Know what we interior designers do is essential

Many people thinks what interior designers do are just more decorative types of things such as selecting paint, fabrics, lamps, or furniture, but what we can do are far beyond that, but because many clients do not fully understand interior designers’ specialties, they tend to hire us much later in the game, usually after the houses are built or the space planning are done which limited our creative involvemet to only the decorative items without knowing we also can contribute to many other aspects of design such as lighting, plumbing, structural elements  and such.

Being brought into a project late also brings us another charllenge which is clients are expecting interior designers to get their job done quickly. Unreasonable time frame requirement pushes many high end residential interior designers to manage the projects like a commercial design space. The results? low quality furniture and fixtures purchased for quicker shipment, errors on designs and poor craftsmanship on installation and detail handling due to unresonable fast paced, long hour work. Limited creativity on designs or copying of other people’s designs also were often seen. This kind of situation happens in daily basis, especially in Asian markets, and even many American and European designers start to do shitting jobs in Asian markets in order to compete and survive.

Sometimes when I saw the furniture, fixtures, and the materials used in the high end residential projects in Asian countries, I felt sorry for those clients because all of the high end residential grade money they spent, they only got commecial grade stuff, that is sad.

Details Matter

When East Meets West

When East meets West

Every time I visited commercial spaces, I always spotted the details similar to this baseboard showing in the photo. It hurts me as a design professional to see such a careless way of handling the detail, and I am stunned to learn the design firms doing stuff like this could get the job.

Brainstorming or Brainthundering?

Does brainstorming really work? That is the question I have been always wondering. I always felt my ideas were blocked during the design meetings by certain people who were holding higher positions at work, and I found a great article on UT Arlington Magazine written by Camille Rogers which is right on! Here is the article I would like to share:

Does brainstorming really work?

Scientist’s research sheds light on the effectiveness of group creativity

Brainstorming—a technique to get the creative juices flowing—may not be as effective as many people think. According to College of Science Dean Paul Paulus, group brainstorming tends to be unproductive.

“The formal brainstorming process is the exchange of ideas under conditions that encourage individuals to exchange as many ideas as possible without worrying about quality,” he explains. “The assumption is that through the uninhibited exchange of many ideas, more good ideas will be generated.”

Advertising executive Alex Osborn studied group idea generating in the 1940s and coined the term “brainstorming.” He proposed that group brainstorming is more likely to generate a higher number of good ideas than will individual brainstorming.

Contemporary research, however, suggests otherwise. Most current literature asserts that group brainstorming is half as effective as individual brainstorming.

But that hasn’t stopped the practice.

“It is widely used in creative industries like design, advertising and film, although it takes different forms,” said Robert Sutton, co-director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford University. “And the question of whether it is effective is, in my view, completely unanswered by rigorous research.”

Dr. Paulus has dedicated the past 15 years to researching group brainstorming and making it more effective. He has conducted dozens of experiments in an effort to demonstrate the presumed benefits of group creativity.

For up to two hours, subjects, predominantly university students, were placed in groups of four and told to generate ideas on a topic of interest. They typically interacted face to face but sometimes were asked to attempt computer-based idea exchange.

Paulus’ findings were consistent with other studies. Group brainstorming did produce a number of ideas, but few were any good. He compares group brainstorming to a thunderstorm.

“There’s plenty of rain in the storm, that is, plenty of ideas falling from the sky. But there’s not much lightning—the exceptional ideas that have the potential to set things on fire.”

Group brainstorming becomes ineffective when “blocking” occurs—when group interaction inhibits an individual’s flow of good ideas or limits the ability to contribute. Thus, groups provide the perfect environment for some people to do nothing while others do the work.

Paulus says these kinds of barriers are especially detrimental for professional groups like those in the lab-based sciences. “If we care about staying ahead in the innovation race in this world, it would seem important that we use the most effective means of tapping our creative potential.”

Most people apparently are not even aware of the factors that sabotage their group brainstorming. Ironically, many groups deem their sessions productive. They have become accustomed to unproductive brainstorming sessions producing few quality ideas. Bad group brainstorming is the norm, so participants have the illusion of being more productive than they actually are.

Paulus and researcher Vince Brown (who now works at Hofstra University) developed a cognitive model of group brainstorming that predicts positive effects.

The model is based on the idea that creative group interaction consists of both cognitive and social dynamics. The collaborative exchange of ideas between members introduces them to new ideas and allows them to discover connections in their “knowledge network” that they may not have been able to create on their own. For productive group brainstorming, the benefits of cognitive stimulation should be heightened and the negative social forces limited.

