After my first trip through China in October 2017, I felt so inspired by this massive country with its stunning views, people and food that I chose to come back just a few months later. Being an Interface design student and freelancer back in Berlin, Germany, I was especially intrigued by Shenzhen, Chinas “Silicon Valley of Hardware” with its unique innovative ecosystem around high-tech manufacturing and nearly anything that is electric.
For my internship, I wanted to find a workplace right in the middle of this busy world and learn more about business and product innovation in China. Thus, I joined Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, the city’s first Fab Lab makerspace which I knew from its co-founder David Li’s talk in Berlin.
Even though it was not my first time to China, spending time at a crazy place like this for longer than the average tourist is an exciting experience. After my workmate helped me find a great place to live, I had to get things done by myself and tried to register at a bunch of Chinese police stations. As I finally found the right one, I repeated the same process in order to get a local bank account, which would enable me to fully join Shenzhen’s cashless society.
Getting used to “Shenzhen Speed”
After the team at SZOIL and I warmed up to each other, I learned to embrace the main aspect of China’s mentality: “Getting things done!”. While it is usual in most creative environments of the western world to think and discuss a lot, Chinese tend to work hard and move on quickly. While both ways of course have their advantages, I learned to focus more on what really matters and pick up the famous “Shenzhen Speed”.
Creating a workshop for the local maker community
Because of my background in user-centered design, my first project during the internship was to create a new workshop format for the local maker scene and experiment with toolkits for rapid prototyping of interactions with Artificial Intelligence. Given a lot of independence from SZOIL, I organized an afternoon dedicated to co-designing, prototyping and user testing.
The workshop was a great experience and I could exchange opinions, ideas and new approaches to AI-enabled experiences with the participants. Also, I enjoyed the preparation time before it, as I experimented with voice enabled open hardware from local companies like Banana Pi and Seeed Studio.
During the second half of my stay I had the chance to learn more about all the international projects and partnerships going on at SZOIL, while I contributed my design skills to the creation of new materials for most of those. Especially I found inspiring what is happening in Africa and how new business models can help people to lift themselves out of poverty. Besides that I created pitch decks for design-related funds and exhibitions in the Perl River Delta.
Leaving as a “Shenzhener “
After three months in Shenzhen, I not just used my phone for literally everything, but thanks to the open culture, I even knew the phone manufacturer’s Head of UX Design in person. Interning in Shenzhen definitely feels like living in the future — with all its highlights and downsides.
However, what I like most about Shenzhen as a foreigner: while you will hardly become a Chinese, you are a “Shenzhener” as soon as you arrive there.