(Several) Reasons why Hong Kong is a top place for designers and design thinkers

Thinking / Interview By Patrick Abbattista,

Interview with Mr. Chris Lo, from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council

The founder of DesignWanted, Patrick Abbattista, interviewed Mr. Chris Lo in order to get some relevant insights about the Hong Kong design scene and to understand how it became so attractive not only for designers, but also design thinkers in general.

Mr. Chris Lo is the Manager, Service Promotion of Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the statutory organization responsible for promoting and developing bilateral trade of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Generally speaking, may you please tell our readers something more about the InnoDesignTech Expo, which sees us as partner? 

Sure. We have been doing this show since 2005, so this year it is our XII edition.

When we first launched the show it was actually the moment when we realised that in the Asia Pacific region there wasn’t any significant event on the subject, nothing specifically dedicated to design and innovation or technology.

Our initial considerations were based on the fact that it would have been a nice idea to have Hong Kong to host such an event, for its very strategic location.

Things have been evolving very well and there has been, over time, more and more concern on the subject of how design and innovation can drive different kinds of industries and development.

Hong Kong has a very unique location in Asia since you can travel to the main cities in the region in few hours.

We also have easy access to the manufacturing in China, South Asia and South-East Asia. This gives us a very favourable position. For this reason, many design thinkers and creative companies choose HK as a hub for their development.

Doing business in the area, with proximity to the manufacturing, makes their value chain easy to manage, from production to distribution.

 

Hong Kong-Boat

If you had to choose 3 main results that you have achieved with the event, what would they be?

 

The first huge achievement is this one.

Hong Kong Trade Development Council is a semi-governmental body in HK, aiming to promote and connect the HK business with the world.

So, the first goal we have been working on was helping the HK business community to get connections within the worlds of design, innovation and also manufacturing business.

And so far I think we have well achieved it. We want to put HK on a top level, in this sector.

Secondly, as you also mentioned, it is a very interesting concept to put design innovation with technology application under the same umbrella.

What we are doing is also having other thematic exhibitions throughout the year, here in HK; and most of them are normally very industry focused, as they are only targeting a specific niche, industry or audience.

Thanks to InnoDesignTech Expo, we bring together several industries and design thinkers, all sitting under the same roof and I think that this contamination is an interesting achievement.

So far, with the strong support of different industries in HK as well as from the region, we have been doing a good job on this perspective.

Lastly, the business element.

We focus a lot on the show. We want to keep this event as THE market place in the region, where buyers and sellers come together: designers can showcase their latest creative solutions; and manufacturers and businessman can find the innovative solutions, creative concepts and ideas they are searching for.

 

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I really liked the project Urban Playroom and I would be grateful if you could tell me more about it, because, in my opinion, urban interactive design is something that really educates and introduces people to design.

 

It goes back to the history of the event. When we first launched it, we talked about design to businessmen and industry players.

At that moment, Internet was just booming and people still had a very traditional way of thinking; they already had their value chain, standard processes for doing things and products, and providing services.

Design meant to them mostly product design, spatial design, in the traditional form and meaning. They used to think that design was only a component for their business development and concept.

Over time, things have changed.

Design Thinking is becoming important to many business people.

They are trying to not only put design as one component (e.g. a chair), but actually more as an overall idea, integrating all the aspects of design thinking into the management of their business, in operating, and also in manufacturing and distribution, commercial initiatives, and so on.

Things, on this perspective, are changing very fast.

From the very beginning, we started to promote very traditional product design and interior design.

Right now, from this year, we have launched a brand new theme, named “urbanovation” (i.e. Urban + Innovation), which deals with innovation around the entire city, public spaces and urban functions.

This is an interesting area for many buyers who are coming to this edition, to look at what we are going to do.

What we are trying to do is to look at innovation under different perspectives, since innovation has been changing our lives, cities, habits and spaces.

 

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On this perspective, we have invited designers and design thinkers from different grounds and disciplines to set up their own installations and concepts, in order for us to understand how they look at urban spaces and be inspired to make our own city a better place for people to live in.

