Interview from Modern Decoration

There’s  an old saying in university education in the west that goes…..if the students are not better than you when they leave ,you have failed to engage them….and so progress, or increase the body of knowledge.

These days this certainly depends more on the attitude of the students than the competence of the teacher, but the adage is still true in many ways.

This is the philosophy I employ in SW design, and it’s one that addresses the issues raised in the 3 questions asked , stars or teams, backstage heroes, avoidance of brain drain. These are all comments that suggest a certain lack of resolution to the management or running of the business and this is not surprising as the design business in china is still quite young. I have also noted that the standard of training in university lacks a certain future proofing, like, this is the way we do it because this is the way we have always done it and, before you can do this, you must prove you can do that. In the west the approach is significantly different but suffers a certain similarity of result although for different reasons.

To address all the above circumstances and questions, I have introduced an internship system, amongst other things, for both Chinese and international graduates and through the integration of these two groups have found a balance that avoids many of the pitfalls of either.

As each individual progresses through the company they become confident to make decisions that are based on good research, thorough knowledge of materials, a growing understanding of the history of design and architecture, (something our Chinese graduates know very little of when they arrive here), and an ability to work with the client, not for them, to achieve a design solution that extends expectation and therefore satisfaction.

Question one, everybody has had to ‘suffer’ the indignity of having their work represented by their supervisor, this is actually an important part of the business. What client wants to know that their project was undertaken by a young gun with only a year or two’s experience, equally what supervisor has the time or focus to complete all the projects that come into a busy office without substantial support from juniors. This is the way juniors become intermediates and then seniors and then supervisors and so on. I suggest that there is a certain inevitability to the first question through the process of business development, of course there are always those who claim others work as their own and that’s a different question, I suggest you don’t work in those offices if you don’t accept this situation.

Question two is one of certain commercial sensitivity as I have taken thirty years to develop the management, administrative and academic structures I am attempting to implement and apply to this Chinese context. However, the question can be discussed through general objectives rather than specific details. I believe the business of design has two levels of approach. One is the’ we do all things for all people’ because we want to be the biggest, or the richest, or whatever, the other is, we want to be the best. To develop a style and approach to design which actually changes people’s lives for the better and acknowledges the real need to understand the place of design in business, not just an addition at the back end of the project. Additionally, and rather obviously, we need to promote a respect for the environmental and sustainable issues often talked about but rarely adopted in such a fast paced society as china today. It is through constant reiteration of these principles and the advantages that they bring that I avoid, I hope, the brain drain effects of simply pushing through the projects as if they don’t have any real purpose or creative, innovative value. I believe most, if not all, of my designers understand that they are experiencing rigorous and professional questioning of the decisions they are making on the projects they work on and that through this the design processes are understood and systematically employed by them. As they progress through seniority, they begin to ask similar questions of the junior designers and so again the process continues. I run design history and materials presentations which are researched by design staff, we conduct analysis of projects and we invite comments from clients and staff on the understanding that all suggestions will be considered, but not necessarily adopted. This gives designers the confidence to be challenged and to challenge, both necessary attitudes for successful design solutions. Self value and high morale is evident with the knowledge that they are in the most progressive design company in Shenzhen, if not china, they inherit a natural self confidence, and as this develops so does my company, so it’s a win/win situation for client/designer/company/the planet.

Question three is a natural follow on from the above, there are no world stars in Chinese design. There are no phillipe starckes, ron arads, Philip johnsons, marc newsomes, zaha hadids, ross lovegroves, yet. I think question 3 suitably illustrates my first points, that design in china is still very new. It has not had time or opportunity to address the issues that promote real stardom, if that’s the appropriate word for a socially responsible leader, as top designers are. The policies and practices I am introducing are likely to lead to truly world class thinkers and practitioners of and about design. My strategies at SW are not just about developing a successful business but are geared to the future of Chinese manufacturing and the Chinese economy. When, as is the case, there become cheaper places for the world of manufacturing and designers send their production to viet nam or wherever, china will need innovative, creative and thinking designers to fill the gap and so become the first truly top chinese designers on a world stage where stardom comes as a result of talent and responsibility not just wealth or reputation.

My business is geared to engage designers in a process that recognises all these issues and the place of team work to promote quality, people centered designs for our clients. Within this office, the issue of stardom or teamwork as options does not exist, we have both………

Roger B.

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