Hotel and commercial interior design in china by a foreigner

What are the differences between designing in the west and in china…..

Not too many but the important ones are:

Clients, in china most clients still see design as a service industry, not to see designers  as a professional group who can transform the clients thinking into a positive and profitable object or space.

Often this is because designers themselves don’t understand the importance, or lack the experience, or confidence of leading the client through the design process and so developing a solution that is in advance of the client’s expectation.

Clients interfere, even at minor levels of design, often assuming they are able to create the best solutions and the designer is simply a person who draws it up for them. This is one explanation of the situation where constant change is requested and the designers acceptance that this is ok.

I once heard a graduate presentation in London where the student said “the closer a client gets to the project, the worse the project gets” this is a bit too strong as clients must be

close to the project, but in china clients should also learn to have confidence in the ability of designers to solve the problems and to enjoy the difference in designers work.

Generally Chinese clients do not seem to be able to develop a brief that refelects their actual needs preferring to let designers do a lot of work just to say that this is not what they want. I think here is an opportunity for Chinese designers to become more professional by working with the client at the very beginning to develop the clients thinking of needs and wants and so limit the amount of time wasted trying to ‘guess’ what the client requires.

Chinese culture is in conflict with the ways of design in the west as respect for the ‘boss’, in this case the client, is essential in china. In the west the value of the designer is in what they bring to the design and how they provoke the client to accept the challenge of something new.

Respect is mutual and a good client will respect a designer as much as the designer respects a good client. In this way relationships are built up and usually designers are approached with projects because of the difference they show in their work through working with good clients.

This is how design progresses and how innovation in design exists, it is this provocation that is essential in advancing a good design culture.

Time, in china all projects are urgent, to me this demonstrates a lack of planning and or understanding of the design process by the client. It leads too often to unresolved solutions that are only partly developed, and so slow down the development of a strong culture of design in china. Good design does take time and although I think design in the west is often too pedestrian, a balance could be developed between the two.

Research, In my experience, research in design is not a popular feature of the design process in china. This may be because it takes time, and time is money, but in my business, research is the starting point of all projects. Whether this is research into materials, history, the site, the client, the type of business the client runs and how this project should benefit the business all are important and actually increase the speed and efficiency of the design solution as the research gets you closer to what the client actually needs.

Quality control, again time is often the guilty party, but quality control is an issue constantly referred to in my business. Clients, in their need for speed to finish the project and designers in their need to get on with the next one and construction teams who fail to detail finishing work, often let the last 10% of the project be the worst part. Well built major construction and fitting out is ruined with a lack of attention to detail that in the west is rare due to contract conditions that penalize shoddy detailing. It is this 10% that people judge the quality of the finished product. It is this 10 % that we interact with and maintain and use in the day to day operation of the business. If the door fails to close properly, the drawer sticks or the tap is loose when we turn it on, these are the things we remember and judge the product by, obviously if the roof falls down we notice that too.

Price, designers in china are not paid as well as designers in the west. This leads to many difficulties for both designers and clients, for example, work is often rushed through before full development leading to a lack of detailing, quality and potential effectiveness, especially in commercial and hotel projects.

This pricing difference can also lead to a situation where offices grow into enormous factories of design. The founders, who were probably good designers committed to producing good designs grow remote from the design practice and focus on the business issues more and more.

This leads to a lack of focus or direction and an emphasis on more and more instead of better and better. In the west it would be unimaginable for an office like Philppe starke or zaha hadid to produce work which is not in the house style, in fact it is the house style that determines the success or not of a design business. In china the house style is too often determined by the client instead of the other way around. In the race to be the biggest, the best is often forgotten and the equation ends up simply as cost, or price and profit.

The bigger we are the more projects we can do and so the turnover becomes more important than the product.

Of course this happens in the west too, but there is always a reward for the design company that promotes design as a benefit to the client, not just an investment and it is these companies that develop a reputation for high standards thereby attracting better clients, better projects and more profitability and this is the model my company is developing in china, in this case less really is more.

Design is a business to me but more important it is a lifestyle, designing allows me to live a life of freedom to travel, to enjoy the company of people and to have creative insights into the institutions that control the world and so allow me to take advantage of all this world offers. This is what drives my interests in sustainable building and environments and what encourages me to influence my Chinese clients to share this way of life.

In the west there is a phrase for designers, it is said in design there are three elements, price, time and quality, and a client can have any two, I have used this phrase often when talking to clients, and the way they respond often indicates how good they may be as a client, if they find it humorous they are usually good ones, if not, avoid them because, apart from anything else, design should be fun.

Q1: If there is a night club project with good construction budget, but the deadline is very tight. Will you take it?

A1: Yes, I don’t see tight time frames as too much of a problem, they are a constraint, but if you analyse all the conditions of a project before you start, you can manage all the constraints effectively. Analysis of the brief and a clear, consistent set of constraints or conditions give you all the information needed to allocate the right number of people. Obviously you need to have a straightforward talk with the client before you start and ensure they also understand the conditions of you taking the project.


Q2: Will you work with a very picky client? How do you deal with them?

A2: Depends, some picky clients are just immature in the world of design and there I have to be very direct. If this fails I refuse the project. Some picky clients are just very motivated and interested in there project (remember it is their project so they have right too). With these clients you have to establish a close working relationship working towards them understanding that your approach and experience are better than theirs, it’s that they are paying for.


Q3: What is your advice for young designers’ career development?

A3: There is no better career development path than to continue learning, about anything and everything. In my office all the designers have to research design history for presentations and they all have a personal research topic related to the profession of design. This way they become experts in their own field and can apply this learning to their design work. They can also assist each other in areas where they need knowledge.

The development of the Designers Club in Dongguan is a great way for all designers to continue to learn. Through social interaction young designers can push the older ones and the older ones can give experience to the younger ones.


Q4: What should young designers do to become outstanding?

A4: In design there are probably 2 approaches to being outstanding. One is you are born outstanding and the other is you work very hard at it. Learning is the only way I know of improving your level of greatness and the way you apply that learning, as a young designer you need to know everything so you can bring this to your ideas. The most important thing though is to learn how to think for yourself and not just copy, to do this takes confidence and experience and they take time, so don’t be in a hurry, just focus on being good and don’t worry about the money just yet.


Q5: Do you normally recommend a style for client or follow the fashion trend?

A5: If you are a thinking designer (ref last question) you are response for dictating what the styles should be. Fashion or trends are simply new ways of looking at old stuff, style is forever and you have to be stylish to understand the difference.


Q6: How do you apply Chinese elements in your design?

A6: My definition of or application of China modern is simply a development of my approach to design and style (ref Q5). I have a particular interest Chinese furniture, porcelain, calligraphy and modern art and so I use these elements inside my personal style. The balance of aesthetics is how you assess the ability of the designer, to balance all the standard design elements of colour culture, context, texture, proportion, scale, light, shade, temperature, all the ambient elements in combination should lead to a result which fits the purpose of the design. This methodology could be applied in the same way in Greece, Africa, and Brazil etc. anywhere in the world. What’s critical to success for a designer is they develop personal style (ref Q3 and Q4).

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