This cross-cultural project has provided a variety of challenges for both partners, incorporating new technologies to ensure its success. The Chinese motor company manufactures three million motorcycles a year at its plant in Wenling, a provincial town South of Shanghai, and is keen to take on the growing international scooter market.
Blue Sky Creative, with ten years experience working with Chinese clients, was the ideal partner for the challenge.
Blue Sky Creative’s Managing Director, Mark Armstrong, believes the company’s knowledge of the way the Chinese conduct business was an advantage in securing the project. A personal recommendation from the Chairman of Ryobi in the US, was an additional vote of confidence for Blue Sky.
“As is tradition in Chinese business, we were initially asked to work on a small project to demonstrate to QJ that both our communication and design expertise were of a very high standard,” Armstrong explained.
“The project was a success and we were then asked to start work on a 125cc motorcycle design.
“For this project to succeed our Associate Director, Henri Spaile, and designer, Basil Tung, moved into QJ’s research and development office in Wenling.
“Because the project was complicated – you’ve got one to two thousand components all having to fit together – we just had to go there. Henri and Basil went armed with a laptop and some software and stayed for a month,” said Armstrong.
After a two month break, communications with QJ’s Chairman recommenced and Mark was invited to QJ’s plant for a ‘discussion’. QJ were obviously planning a bigger project.
The ‘discussion’ led to Blue Sky setting up an ‘in-house’ design studio at QJ and commencing a project to design a motorscooter for the global market.
Apart from the design challenges, Mark has worked hard to overcome the huge cultural differences between the two countries to ensure the wellbeing of his Australian staff working so far from home.
“Issues such as diet, travel, accommodation and language barriers have had to be addressed and we have employed a designer fluent in Chinese who is vital to all of our communications.”
Armstrong has employed two Chinese designers who have joined Henri and Basil on the Wenling team.
“One of the interesting things about our way of working is our use of technology, FTP sites and the internet. We are transferring large files from Wenling to Blue Sky on a daily basis.
"Where the Chinese can’t visit a motorcycle shop and see all of the products, we can, so our designers here are visiting the dealers and talking to people about motorcycles, collating and researching information.
“We are also using our network of friends in the US and Europe to help gather this information and market research. We can’t produce a global motorcycle in Wenling unless we have our tentacles spread wide.”
In a truly co-operative venture both the sketching and design work is done in parallel between the team in Sydney and the team in Wenling with the creative process spread across both studios.
“Basil, who is fluent in Chinese, is in regular contact with QJ’s Chairman. He is able to relay information to Henri who incorporates it into the design and feeds it back to Sydney.”
The motorscooter project is expected to run over a year while the Chairman of QJ has estimated that it will take three years to fully establish the Wenling studio and build a design culture in the company.
“Our relationship may end when we have transferred our know-how,” Armstrong acknowledged. “Realistically if they have a design studio staffed with Chinese designers, with the same skills as us, then why would they use Blue Sky or any other external design consultancy?”
Armstrong says there is great potential for future business growth beyond Australian shores.
“There are projects in Singapore and Hong Kong, but the powerhouse of Asia, the manufacturing centre (of the world I suspect) is China. The amount of industrial design work is beyond comprehension,” he said.
Armstrong has some prudent advice for young designers or local businesses wanting to access some of those opportunities: “Taking your portfolio around China will yield no work in my view.
You have to have an introduction from somebody who thinks highly of you and your capability. Business relationships in China are created through referral and building a relationship. As the relationship strengthens, then you can turn it commercial.
“Australian designers are very price competitive at the moment, and providing our creativity is at a global standard, then we are well positioned in the region. We are even in the same time zone."