Take aways from 8th Madrasters Designers Meetup

Yesterday Madrasters hosted their 8th Designers Meetup in Shenzhen, China. What started out as a group of friends getting together and teaching each other the latest Photoshop tricks, is growing into an educational format. Sarav Kumar, the host of the Designers Meetup arrived in Shenzhen about 2 years ago. After getting acclimatized, he tried finding the same atmosphere and group dynamics he and his friends enjoyed back in India. As he couldn’t find any similar groups and also found that the understanding of Design often was missing or differently from what he knew, he was encouraged to start a familiar concept locally. That is how Madrasters’ Shenzhen chapter came to life. Ever since its humble beginnings Mr. Kumar was driven to bring people from different fields together and have them discuss the topics of Design and Technology in an familiar atmosphere. His continuous efforts even led to a upcoming cooperation with Shenzhen University.

On this weeks Designers Meetup, sponsored by NOA Labs, and hold at Coffee Clubo in Futian District, Kumar again brought together some truly creative heads. Manufacturing in China, the Art of Branding, Artificial Intelligence, and why technologies need to converge with the fashion world where among the topics.

The speakers from left to right, Sarav Kumar, Alex Murawski, Rodny Mella, Gavenraj Sodhi, Tiago Abreu

The kick-off speech was given by Alex Murawski Founder and CEO of NOA Labs, a local design and engineering bureau. His talk, focused on the product life cycle and why so many ideas out there never make it past the concept stage. Mr. Murawski started out claiming that Shenzhen was a one of a kind ecosystem where ideas, innovation, inspiration and design are coming together to flourish. Teasing, that he had plans to offer a platform to facilitate the process and ensure more ideas ran through the complete product life cycle and eventually hit the market. If your are psyched to seeing whats behind this vision and would like to know more about NOA Labs, be sure to visit their website. After all NOAs track record of 611 projects brought to market in a mere 3 years is quite astonishing. Being biased, I still can’t help myself of claiming that this is German engineering at its best.

Secondly Rodny Mella Design Director at Fantem Technologies spoke to the audience how to go from imagination to realization. Mr. Mellas agenda looked promising— exercise of creativity, tools of creation, productivity at work and monetizing ideas — and locked in the audience. In order to exercise creativity Mella noted its important to take Ideas out of ones head with simple drawing practices while keeping an open and playful mind. It is obvious that this keep the creative juices flowing and we all know practice makes perfect. And this perfection was shown in Mr. Mellas portfolio which he gladly shared with the us. As designer Mella noted the importance if getting used to tools across the field and how personal set-backs once again ignited his creativity to search for new tools to stay relevant in a vibrant industry.

As it turned out while being a gifted oil painter in his youth Mr. Mella, became colorblind and had to turn away from drawing and to digital painting and 3D modeling, while working in close cooperation with friends and colleagues, who had a sharp eye for colors. Throughout the years, his journey led Mella into industrial and product design. He eventually joined Fantem Technologies, which in 2015 ran an overly successful campaign on Indiegogo for a Smart Home system called Oomi.

The challenges in creating this product, Mella explained, lay in creating a simple design language (visual language) that enables easy understanding and integration. This eventually also led to redesigning of products to allow for a unified design appearance. His closing thoughts lay on the emphasis of keeping design simple and encourage designers to practice an approach that lets everyone experience a product, from 9 year olds to people in the higher ages. This approach, won Fantem a recent Design & Engineering Award at this years CES in Las Vegas.

Next in row was Portuguese Tiago Abreu, a designer and former colleague of Mr. Kumar at TCL. He talked about trends in the wearable industry and why good wearable companies seek cooperations with Fashion Designers. With an quite interesting opener Mr. Abreu drew in the audience. Smart people wear glasses, and in order to be more smart or at least appear smarter he suggested everyone shall wear glasses. He drew his insights from a job ad he once red, where the pictogram under the headline “hiring smart people” showed folks wearing glasses, suggesting, if you ain’t got no glasses you ain’t smart.

