By: Y Studios
Category: PLACE


Design is not done in a vacuum. For us at Y Studios, we derive real satisfaction not from the end deliverable of the perfect design solution to the client. It’s what happens next – how the design is executed by engineers and eventually how a product is manufactured. The design process continues at the factories, where we have the opportunity to provide ongoing design support to ensure design integrity during tooling and production.

Working in China with Chinese people takes a lot of gumption and experience. It is also about relationship-building and trust. Our founder, Wai, is on the ground in China several times a year on behalf of our clients. He shares what he has learned there. 

Contributor | Wai-Loong Lim

I’m an ethnic Chinese born in Malaysia who now lives and works in San Francisco.

My hybrid background provides a unique perspective on life. I wouldn’t call myself a veteran of China, but I have traveled there many times in the past decade. With three to four trips per year, each trip is still a refreshing change of pace for me, with the added novelty of always discovering new things about this vast country. I never get tired of it. 

Many have already shared their tips on working with the Chinese. So, I thought it would be fun to share my views on things I have learnt from my numerous work trips in China.

1. China is very diverse

This may not be obvious to foreigners, but China is a huge country with a diverse population of 56 different ethnic groups and 8 major dialects. Almost everyone is from another province so their accents can vary a lot. Imagine someone speaking English but with a Cockney or Scottish twang. 

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2. Their English is better than your Chinese

Sure, the vast majority of Chinese people don’t speak a lick of English, but for those who do, they are much better than most foreigners. Because they really do try, and unfortunately, most foreigners do not make the effort to learn Chinese in return. 

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3. Work is life is work

WeChat, an all-in-one messaging, social media and payment app, is everywhere and everything. Roughly 900 million daily users use the app to do everything from chat with friends to hail a taxi or pay rent. There is no separation between work life and personal life as it is used for both work and personal communications. Imagine Slack, Facebook, SnapChat, Apple Pay and Safari all rolled into one app.

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4. Leave your cash at home

It’s getting harder to use cash in normal transactions in China. Thanks to the enormous number of smartphone users and the ease of mobile payments, there is a transformative change in monetary transactions across China, especially among the younger generation. Payments for everything you can think of are often made via mobile-phone apps such as WeChat Pay and Alipay, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of the country’s mobile payment segment. I read that even beggars in China accept handouts via WeChat, using QR codes linked to payment accounts! 

5. Lunch time naps

During lunchtime in China, a lot of staff take a short 15-minute lunch and then nap at their desk for the next 45 minutes. The lights in the entire office will be turned down, some would wear a sleep mask or rest their head on a pillow on their desk.  

6. Compensation holidays 

Even though China has a lot of public holidays, a lot of companies practice what I call “compensation holidays” in that staff has to work extra hours, and sometimes in the weekends, in order to compensate for upcoming the public holidays.

7. Public transportation is very good 

Their subway systems are world class, putting American public transportation to shame. Clean, fast, efficient, and on time. Also don’t forget the idea of dockless bike-sharing services like Ofo and Mobile started in China. 

8. Design DOES take time

The Chinese are beginning to understand that quality takes time. They can no longer depend on thin margins, hoping to make a profit by selling in large volumes, because everybody else is doing that. Instead, they are learning that that they have to put more effort into innovative solutions to differentiate themselves. Guess what? Innovation takes time. There is no shortcut. This is what we tell our Chinese clients like Little Fish all the time.

Little Fish Xiadu Zaijia Smart Speaker designed by Y Studios for the Chinese market.

Little Fish Xiadu Zaijia Smart Speaker designed by Y Studios for the Chinese market.

Banner Image Credit: Chuttersnap on Unsplash