Darwinism in Design Related Businesses

I always thought the housing bubble burst started in 2008 would wipe out the companies that had bad reputation. However, what I saw was that many good companies were gone but bad ones still remain. I was very puzzled by this phenomenon, but now I understand why.

There was a millwork shop I used to work with, its owner was extremely artistic and skilled, but the reality is that the creative and artistic people usually are not very business savvy, their artist mindset just can’t compete with their competitors who are more business oriented but less creative or skilled. So, the skilled and creative craftsmen are all out of business but the un-skilled, non-creative businessmen with inferior craftsmanship and quality of work all survived. This kind of Darwinism doesn’t seem justified.

Fast paced = Productive?

I believe everyone had experiences working with people who were fast paced workers. Typically these people are very career and goal oriented, they want to get one stuff done and out of their ways quickly so that they can move onto the next. They are always seen as productive workers, but I personally found people like this normally take actions before they think things through. So, the decisions they made usually were problematic, and often needed other people to spend extra time to reverse or fix. Unfortunately, people like this are always praised as productive,  proactive and quick thinkers, and always got the promotion at work to be the decision makers, and I don’t think it will do anything good for any company or organization. So, if you ever hear someone was praised as quick thinker or some companies have fast paced work environment, you might not want to take it too positively.

Taking Advantage of Homelessness

Just read an article about what interior designers can do to help homeless people. Oh! Dear! Here we go again. I just read about a fashion designer designed clothes for homeless people to keep them warm, and a hair stylist helped cutting homeless people’s hairs, the fashion designer and hair stylist instantly became internet sensations, and both their popularities and businesses boomed as the result. What a good business strategy! But please stop using homeless people to be your free commercial actors or guinea pigs. Interior Designers!! If you really want to help homeless people, give them jobs as design interns at your firms, how’s that? No related education or credential? Well, you tell me how many interior designers out there were majored in interior design in colleges, and how many of them passed NCIDQ exam or are licensed and State registered?! Believe me, offering them jobs at your firms will be more helpful than design their “high-end” homeless shelters. Stop giving starving African children expensive toys!! It’s the same theory. They need food!

All about Businesses

I have been receiving the newsletters from ASID regularly and always could find useful articles or blogs. However, I started to realize lately that many articles or blogs did not really tell you the things that you thought you would learn something from. For instance, I recently read about an article that tells you about how to run a successful interior design business, but at the end of article, it asks you to register the seminar in order to find out more. Then, I read another article that tells you how to advertise yourself, then it says just buy his/her book and you will find out how.

Since when ASID, a professional organization that is supposed to educate the interior designers and strengthen the profession as a community, has become a platform for some designers to make money out of other fellow designers?

Some websites also allow designers to blog and post the project photos, and people can post comments. However, many things people commented were not even related to the blogs or the project photos but just showed people’s personal website links and tried to sell other services or products.

It seems like nowadays people do anything and everything just for selling stuff and making money. Everything becomes a part of commercials and anything can turn into advertisement.

If that is the trend, I will be gladly to follow, here is what I am gonna do. One of my job responsibilities at work is to mentor junior designers, so I will put a portable POS right next to my PC on my desk, and if any junior designer comes to me and ask any question related to interior design, I will tell them to swipe their credit cards first and then tell them the answers. Thank you ASID.

How to make Introverts’ voices heard at work?

After reading the article about Introversion and how to work with introverts, it did enlighten me and helped me understanding who I am. It also made me feel more eased about some criticisms from my ex-employers such as “Why didn’t you say anything if you saw that at the job site?”, “Why didn’t you mention that at the meeting?”, “Why didn’t you come up with any idea during the brainstorming?” I fully understand the speaker wanted to empower introverts and to encouraged them to make their voices heard. However, I also started to understand one of the reasons most of the business owners and the team leaders were extroverts was because introverts usually chose to pass on their leadership roles as the speaker mentioned in the video, and I realized it would not be easy for the introverts’ voices heard if most of the decision makers at work were extroverts.

In my 16 years of interior design career, I had worked for 7 employers, and all of them were extroverts who were very good at socializing and networking. I remember one of my ex-employers said to me “This is how my company is running, and if you don’t like it, you are very welcome to leave.” after I made some constructive suggestions. I also suggested the other one of my ex-employers not to do 100% open office floor plan for the new office we were about to move in but was quickly turned down.

