Designing the exhibition spaces at Dong Peng, Wuxi.

Designing the exhibition spaces at Dong Peng, Wuxi.

 Roger Billington Director of Design and Developments, CEO,  SW Design, Shenzhen, China.

The brief for the five showspaces my company agreed to design was quite clear, using the agreed themes, we were to maximize display of the building materials and sanitary fittings in a way that increased sales through customer experience, inspiration and enjoyment.

The themes we agreed to design were: American rural, south east asian, luxury European, romantic and minimalist. All themes we have had experience in portraying previously through our show house designs for various developers around China. Two further themes were designed by a cooperative company from Guanzhou who have worked with Dong Peng several times previously.

The major difference between designing for show houses and exhibitions, and what made these quite interesting, was that they were not intended to be ‘real’, they are experiential in that they are designed to give an impression of what is possible rather than designed for today’s use. This is not uncommon for my designers as we pride ourselves on our research into all aspects of a project from full understanding of the context, to the client and the materials to be used etc. We try to show our clients a proposal that is in advance of their expectations and, generally, we succeed in this. The client at Wuxi was no exception, obviously and astute businessman, he also has a very good way in working with designers, he listens, makes considered comments and does not insist on changes that may compromise the integrity of the design, in other words, he understands the design process and most importantly the value of design as a business tool, not just a set of 3D Max renderings and a bit of CAD thrown in that can be changed without consequence.  

My background as a designer stretches back 25 years, in England, New Zealand, Australia and now in China and SE Asia. I have been Head of School at one of Australasias top schools of architecture and design and in that position grew the school from around 200 to nearly 1200. I acted as academic director in Canberra’s top design school and was visiting professor at RMIT in Melbourne. I have run successful design and architecture businesses throughout and have seen pretty much all there is to be seen in the design world. However, working in China has been the most challenging, exciting and frightening all at the same time. The pace of change here is staggering and to be involved in it is a great opportunity to put into business, my collected thoughts and experiences from the past years.

In my office I have introduced an internship system that offers places to top graduates from New Zealand and Australia, but also offers to other countries, so far we have had Indian, S. Korean and English too. I also have a group of top architects, urban planners, landscape designers and industrial designers that I can call on for specific projects from the same countries. This exposure to my Chinese graduates rapidly changes the way they approach their working style and both groups benefit from this range of influences and experiences. This is how we develop design and how we maintain our leading design approach. We must however, carefully and consistently work to educate our clients and those using our client’s services to ensure the future of international design in China continues to grow. Working with our client in Wuxi is a good example of how the process works well and it is a pleasure to continue to work with him on further projects now and in the future.

The value of design to business in the western economies is not disputed, indeed it is reported to be the next great growth tool after the periods of Energy, Information Technology and Bio Commerce. I have brought this model to my business based in Shenzhen, but unless we can assist Chinese clients to learn to see the professional advantages of design, then design will continue to be seen as a ‘slightly expensive’ luxury or a simple decoration experience that anybody can turn their hand to by copying the last edition of interior magazines. We are fortunate to have, within the 18 months of opening, developed relationships with some pretty smart clients, almost all of whom have offered repeat business. Our only problem now is sourcing the right designers, product specialists and technicians to carry on our growth. Despite being in a slower than usual economy, we consistently have more work than we can complete without a healthy amount of stress and as I tell all my young designers, if you don’t have stress, you’re not a designer, I think they believe me…….

If you are a graduate, not satisfied with your current position and think you could become a successful internationally competitive designer in one of China’s leading start up businesses, you should give my PA, Jessica a call and discuss, call her on 0755-8347-6787.

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