Back from three weeks in China without any break.. First Cheers Publishing launched “a fine line” in Simple Chinese: many interviews and a launch party at the Tencent Research Center in Beijing. Then two days at SIVA/Fudan’s Expert Conference on Design with some very interesting presentations and discussions. I met Jeffrey Shaw – Dean of School of Creative Media, City University Hong Kong and a former collegue at ZKM/HfG Karlsruhe – after nearly 20 years: his presentation of a virtual cave museum was the absolute highlight.
In the meantime our studio team became nearly complete – we are still missing out on a Master Modelmaker. Next to Benjamin Cselley, Foreign Design Leader, Ye Cicy Chen, Chinese Design leader, Everina Lu joined us as Studio Assistant. Both Cicy and Everina are fluent in English – Cicy studied in the U.S. – and Beny and I are trying to learn: the first goal is to buy food. As the pictures show, the build-out of our studio and model shop makes great strides. In fact, we are the first operational design studio at the new CCIC building with Timothy Jacob Jensen and Mathis Heller following on our heels. Until Spring we expect also Alberto Villerreal, Marcus Aaron, Florin Baeriswyl and Dirk Wynants.
Week 2 started with our first entry exam, which provided big learnings on both sides: the young undergraduate designers have talent as expected, but the level of professional skills is not where it should be. Everybody is good on computers, but they all miss the basics such as drawing and sketching, geometric composition and model making – most portfolios look like illustrations without any realistic context, and there has been basically zero teaching about human-minded design processes, business value, price-performance ratio, technology or product lifecycle and supply chain management.
Aside of myriads smart phone bricks, design for “high-tech” or “industrial” is totally absent. It also will take some time and a lot of encouragement until the concept of “new ideas” is understood and accepted. The good news is that the graduates – some of them already have jobs and tasted reality – are very hungry, extremely diligent and eager to learn. And they all are extremely nice people with a great sense of humor.
Still: we have to start with basics – here is our updated curriculum:
DESIGN & CREATIVE PROCESS
:: Sketching & Visual Presentation on Paper.
:: Modelmaking by Hand and Machines (professional instruction incl. Safety & Posture)
:: Colors, Materials and Textures: representation study
:: Envision possible implementation in production.
:: Typography & 2D-Layout (Paper/Digital Media)
:: Proportions, 3-Element Rule
:: Shapes, Geometric Bodies, Transitions of Shape-Elements & Compound Shapes.
:: Ergonomics (Human Factors): to fit the human body and its cognitive abilities.
:: Heuristics (Experience based Problem Solving & Workshop format (frogTHINK)
:: Design History: Arts & Crafts, Vienna Secession, Bauhaus, hfg ulm, Strategic Design
Despite a creative focus, the professional design process is structured into three stages. It is important to focus during each phase on the goal of process-oriented observations, research and analysis. This avoids early decisions based on personal preference and mostly confused assumptions and not on thorough explorations of the best options.
DISCOVER: Analysis becomes Insights. Through deep research and strategic analysis, designers gain insight into a task, a potential client, their competitors, their customers, their brand DNA and enables designers to re-think and explore new opportunities. Key element of this phase is to observe people: what they do, how they behave and what the “pain-points” in daily personal or professional life are.
DESIGN: Insights become Ideas. In this Phase designers produce a range of concepts and design options to fully address the projects’s challenge. The concepts are tested, reviewed & refined into a focused direction. Modelmaking is an important element of this phase, and there also is a strong emphasis on social and ecological sustainability.
DEFINE: Ideas become Reality.In this Phase designers specify, document and deliver the project for presentation (in real life also for implementation). Here designers look at the specific potentials and weaknesses of an – imaginary during study – client and/or with the factory or programmers for perfect results.
For designers, creative work and presenting the work within a professional business environment are equally important. The main challenge is to communicate a creative project to “rational” executives, managers and entrepreneurs in such ways, that they can connect from their point of view – and to do this throughout a project. The gain is building trust and mutual understanding, respecting each other’s priorities and also to provide a solid communication base for marketing, sales, advertising and promotion. A good presenter also is a great entertainer – e.g. Steve Jobs was in a class for himself.
Each project has unique content, which needs to be transformed into a story. As the format of a “story” is universal in all cultures, it is a very effective and inspiring method. The structure of a “project story” normally has four elements:
:: problem, motivation and big goal
:: analysis and fields of focus
:: proposed solution(s) and what their effect will be
:: synthesis and “next steps”
ORAL SPEECH & BODY LANGUAGE:
The most direct communication is when we talk to each other. Speaking in front of other professionals – best without a manuscript – has to be learned and exercised.
A picture says more then a thousand words. As designers are working very much in the visual domain, expectations are high. However, looking at the “natural” temptation to show too much, designers must constrain themselves to the essential. Ideally, a visual presentation doesn’t have more then 12 elements/slides/movies: less is more.
Understanding and adapting to disciplines, which define the ecosystem for designers:
Designers are extremely important: in the German Automotive Industry, design counts for about 0.8% of the product life cycle investment. However, about 78% of customers make their buying decisions based on design > the economic multiplier is 100-times. The ratio between designers and engineers is at least 1:15, which again requires professional competence. Therefore our students will focus on:
:: Finding an creating Added Value of Design for Companies and Institution.
:: Planning a successful professional career within industries and communities.
:: Salary and/or Income: understand compensation and integration into workforce.
Another surprise for us – even as we had been “warned” – was the strong influence of parents and especially mothers on young people’s career choices. Due to China’s One-Child-Policy and the fact that all higher education is a costly matter, the imaginative value of a “degree” is considered higher by most parents compared to a quality education, which will provide a good and sustainable career. To no surprise, designer’s pay in the industry is way under $1000/month – and all they are asked to create are mostly copies of Western or successful domestic products such as Haier. To our regret, some parents then even rejected to let their son or daughter put in another two years, especially as they believe that jobs are still won “by relationship” and not by competence. Here we have some heavy convincing to do and we will extend our online campaigns on RenRen and Weibu also to parents. Being in China, we are motivated by Lao Tzu’s advice:
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”