To “get the most out of group brains,” as Paulus puts it, participating members should be able to process as many of the shared ideas as possible. One way is to eliminate the blocking effects of face-to-face interaction. He has found that two techniques alleviate the problem.

“Brainwriting” and “electronic brainstorming” enable people to share their ideas via pieces of paper or on a computer network, respectively. A high number of ideas can be generated because members don’t have to wait their turn in the discussion process. But there’s a drawback: People can become so wrapped up in producing their own ideas that they don’t take time to process those produced by others. They must fully pay attention to the ideas being shared if they want a quality brainstorming session.

Face-to-face interaction is usually more feasible than brainwriting and electronic networking, though, and Paulus has also identified what enhances this more traditional approach. People tend to perform better with enhanced motivation, like providing group members competitive feedback about each other’s performances.

The same can be said for the cognitive process, such as asking group members to focus on the quantity and not quality of their ideas. Facilitators are also useful in maintaining productivity. They can guide a group away from negative behaviors like individual domination, criticism or getting off track by telling stories.

Another way that face-to-face brainstorming can enhance group productivity is to alternate between group and individual brainstorming. Ideas may be stimulated during group interaction, but a subsequent period of solitary brainstorming may enable an individual to effectively build on those ideas.

The attitudes of the group members also come into play. People who have a positive attitude toward working in a group tend to perform better than those who do not.

Recently Paulus helped organize a National Science Foundation workshop that focused on summarizing the implications of the group creativity literature for innovation in science and industry. Already this year he has presented his work at a conference sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that focuses on improving analytical processes.

His findings are being incorporated into textbooks and applied by practitioners. He hopes to do studies in professional organizations that demonstrate the efficacy of various techniques for enhancing group innovation.

So, if your company is still using this old fashioned way to generate ideas, you might want to think about changing it.

Will China’s Economy Reform Fail?

When China’s GDP growth downed from double digits to 7 something percent last year, it signaled China’s economy is slowing down. Increasing labor cost and tightened regulations slowly expelled the labor intense industry out of China. Similar to what happened in Taiwan in the late 90’s and throughout 00′, China needs to transform its labor intense industry to high-tech industry. Unfortunately, Taiwan failed the transformation, and is suffering the consequences, low job growth and stalled salary. Will China follow Taiwan’s step and fail the challenge? Very likely.

As an interior designer, my job can not be classified as high-tech, but it is not hard to predict why China will fail the economy reform to transform its economy by observing how the interior designers operate in China. When interior designers start to work on a new project and prepare for client presentation, unlike what we do in the States,  we research the available materials and start to sketch out the ideas, Chinese interior designers look for project photos on the design magazines or websites, and then copy with minor tweaking the designs from the photos they found. Why do they do that?! Isn’t it violating the copy rights and professional ethics, or at least personal integrity? No, not to Chinese designers. In fact, they are encouraged to copy others’ design ideas, why? well, because the clients in China love to rush. If you think some clients in the US like to rush to get things done, the clients in China are 1000 times worse. If a project needs 1 year to complete in the States, it will be completed in China in 3 months. Super fast work flow forces Chinese designers to work overtime constantly, under the pressure, it becomes luxury for designers to have time to be creative and think about the ideas of their own. Long working hours also impairs the designers’ ability to innovate. Therefore, most of interior design ideas in China are copied.

Ok, no big deals, right? just copy an interior design idea! so?! people still make money! Well, Chinese high-tech workers work the same way! cell phone companies, automobile companies, computer companies, website companies, and defense insdustry….These high tech companies copied whatever from foreign companies without creating their own indigenous high technology, so they will always lead from behind.

When the US built the stealth fighter jets like F-22 and F-35, China followed and also built J-20 stealth fighter jets with lots of “borrowed” technology and designs. Many of you might think “see! China is strong and advanced! They can also build stealth fighter jets!” but for me , the real strong country is the one that came up with the idea – “stealth” at the first place. Now, the United States is the only country in the world has operational stealth fighter jets in service and maintains the air superiority. Innovation makes the United States lead.

So, if Chinese clients do not change the way that they want everything done by yesterday, excessive over-time working will keep impairing Chinese workers’ innovation and creativity, and China’s economy reform will be doomed to fail.

Who should foresee the design trends?

I have always received the newsletters from various interior design related organizations and magazines that published many articles about kitchen design trends and green design trends…etc. In my opinion, these articles were only trying to market and sell products rather than predicting any trend.

