Zhouyi, Funder and CEO, S.POINT
Recently, some friends and I talked about the bravery of design companies making their own products and the opportunities and challenges in the course of industrialization... I think it might be a good time to talk with my old friends and new partners about industrial design in which I have been engaged for many years and about the thoughts and changes that this industry has brought to me.
Frankly speaking, industrial design has not developed towards the ideal direction in the past years, and is now in a bottleneck period. In this period, the industry is characterized by uncertainty, which is mainly reflected in two aspects:
1. The full application of industrial design to good brands and products is not common. We see there are some local brands that are using industrial design very well, and have introduced a lot of good products, such as Xiaomi and Xiaoniu. But there are only a few such brands in the market.
2. The role of industrial design in businesses is becoming more and more obscure. Can it lead businesses to an innovative path? Can it solve product, industrial and management problems? No one can give a clear positive answer. However, the uncertainty of industrial design is not a bad thing. At least, from the experience of myself, who has been engaged in the industry for 27 years and managed S.POINT for 20 years, uncertainty means opportunity.
I think the industrial design industry should be understood in three dimensions:
Due to its uncertainty, it's time to redefine industrial design. The term "industrial design" was inherited from the industrial revolution. The great changes brought about by mechanized production have improved production efficiency and changed people's way of life. Since its creation, industrial design has undergone different stages with the changes in science and technology, industry and consumption. Today, its uncertainty is likely to lead to an outcome in the future: As an industry name, "industrial design" may disappear. A few years back, we heard many exaggerations about this industry. Industrial design was interpreted as a magic power that could solve all kinds of problems. In the past two years, we also heard some bad-mouthing about this industry. In fact, these views were expressed by people from their different angles. As a design practitioner, we should have the courage, wisdom and an open attitude to accept and reflect on the changes brought by time and to rebuild this industry. We do not need to rigidly adhere to the term "industrial design". Uncertainty does not mean a negative direction. The new positioning of industrial design is the basis for our practitioners to survive, and our doubts about the value of this industry are the prerequisite for its sustained development. It will be more meaningful if we take a healthy and confident attitude to seek and define the significance and application value of the new "grand design" and to think about our industry and how we can make valuable contributions to the society with our expertise.
Design service providers
For design companies, survival comes first. No matter its specific business operation, such as consulting, independent brand development and integration of cross-border resources, all design companies need to adjust their positioning according to their own capabilities and market opportunities. The same is true with S.POINT. Only our business model is more unique. We call it "genetic mutation" model. On the one hand, we still rely on design genes and base our work on design. On the other hand, we are shifting from the service industry to the product innovation industry. In this process, our team, business and goals have all undergone tremendous changes. The role of design in businesses and our specific methods of work are completely different now. In the past, design is our core business, but now, it is only a part of industrialization. In the past, we rely on designer to serve customers, but now, we depend on cooperation of a team made up of people from a variety of fields including consulting, retail, marketing and anthropology.
A closed industrial loop being practiced by S.POINT
After working in the design industry for more than 20 years, I've fully realized that the contact between businesses and consumers must be through a specific product or service, and that no consumers will pay for the service model of businesses. The natural B2B service attributes of design companies block their communication with consumers. We can only have a direct dialogue with consumers in order to truly reach their needs, thus creating products or services that meet their needs. Therefore, S.POINT has chosen the path of "product innovation". Instead of leaving our works on paper, we gain market opportunities through consumer insights before designing, producing and delivering finished products to consumers. Over the past 20 years, S.POINT has accumulated ability, experience and opportunities, which has contributed to our transition from services to products. There were many risks in the process, but we successfully resolved them by adjusting ourselves, and we have achieved some results. For example, in 2016, we designed and produced a facial cleansing instrument for a customer and the customer placed three consecutive orders, making the product a best-seller. In 2017, based on our insights, we designed, developed and mass-produced a children's toothbrush. The product has been launched to the market. We've fully achieved product innovation throughout the whole industry chain and will consecutively launch 3 product categories and 9 SKU products. We expect more than 500,000 products will be sold and the product will become another best-seller. We are still groping our way forward, and everything can be proven by time, but at least judging from our current development, we are on the right path.
Beauty instrument series products fully produced and managed by S.POINT
Mini beauty instrument independently designed, developed, produced and marketed by S.POINT based on consumer insights
S.POINT's "genetic mutation" is our second start-up process. I know quite well the hardships of starting a business, and in the past 20 years, I have seen many peers face difficulties in managing a design company. I hope to provide you with some suggestions and inspirations. Our experience is not universal. For more design companies, they should always keep in mind two things. First, they should determine their development direction according to their ability. Second, they should have an open mind and self-denying courage to redefine the industry and reorganize their team and business form. Currently, the design industry reform is in an uncertain state and all design companies have the opportunity for development. I hope we are brave enough to try and make more innovations.
First of all, I want to tell the designers that the risk of starting a business is very high. Because once we start a design company, we have to handle all the things with the mentality of an entrepreneur rather than a designer. The mentality of an entrepreneur requires greater tension, tolerance, resistance and learning ability, etc. In the entrepreneurial process, hoping to promote the overall operation of a closed industrial loop through design is obviously impossible. Design can only be a tool, and a designer's focus on expertise will actually restrain entrepreneurship.
Second, I'd like to remind you of a designer's knowledge framework. The design industry now has two features. One is that the industry covers a wide variety of areas and many products have a new way of thinking and a new service model. The other is that the vertical sectors of the design industry vary largely. For example, the marketing, engineering and manufacturing sectors all have professional technical means, and as domestic designers have a relatively narrow vision and limited ability, it's not easy for them to overcome industry limitations.
These two points are a great challenge to the transformation of designers' ability and even to the design education system, which cannot be achieved overnight.
I also want to tell young designer friends that the design industry requires patience as it requires decision-making based on experience and time is needed to develop your ability. If you base all your expectations on design talent, you may easily block your path to growth. Today, in the commercial context of consumption upgrading and industrial upgrading, what's needed is comprehensive problem-solving skills, and the role of talent will inevitably be weakened.
What S.POINT is working on is not a designer integration platform, but a vertical project management platform. Regarding specific requirements for designer's ability, designers should possess upstream and downstream abilities:
Upstream abilities: market judgment, consumer insight, strategic thinking.
Downstream abilities: communication with technology and production teams, project management and control, cost cognition, cross-disciplinary coordination.
Designer's upstream and downstream abilities covering the closed industrial chain
To achieve upstream and downstream abilities, designers need to develop their ability through practical projects. What we are looking for are not only design talents, but innovative talents who integrate design knowledge and upstream and downstream ability into the project management system. For designers, this is also an appropriate opportunity to transform their career or themselves.
Finally, I want to say that in the entrepreneurial process, right and wrong are not important. Although S.POINT is not a company valued at hundreds of billions yuan, we are still exploring and the recognition we've received so far gives us the possibility of continuing to explore.
I hope more and more young designers can take an open and confident attitude. We have experienced ups and downs for 20 years, but you are still very young. You should bravely embrace the challenges and opportunities the era brings and have the courage to make innovations.