit manufacturers in person and came back with handfuls of finish and material samples. This stage of product development and creation was much quicker and immersive.
I learned much from my experience in Shanghai. I learned both about the culture and the design, but most importantly about how the culture informed and affected the design.