For instance, we are going to stage some interesting pavilions. We have one called Urban Playroom, made by installations all created by HK designers.

We have several spaces in the city, each with a different function.

The designers’ goal is to make these functions more creative through Design; this is why we called it Urban Playroom, because the purpose is to create more fun or even more functions.

How can we create more value for the citizens working on something already existing? We are looking for happier cities.

 

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For another project that we called Urban Oasis, we are inviting interior designers and experts to look into some existing districts and spots in HK, which can be bus stops, etc…spaces that people share. The question is: what could these spaces look like in the future?

Again, it is all about the urban innovation concept.

In which ways do you consolidate the connections made by companies, designers, and businessmen at the event? How do you achieve to do so throughout the year, outside the expo context

Our strategy is based on attracting regional players to HK to participate to several events and market places like InnoDesignTech Expo, where they can find business opportunities.

At the same time, we have different programs addressed to designers and business communities to be held in different locations, which aim to bring them together under one roof.

We also have a strong network around the world made by our branch offices, our front line staff to receive all kind of requests. Thanks to this network we are able to make good contacts with business people who are interested in this kind of design services.

Events are matched with yearly programs, promoted around the world through our office branches.

 

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From your perspective, what are the main reasons why design thinkers, so not just designers in a strict sense, should move to HK?

 

First of all, HK is a very international city; secondly, we have very strong business infrastructures; lastly, doing business here is very easy.

That puts us on the top cities to move to, if you are looking for a business hub where to set up an office or make business development, in Asia.

Some people are concerned about the high costs in HK and this is partly true in my opinion, due to the fact that we have very limited space and rent is not cheap.

However, I would say that some time people underestimate the implied costs of doing business in different cities or locations. And I say this also referring to our very good business infrastructures that work efficiently to support companies and their growth.

Also, in the last 2 years, we have had a booming of startups and several co-working spaces have been created around the city, for designers and creative studios, to start their business in an affordable way and cut some costs.

All in all, I would say that the high costs are paid off by the quality of the business eco-system and potential opportunities.

In addition, HK is a big market (around 7 million people plus the radiating regional market in the Pearl River Delta with some 40M people) and not just a hub, very close to the biggest Asian markets too.

 

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My last question is about the kind of designers that, at present are more requested in the region. What design profiles are more demanded by an asian company?

My personal view makes me say that it is closely related to the rising population of consumers, particularly in the South-East Asia and, of course, in China.

The way people are consuming, buying more lifestyle products, consuming high-quality and looking for the ‘user experience’.

The demand is very high for industrial designers who can add value to consumer products.

Secondly, we talk about spaces as well.

Considering the fast urbanization and the upcoming of new cities, especially in China, from residential to commercial areas, I would also say architects, interior and spatial designers.

Lastly, particularly in the context of China, there is a very fast growing e-commerce business.

This is something that, in my opinion, is still in its early stage in terms of design.

Currently, online customers are more concerned about the variety and prices of products, but at one point they will start to consider the overall user experience, which makes me think that ux designers will be the next big demand, especially for the Chinese market.

There is going to be a room for digital designers.

 

Mr. Chris Lo (left)

Mr. Chris Lo (left)

 

More about Mr. Chris Lo

 

Mr. Chris Lo is the Manager, Service Promotion of Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the statutory organization responsible for promoting and developing bilateral trade of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Mr. Lo joined the HKTDC in 2000 and has wide experience in managing trade promotion projects for Hong Kong’s manufacturing, financial services, infrastructure and real estate development, as well as design and marketing sectors.

With his current role as Manager of Service Promotion Department of the HKTDC, Mr. Lo is responsible for promoting Hong Kong’s advertising, design and marketing services industry to China and the overseas markets.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Mr. Lo has earned a master degree in public affairs at the Institute d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and a master degree in e-business at Curtin University Australia.

Mr. Lo has also worked for the United Nations and the Hong Kong Tourism Board from 2011 to 2014.

 

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