Kumo Chiu, former Asia Design Director at Motorola, is a renowned industrial designer who has been on the frontier of his field for numerous years. As an industrial designer, how to design for the huaren community and huaren market has always been a task Chiu wishes to tackle.
Having designed for the huaren market for many years, Chiu is well aware that a designer must, first and foremost, understand huaren culture. Yet, the inescapable question and fundamental cause of consternation for huaren society, both past and present, is and has always been “what is huaren culture?” As Chiu sees it, this question is the most crucial and must be answered by contemporary huaren designers. In order to understand huaren culture and the essence of the huaren spirit, one must first experience authentic huaren lifestyles from various regions.
After understanding the customs and sentiments of different areas, one must process these understandings through mature thoughts and gain comprehension from them. One must then transform such comprehension into an abstract design language and merge this language into his or her design. Only in so doing will the design reverberate with the people and the resulting product be recognized by huaren society and the huaren community.
According to Chiu’s observations, as society develops, our designing for the huaren community will no longer be merely meeting commercial demands. There is no denying that we may very well be driving cars that were not designed to suit our body types or using home appliances that are far too large and impractical for us. We do not have ample confidence to own that life that is custom-designed for us. However, Chiu believes that in time, albeit not in the immediate future, some collective awareness will form amongst the huaren community. Once we have awakened, there is no doubt that more people will begin to take the initiative of thinking about the question: “how does one design products that are truly needed by the huaren community?”
Speaking of designing for the huaren community, Chiu says, with confidence and composure, “take for example our experience of designing for the people of Tibet. Tibet is an area of unique customs and sentiments. We had to actually go there and experience their social habits, their traditions and customs to truly understand who we were designing for.” Chiu is of the opinion that “in order to do product design, one must first thoroughly understand life and analyze it. The conclusion one takes from such analysis will serve as guidance as well as a limitation. This limitation will help a designer consider the needs and demands of those for whom he or she designs.”
He also believes that “huaren of different regions will have different preferences in color and material. Modern people tend to be attracted to novel Western trends. Still, people are often guided by the traditional culture that is deeply rooted in their hearts and make unconscious decisions that conform to the huaren spirit.” For example, Chinese red, which represents happiness, is often applied to designs that wish to express prosperity; black, on the other hand, is used with more caution. Another example is that huaren prefer substantial metals and scoff at flimsy plastic materials. Chiu states that “these habits and prejudices all originate from a collective embodiment of the huaren culture.”
On Chiu’s resume, his position as the Asia Design Director at Motorola is most outstanding. “When I worked for Motorola, we conducted many surveys that aimed at understanding the huaren market. We attentively researched the huaren community in order to design cell-phones that would meet the demands of the huaren market.” And, precisely, what sort of community is the huaren community? Chiu explains, “Huaren are very different from Westerners; such differences start from values. We discovered that the huaren community maintains a peculiar relationship with digital products such as cell-phones. Many huaren judge a person’s social status by what phone they use.”
Chiu took the example of designing affordable cell-phones, saying that “we tried to design an affordable model specifically for farmers and workers before we understood the characteristic of the group we were designing for.” Interestingly enough, “this market separation that was meant to be highly specific turned out to be an utter failure. The reason is plain and simple: no one wants to admit that they are of the so-called lower class.”
By researching every product’s target market and through designing and producing the product itself, Chiu continues to build on his understanding of huaren. Chiu is also an experienced educator, having taught at various prestigious institutes such as the Central Academy of Fine Arts, the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, and the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University. He plans to transform his many years of teaching into an actual practice–to use his influences to propagate the idea of ‘designing specifically for the huaren community.’ “I often feel like it’s my purpose to reach out to and motivate more aspiring designers through lectures and speeches at educational institutes. I want to appeal to all huaren designers to pay attention to the huaren community and be concerned with our own thoughts and needs,” Chiu states.
About Kumo Chiu
Chiu founded Idea Dao Design in Beijing in 2007. In 2010 and 2012, his company was awarded the Best of the Best Award in the Red Dot Design Award (Germany). He is also the Design Director at LKK Design. In the past, Chiu has consulted for ZTE Corporations on market strategy, was the special assistant to the CEO and Director of the Design Center at Skyworth Digital Holdings, and the Asia Design Director at Motorola. Chiu has lectured at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts as a guest professor, and he was also on the Industrial Design Consultation Committee of Tsinghua University.
Chiu has been a member of numerous committees, sometimes as chairman, including the 2015 iF Student Design Award (2015), the KIA Awards (2013),the Lenovo ThinkPad Laptop Competition (2009), the China Red Star Design Awards (2007-2013), and the China Laptop Design Award (2007-2012).