So, I feel making introverts’ voices heard is like asking billionaires to give up half of their wealth and pass onto the poor, and we all know it is very hard for those who have the power to release the power, just like what happened at the brainstorming meetings led by the manager in one of my previous jobs, you only could hear the extroverts such as the sales from the sales departments, and the PRs who spoke out loud about their ideas and see the designers’ (all of us were introverts) ideas got overwhelmed, and the manager who had the authority to hush the sales or the PRs allowed it happened and never let the designers express their opinions because the manager was also an extrovert. So, I appreciate the articles and speeches out there that have raised the awareness of the existence of introverts, but if you expect the introverts’ voices will be heard or the “silent revolution” will take place, think again.

Disappearing Taiwan

If you ask a group of 10 in the US has anyone been to China? 6 out of 10 people will most likely say yes, but when you ask the same group of people if anyone has ever been to Taiwan? it will be very lucky if one person says yes.

When visiting China, I realized there were so many things there looked like they were from China but actually were from Taiwan. You might say, Taiwan is a part of China. Well, according to Chinese government and many ass-kissing governments in the world, it is, but for the government and the people in Taiwan at least, those days that Taiwan belonged to China were just a remote memory, just like the United States to the United Kingdom, or Norway to Sweden.

Since the Nationalist party led government of the Republic of China lost the civil war in 1949 to Chinese Communists, The Nationalist government retreated (escaped) to Taiwan and settled there till today. In all these years of separation, the Nationalist government had successfully defended Taiwan against Communist military’s attack in 1958, and transformed itself from an authoritarian government to one of the most dynamic democracies in the world. The Republic of China or R.O.C., according Chinese Communist version of history, has eliminated by the People’s Republic of China or P.R.C. in 1949, but in reality, the Nationalist party led R.O.C. survived the 1949 Civil War and flourished in Taiwan till this very day.

China opened its door to the rest of the world in the late 80’s and started to establish some communications with the Nationalist government in Taiwan. Since then, China started to send scholars and historians to Taiwan and re-learned the Confucianism and other Chinese traditions and histories that were wiped out during the event of Culture Revolution in China but preserved in Taiwan. Taiwanese businessmen also started to establish businesses in China and introduced the free market system to China years before any other country entered the Chinese market. Taiwanese food, local culture, drinks, pop musics, TV programs, movies, and even slangs, all started to get into China.

When I visited China, I constantly heard Taiwanese songs sang by local singers, TV programs looked so much like Taiwanese TV programs many years back, and popular Taiwanese small eats such as bubble tea and pineapple cakes. Maybe some of you will think it is great to see these things unique to Taiwan are flourishing in China, but I fear Taiwan has started to lose its identity and visibility in the world.

As I have mentioned in the beginning of this article, most of the visitors around the world have visited China but not Taiwan, many of those visitors will never know many of the culture and history stuff in China were restored with Taiwan’s help, and they will never know those pop musics, food, drinks, or restaurants they enjoyed during their visits were actually originated in Taiwan. Once again, Taiwan has disappeared in the world just like it had back in 1949. Chinese government has even changed their police and military uniforms to look like those in Taiwan and imitated Taiwan’s health care law, road system, food culture, and so on…. for only one purpose, to confuse the world and make Taiwan less visible to the world as a different sovereignty but just a part of China. For many, disappearing of Taiwan is just one of China’s domestic affairs, but for the people in Taiwan, it means a democratic way of life is taken away from them forever.

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.

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.

Interesting Stuff in Interior Design Field in Asia

Most international students who went to the US to study wish they could stay in the US to live and work after they graduated, but only few of them would ever achieve their goals.

A lot of companies in the US rather hiring American citizens than foreign students because they are not willing to sponsor the H1B work visas unless the foreign workers’ qualifications or capabilities are significantly superior to their American counterparts. Therefore, many those foreign students had to go back to their native countries after graduated and never could make their American dream come true. I was one of the few fortunate ones who stayed and worked in the US for nearly 20 years because of my outstanding performance and talent to my profession. Not only I was hired by American companies many times as a foreign worker but stayed employed throughout the 2 major recessions after the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001 and the housing bubble burst in 2008 while many co-workers of mine who were laid off were American citizens. My superb creativity and work ethic kept me on top of the game and made me an important asset to my previous companies.

However, since I decided to go to Asia to work 2 years ago, tables have started to turn. Every job I worked at in Asia, I had to report to the people who used to study in the US but failed to stay and work in the US. Those people who failed to compete with me in the US job market all became my superiors with higher pay in Asia. If you don’t think it is interesting, then what is?!