The True Productivity

There are a lot of businesses out there still believe working overtime can increase productivity but fail to realize productivity should not be measured by how much is accomplished alone, how much time spent on fixing the mistakes and revising bad ideas should also be considered.

For example, if a set of construction drawing normally requires 7 days to finish but you push your designers to finish it in 3 days, maybe your designer can finish it in 3 days as you requested, but you might want to consider if any error or bad design has occurred due to the fatigue your designer sustained because of long working hours.

If your designers spent 3 days to finish the drawings but spend another 5 days worth of work on correcting mistakes or stupid designs, arguing with contractors/vendors, and apologizing to the clients, then you must calculate the total time spent on this construction drawing set as 8 days, not 3 days anymore. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many employers out there are still ignoring it and deeply believe by working overtime, they can get more things done and fail to realize it is just absolutely an illusion.

Choosing Interior Designers

Throughout my interior design career, I found human brains are interesting. Many people probably have heard the blind people have more acute hearing because the brains compensate what is lack of. That theory seems to make sense for the interior designers I have met.
Usually the designers who are really creative, he/she usually are not a good sales, and the designers who are social are usually good sales but not so creative in terms of design. The designers who are good at computer drafting such as 3D Studio Max are usually good at construction detailing but not so good at conceptual development.
So, when you are hiring a designer, make sure what kind of quality for a designer you are looking for. If you are looking for a designer whose major task is developing design concept, you’d better looking for someone who is very good at free-hand sketch, and an introvert. If you are looking for someone who needs to constantly communicate with the clients and give presentation in order to sell your design service, you should find an extrovert who is very social. If you are looking for a person whose tasks are generating contract document, construction detailing and engineering, computer 3D rendering, you must find someone who is very tech oriented and analytical.
Is there any designer who has all 3 characteristics and all of them are pretty much equally good? Creative(artistic, introvert), Social(extrovert, talkative), and Analytical (good at construction and engineering)? Maybe you know someone but they are very few.

Advice for American interior designers who want to work in China

1. If you would like to work in China as an interior designer, first of all, you will need to know how to use multiple computer added drafting softwares, here are the 4 programs you must be able to use, yes, ALL 4 of them: AutoCAD, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and 3D Studio Max, and it will be a big plus if you can operate them super fast. Revit or SketchUp? sorry, they are not popular in China.

2. You do not need to be creative. Most of design companies in China encourage copying other people’s ideas because it is faster. Project pace in China is 10 times faster than in the US, they just do not have the time for the designers to generate design concepts of their own, so copying design ideas from magazines or other projects has become the norm. Also, if you show your employer a very unique design idea, your employer will most likely to ask you show him a photo of your design ideas. You might feel strange because how you can have an actual photo of your design ideas if it has not  been built unless you copied other people’s design ideas from design magazines? That is because many employers there also do not like to take the risk to build anything that no one else has ever built before because it will take too much time to figure out how to actually build it, so if you come up with a design idea that is like a pioneer, your idea will most likely to be turned down.

3. You must be able to endure long working hours. Working overtime without overtime pay is very common in China. Because the project pace is fast, designers are constantly working overtime during the weekdays, on weekends and National holidays. Do not be surprised if you are asked to work overnight to finish a project without sleeping constantly.

4. You must be able to accept lower salary. The income level in China is not as high as in the US, so your salary there will more likely to be lower, but you definitely will feel better since the cost of living in China is also lower (except those big coastal cities such as Shanghai or Guangzhou).

5. You need to adapt the society well. Air pollution, dirty streets, crowded subway, hazardous drinking water, poisonous food, cars run over red lights, cars do not yield to pedestrians and horn constantly, people spit, liter, urination in public, jay walking, cut in the lines….etc. If you can get over these things quickly, then your life in China will definitely be much happier.

Interior Design Company Cultural Differences

Advice for the interior designers in China who would like to work in the US:

Working overtime voluntarily in Asia is often portrayed as the workers’ strong devotion and dedication to work hard for the companies while working overtime frequently is a sign of inefficiency in the US.

Most of American businesses are running based on 3 principles, Efficiency, Innovation, and Elimination of Competition, so every company policy was designed exactly for achieving these 3 goals. For instance, many people think American businesses do not like their employees to stay at work late or work overtime is because America has more stringent labor law and many American companies do not want to pay for the overtime pay. Well, yes, it might be part of the reason, but there are more to it.

1. Efficiency: First of all, the companies I had worked at in the US, none of them actually paid for the overtime pay, but how come none of my ex-employers ever asked me to work overtime? in fact, throughout my 14 year career in the US, I probably had worked overtime less than a week if you put all of my overtime hours together. American companies believe the longer you work, the less efficient you become, when people get tired, they have hard time to stay focus, and their pace will get slower but the chance of making mistakes will increase. American businesses expect you to work with 100% efficiency when you are at the office, if you are not performing at the top condition, you are just wasting time. That is why the US companies also do not like their sick employees to show up at work. Because they do not want a dizzy zombie-like person at work who probably will waste a lot of time on blowing his/her nose or rushing to the restroom every other minute and give the virus to other workers and make them sick and become ineffective. Basically you can just call in and tell the company you are not coming in to the office just because you do not feel like working today in the US, why? because American companies think if your mind is not here when you are working, you are not effective, you are wasting time here in the office. Many American businesses give their employees 5 sick/personal days in addition to the 2-week paid vacation days is exactly for that purpose. Now, for increasing the productivity, some companies are giving employees extra time to take a nap after lunch.