Kitchen companies sell contemporary Minimalist kitchen cabinets predict Minimalist design trend will be in. Furniture companies sell traditional style furniture say the traditional style trend is coming back and on the rise. The paint companies say the certain colors will be popular in the next coming season, and the paint company happens to be the only one sells those colors they claimed to be in style. Since when the design trends are predicted by design product related businesses?! Shouldn’t design professionals be the ones to predict the design trends?!

Interior Designers vs 3D Renderers & Graphic Designers

I realize a phenomenon in the interior design job market nowadays. There are a lot of people who are 3D renderers or graphic designers showing up at the interior design firms to interview the interior designer positions, and most of them got hired. Many of these 3D renderers or graphic designers were not interior design majored or licensed interior designers, but they all got very beautiful portfolios.

The software used by many 3D renderers, 3D Studio Max, can render photo realistic perspective drawings, and Adobe Illustrator, the program all graphic designers learned at colleges, can produce extremely beautiful color elevations. With the help of Adobe PhotoShop, another Adobe software learned by most graphic designers at school, can even edit the 3D renderings done by 3D Studio Max and the color elevations done by Adobe Illustrator to become even more beautiful and realistic, and when they used Adobe InDesign, another software learned by many graphic designers at schools, to create the portfolios, the beauty of the portfolios was just incomparable. No wonder those 3D renderers and graphic designers were always hired.

I personally worked with some of those 3D renderers and graphic designers at the same offices before, and when I asked them if they actually designed those projects showing on their portfolios, they all said no. They told me some other more senior interior designers (majored in interior design and licensed) at their previous jobs who came up with the designs done by hand sketches, and what they did was transforming the hand sketched ideas into the forms of 3D Studio Max and Adobe Illustrator renderings or drawings. I was wondering whether these new hired “interior designers” can come up with their own design ideas few years later after they become senior designers?! Well, time will tell.

Faster isn’t always better

When my wife and I went to buy coffee at coffee shops in Shanghai, my wife usually went to find seats, and I was the only person who ordered the coffee. I told the cashier that I wanted a cup of Cafe Americano and a cup of Latte, but every time, the cashier put Coffee Americano into the machine first, and when I said I also wanted a cup of Latte, the cashier always canceled the Cafe Americano and then put in the Latte. Well….I wanted both Cafe Americano and Latte!

I was always wondering why the cashiers kept doing that in Shanghai?! Finally, I know why. If my wife was with me at the cashier, this kind of situation would not happen, but when I went to order alone, it happened. Because the cashiers always assumed I was alone if I ordered alone, so when I ordered the second item, they automatically thought I changed my mind on my first order and canceled it. The cashiers in China tried to be faster, so they thought by assuming things for me ahead which would shorten the ordering time, but they did not realize when they did that each time, they actually made me angry. They tried to expedite the ordering but lost the quality of service. I also saw similar situations occurred in interior design business over there. Enough said. Faster design is not always better design.

Full Of It!

I have heard a lot of Chinese designers said they are the best in the world. Well, if you are so great as you said, how come the reference photos or the mood imageries you put on your project presentation PPTs are the projects mostly done by American or European designers? and how come we do not use Chinese designers’ project photos as our mood imageries for project presentations in the US? So, if you say Chinese designers are good at working long hours and fast pace, I agree, but if you say Chinese designers are creative or innovative, I totally disagree.

Unreasonable Fast-Paced Schedule Affects the Quality of Design

Even though Shanghai has great infrastructure, the quality of it is just very poor. The subway for instance, the design is so old fashioned and the materials look so outdated. Many platforms look very dark due to poor lighting design, the floor looks dirty and old due to the fading colors of the stone slabs. The numbers of the escalators and stair cases are not proportioned. The floor layouts and signages are confusing. Restrooms and elevators are also difficult to find. The train carts are relatively small compared to the large volumes of commuters in the city. The seats and pathways are very narrow and the light fixtures always blocked the view to the posted ads or the route maps on the trains. The design just does not exist. You can very easily tell the entire subway system was built in very hurry without any deep thinking through in terms of functionality or aesthetic. I always thought the subway system in Shanghai has been built for at least 20 years or older, but I was shocked to learn the construction for the entire subway system in Shanghai did not start until the beginning of ’00. Oh my…. I have nothing to say.

High End or Low End?

When working on a project in China, I heard a worker from a millwork shop said the shop was planning on getting rid of Formica laminates because they were too expensive and too high-end.

That was one of the realities I had to deal with when I was working on projects in China. It seems like everything has a cheaper replica in China. When I specified commercial grade materials from the US in China, the local vendors always could find some alternatives that looked similar or the same but half of the cost. Every commercial grade material I had specified in the US became the material for high-end residential projects in China. Now, I am curious what kind of stuff the designers specify for high-end residential projects in China?