As part of the Beijing Design Week, I attended Interactive Beijing, invited by professor Fei Jun (associate prof in interactive media art & design at CAFA), first as a speaker for the conference and then as a mentor for the Mentorship Camp 8*8. Interactive Beijing is a platform devoted to Design and Innovation that can bring positive changes to society.
Interactive Beijing Days
On the first day, talks and panels contributed to generate many debates among the young designers, startup-ers and students at the event. Paolo Ciuccarelli, founder of DensityDesign, a research lab that uses visualization as a means to cope with the complexity of contemporary challenges, gave a brilliant introduction to the potential of data visualization for the Chinese audience. When he finished his presentation by presenting the Green Cloud Visualization in Helsinki, a Chinese person in the audience asked what the price of the visualization was because he wanted to build the same visualization - illustrating the culture of imitation that exists in Chinese tech. Jonas Fritsch, assistant professor at the CAVI (Centre for Advanded Visualization and Interaction), Aarhus University, presented brilliant projects around Video Mapping and led interesting debates around participatory experience - projects in relation to a newly founded research Centre on Participatory IT.
The next day, Yangling Duan, founder and CEO at Dui’A Communication welcomed us for the 8*8 Mentorship Camp (8 minutes of presentation x 8 minutes of mentorship). She is about to launch Niwotata, a social network site called niwotata.tv. The intention is to create a unique platform of international academic, commercial, business and independent innovators’ network.
As part of this movement, young designers, entrepreneurs and students were invited to present their projects at this Mentorship Camp.
Projects were numerous: a “How to Make-up” online video platform, the “Grow studio” that aims to take the best of 3D printing, and a platform for soccer fans were just a few of them. Matthew Gao is the founder of Souluniverse, here is his approach for his disruptive and visionary project “Souluniverse.net”
"At the moment, Souluniverse.net is a SOUL-CIAL network vision being realized by a team consisting of one interaction designer, two architects, 1 sound engineer and one computer scientist. A big challenge lies ahead of us- how to develop this tool with which we can translate everyone’s daily texting and writing into visual and audio signals that reflect as accurately and honestly as possible what the souls of the users are actually thinking and feeling."
The fundamental rules of Internet do not apply in China
these two days, I come up with a better understanding of the challenges that
face this young digital and design ecosystem. Sometimes you have the impression that Chines websites are just copies of the US version, but in fact they are not.
140 characters in Chinese is way different from 140 characters in English. Look at Sina Weibo, the successful Chinese version of “Twitter” (cf. the Orange Beijing Page) It is actually more than a copy of Twitter, and Twitter could learn a lot from the functionalities and the user experience designed by Sina Weibo. Check out this article which highlights this. The same remark applies to the leading social network renren.com, which started as the clone of Facebook, but it has adapted to the Chinese market. Today, only the color reminds us of the similarity. So the two services no longer mirror each other and for instance, RenRen makes revenues principally with games.
The web is built to only serve the Chinese netizens and Chinese companies live in a large and closed off ecosystem that is heavily regulated by the government. That is why, before coming to China, I'd never heard about Chinese Internet companies (have you?).
By speaking with people around there, I came to understand why the fundamental rules of Internet do not apply in China.
Competition drives everything in China. It is rumored that there are 3000-4000 Groupon
clones and more than 100 Chinese Android stores. Company can buy customers, or
reviews in order to destroy competitors, and intellectual property doesn’t really matter
here. The big US internet giants (Facebook, Ebay, Google, Twitter, Foursquare,
Dropbox,…) failed in China, mainly because of government regulation and because there
is a local version of each of
this service, for which the functionalities and the design are adapted to the Chinese market.
Below are five examples to make you understand how different it is:
Search engines are the open door to every websites. Because of language, Chinese people often don't remember the website's names. Instead of switching keyboard and entering the URL, they search on the search engines to go on the website.
In the streets of Beijing, flashy is the norm. The same rules are applying to the Internet. Crass pop-ups, bouncing gifs, and sparkling banners prevail. Testing suggests that these crowded and noisy web designs drive higher traffic.
They prefer instant messaging over emails. Tencent's instant messenger QQ is part of their business and personal lives. So, people don't really use email that much here, if they even have one.
When you start up something there, you have do to without
some developers services that we take for granted in the US, such as
Amazon Web Servces, Heroku, Twilio, Github,
Google, … Additionally some tech
documentations are translated very slowly, which make .NET and php
still the norm and none of them have heard of Ruby on Rails and Node.js. Only
the mobile software is at the same level because of the standardization of
Design For Change
To conclude, Design is a key driver for the digital ecosystem in Beijing. And by Design, I mean ideas generation, conceptualization, user experience, interfaces design, prototyping and tests, lean methodology … Everything that is done before developing the service. One can think that Chinese entrepreneurs excel in copying. Actually, copycats can't be successful in such an unique environment and consequently, design is essential to drive innovation.
So, yes, I'm glad to have met these young entrepreneurs who want to be designers to change the society. As a slogan for this Interactive Beijing event, "Design For Change" makes definitely sense.
I’m leaving Beijing with the idea that if China can transform itself from a developing country into a superpower giants in 20 years, imagine where they will be in 50 years with Design, Digital Technologies and a Lean Approach as key drivers.