2. Innovation: Research also shows most of creative and innovative ideas happened when people were outside of offices during non working hours. So, American companies want their employees to enjoy their personal lives. They do not believe keeping employees at the office for longer working hours has any positive impact on being creative or innovative.

3. Elimination of Competition: Sung Zu’s The Art of War says The best way of defeating the enemy is to defeat the enemy without sending out a single troop. American businesses definitely follow this ancient principle from China. The best way to defeat your business competitors is not to compete with better products or services but not even let the competition happen at the first place. Many American tech companies often filed suits against their foreign competitors over the copy right issues to keep the competition out, and many products made by foreign competitors can not even be imported to the US market because of the violation of copy right. Endless lawsuits also weakened their business competitors’ ability to compete because their competitors had to spend more time and resources on defending themselves at the court but less on developing new technology. American businesses treat their employees not only as partners but also as competitors, prolonged working hours creates dissatisfaction towards the working environment which usually caused employees to quit their jobs and work for other companies or start out on their own, no matter what, these employees eventually will become the competitors directly or indirectly. Many states in the US requires commercial interior designers to have state issued licenses in order to practice, it is also another way to keep more competitions out.

Of course, high health insurance cost in the US is also a major factor that American businesses have to make their employees work very efficiently because keeping the numbers of full-time employees down will save money on the employees’ health insurance premiums, and they definitely do not want their employees to get sick all the time because of long working hours which will also drive up the employees’ health insurance costs.

So, if any of you have the opportunity to work in the US, do not think your employer will be happy and appreciative to see you or people working under you working overtime constantly because it will only make your employer think you have very poor time schedule or project management skills. The last thing you want your employer to think is you are not efficient or creative, and a competitor creator.

Fast design? You just might get what you ask for.

In this fast paced world, everything has to be fast, fast food, instant noodles, speed dating, everything has to be done not today but yesterday, interior design is not an exception.

It’s nothing new for commercial projects being fast paced, tight deadlines due to tight budget control, the result? poor craftsmanship and poor handling of construction details in both aesthetically and functionally. Why am I not surprised to see this kind of fast paced design practice happened to the high-end residential projects?

Many design firms are trying to come up with a way to digest those high-end residential projects in very short period of time in order to maximize the profits, one way they come up with is to standardize designs by giving all of the clients several pre-designed packages to choose from, package a, b, c, and d. These packages can be different in prices or design styles. The clients pick the one they like and the firm starts to build, because everything is pre-designed with certain styles, colors, and furniture and accessory selections, the design process and construction time frame can be shortened dramatically, of course, the cost also can be lowered. You might think the money saved will go back to the clients, but because it is still called high-end residential project, the design fees remain the same, the extra savings go right back into designer’s pocket.

Which design company will not happy to charge like high-end residential projects but design like commercial grade quality?! It is not the design professionals’ fault but the clients’ responsibility. Next time, if you want your 10,000 sq.ft house to be done in 6 months? you might get what you ask for – a pre-designed package, and you might never find out about it until one day you visit your relative’s or friend’s house and find the interior design in his or her house is almost identical to the one in your home.

Interior Design Market Comparison between Taiwan and China

Interior design is a relatively new industry in China, but I was shocked by how adaptive the Chinese interior design market is compares to Taiwan. Interior design has started to flourish during the economy boom in the 80’s in Taiwan, but throughout the years, I realize Taiwan still has a long way to go in terms of design sense and creativity. Even though the clients’ design tastes have been improved throughout the years in Taiwan, the designers’ design sense still can’t keep up with it. What I observed was copying design ideas from overseas, poor execution of design elements with full of improper designs. Many design elements looked cool if you look at each of them individually, but because they were all borrowed (copied) from somewhere else individually and put together without any logic or common sense, they don’t look connected within a space. On contrary, I have seen extremely well executed matured interior design in China. As a country just started her economy boom in the late 90’s, the transformation in China is super fast.

Compares to China’s more internationalized interior design market, Taiwan’s market still remains local. While China welcomes the interior designers from around the world including Taiwan to work in China, Taiwan has shown the resistance to accept foreign educated interior designers. Most of the interior design companies in Taiwan do not value foreign educated interior designers’ creativity or artistic trainings but only care if they know how to draw AutoCAD in Mandarin version, how to use metric system, and how to calculate material costs accurately. If you don’t have those skills, you can be as creative as you can, you will never be hired. Even if you are hired, the salary offered can be extremely discouraging.

On the other hand, China embraces foreign educated interior designers with opened arms (and higher salary), the design companies there don’t care if you can speak Mandarin or use Mandarin version of drafting software, if you can estimate costs precisely, or if you are familiar with metric system or local building codes. Those are not what they want from the foreign designers, what they want is the design sense, the creativity, and the ideas because they know things like the language, estimation, local building codes, or the sources of the materials can be learned, but creativity or design ideas can’t. Many interior design companies in Taiwan mistakenly think creativity and design sense can be learned, that is because they don’t understand the difference between learning and copying, maybe that was why I saw so many copied design ideas in Taiwan.

What I have learned from this experience is that giving anyone 5 years, most of them can estimate costs precisely, supervise construction site or do computer drafting or rendering well after 5 years, but none of them can be more creative after 5, 8, or even 10 years. People can be born to be creative but can’t learn to be creative. So, if I ever hire an interior designer, I will emphasize and value more on his/her creativity level than anything else.