He went on that his job as designers usually involves the biased relationship between function and form. Sticking with glasses as an example he stated that a well designed pair of glasses would fulfill the need of doing his work better. He reminded that the form is always and integral part of the product. Functionality alone is useless if it was to be feared. In the end a product like glasses has to be worn by someone. And as he went on, Goggle Glass pretty much failed in introducing their product to the market. It introduced some outstanding functionality however with an somewhat form factor. Which led Google to sell a mere 800k pieces in 2 years. Apple, who is traditionally know observing the market and gathering ideas and implementing good design however, joined the wearable market on a later stage, yet managed to sell 1 Million Units of its Smart Watch in the first week. Apples trick? According to Abreu, the guys from Cupertino, never intended to release Apple Watch as a tech product. Rather from the very beginning Apple worked with leaders in the Fashion industry and introduced its watch as a fashion accessories. Yet in recent months Apple Watch sales went down significantly.

Given the case of Google Glass, Mr. Abreu showed how Incumbents in the optical Industry, like Carl Zeiss Jena, go a different approach. Usually people chose the frame of glasses to distinguish themselves and have a better fit. The lens on the other side is a given in terms of functionality. Thus Zeiss Smart Lens went on to have the lenses adapt to the frame. Mr. Abreu finished up by showing how successful companies across industries, in the past have been looking to cooperate with fashion brands, utilize technological convergence as well as insights from subcultures to create better products and user experiences. Looking back at the rapidly growing wearable market, about 35% year-on-year growth, he once more reminded, that success full wearables need to be designed so they don’t look out of place and utilize fashionable appeal to create desire among users. Probably one of the reasons, why Fit Bit remains the number one Fitness Tracker, with more than 25Million sold units.

With a big applause the audience went into a networking break, to refuel with pizza and beer. Upon returning to the stage, Sarav Kumar introduced 7 Senses Labs CEO Gavenraj Sodhi.

Participants use the chance to refuel, network and discuss on design and techonlogy

Mr. Sodhi went on to talk about Artificial Intelligence — A good movement making its way into peoples homes. 7 senses is driven to incorporate AI and Robotics to become an essential part of family life and children education. Fighting the stigma of AI is evil and most likely turns into a Skynet scenario, where smart machines take over the world, he focusses on the good use of AI in order to transform education, healthcare and create and positive impact on humanity. In an attempt to push 7 senses vision of family driven AI, the company incorporates the Design Thinking Framework, and works in close cooperation with parents, engineers, educators, AI experts, roboticists and designers. Family yet remains a delicate topic and sure requires leveraging the power of machine to machine learning, so that empathic robots truly can participate in the everyday family life. Besides seeking help across the board by building a coalition for (open) AI, similar to Teslas Elon Musk, Mr. Sodhi, emphasizes the need of standard and a rating system. In analogy to know movie rating formats 7 senses aims to set up certain filters, that make AI units and software suitable for children.

With a pounding applause the organizer himself claimed the Microphone. Sarav Kumar, had yet another talk prepared. Working as designer for many years he introduced the crowd to the Art of Design and Branding. First of all, he brought some clarity in the field of Branding, which for outsiders usually turns out to be a mix of everything related to companies and their advertisements. Thus he clarified the distinction between Logos and Brands. Logos can be simply understood as the face of a company while the brand would constitute a companies personality. Branding obviously goes way below the surface of a Logo such as a Swoosh famously used by Nike.Good brands manage to find simple Ideas to separate themselves from the competition.

Todays competition doesn’t come from competitors it comes from the Market place — Marty Neumer

And in terms of personality its usually comes down to one word he explained. TEDs personality are Ideas, BMWs personality is driving and Google is all about search. In their need to distinguish themselves from the crowd and rise above the noise branding can be broken down in 6 simple steps: Name, people, story, logo, visual language, and experiences.

Besides defining these parts the difficult part of branding surely is leading a brand. Knowing your audience and how to address them (ever wondered why there are no Lamborghini commercials on TV?), listen hard and change fast, and keep you brand from going bad by never failing to deliver on your brands promise.

Not being able to fully cover the finalizing Q&A round here, lets see what common answers were given by the speakers on what their challenges in China are. Internet connectivity, driving, and the language barrier ranked among the top. All nodding in agreement Mr. Kumar made an interesting yet true remark on the cultural differences all speakers experience on the daily:

I chose to come to China and work here, no matter I agree with certain behaviors or not, I am a guest here and if I don’t like it I can always leave.

A great Event ended with a group picture and a happy crowd, which has been constantly growing throughout recent months. Be sure to check the Madrasters website for more information on Design, Tech and Manufacturing in Shenzhen, China.

One happy crowd at the 8th Designers Meetup in Shenzhen, China