Archives For China

While kickstarter projects and tech-hipster “maker faires” get all the press coverage in the West, China is quietly leapfrogging the hobbyist phase and developing a maker culture that’s a natural precursor chemical to the manufacturing industries that have been the engine of its stunning economic development over the last 30 years. Welcome to the world’s newest hotspot of maker culture: Hua Qiang Bei district in Shenzhen, the sprawling manufacturing city in China’s Special Economic Zone.

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maker, shenzhen, arduino

Imagine RadioShack the size of Wallmart, times 15 city blocks.

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University of California Irvine researcher Silvia Lindtner gave the SXSW crowd an eye-opening update on the state of Chinese maker culture recently in her talk “Made with China,” and the implications are profound. While ‘maker spaces’ are mushrooming in the west, the Chinese government is planning to virtually carpet bomb their cities with xin che jian (literally translates to “new factory”). The first of these spaces to appear in China was opened by a small group of tech entrepreneurs as an annex to their existing co-working space in late 2010. There are about 18 official makerspaces in China right now, but the city of Shanghai alone expects to open 100 more by the end of this year, including a bunch aimed specifically at schoolkids. Next-level is about to go next-gen.

Location, location, location.

It is in the Southern city of Shenzhen, however, where Lindtner sees the most powerful version of these new makerspaces emerging. Imagine setting up your space in a small, abandoned factory in the midst of a 15-block suburb crammed with multi-story electronic and mechanical component department stores. The real kicker is your next-door neighbour: the most concentrated, competitive and varied manufacturing area in the world.

In this situation, the DIY ethos of ‘maker spaces’ goes from tech tinkering to something completely different: a viable platform for rapid prototyping and affordable mass production, which then becomes an on-ramp for building sustainable product-based tech businesses. It doesn’t hurt to be in a tax-exempt Special Economic Zone and have one of the world’s busiest commercial ports just down the road, either.

Culture, culture, culture.

Maker culture is certainly starting to emerge in China, with the establishment of several incubator-style programs and spaces, boosted by the close involvement of MakerBot co-founder Zach Hoeken, who reportedly now spends half his time in Shenzhen. Former Foxxcon CEO Terry Cheng is also involved in the scene, and the government is funding a string of makerspace education facilities aimed specifically at kids.

China, innovation, maker, hacker

China + makerspaces + popup = boom

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Lindtner sees some interesting parallels to Chinese culture in this budding movement, including innovation born of necessity (almost every corner in every city sports an electronics repair shop) and also the often-maligned culture of Shanzhai, which has been described as either  “Robin Hood’s center for design” or a pit of shameless IP theft, depending on your point of view. More recently, the shanzhai manufacturers have started ‘open sourcing’ their own production methods, by readily sharing their ‘bill of materials'(the ingredients list of components and specifications for manufacturing hardware) and this approach has led to genuine innovation, such as Seed Studio’s reworking of the popular Arduino microcontroller board, now dubbed the “Seeduino‘.

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arduino, seed studios, shaizen, innovation

Better, faster, cheaper. What’s not to like about innovation?

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The real hurdle to developing a widespread maker culture of innovation and production, however, may be the Chinese attitude to manual labour. In an era when parents are eager to see their children in office jobs and white-collar professions, a return to the transistor radio repairman may be a tough sell.

Still, there’s a real velocity to what Lindtner is seeing on the ground. Shenzen hosts a recurring maker carnival, organized by China’s Communist Youth League, and 3 local kickstarter-style funding platforms have emerged in just the last year.

It seems the maker revolution is about to go into production.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Even then, they are still kind of dopey. Ok, dopey is a bit harsh. At best, they are an imprecise measure of a spectacularly subjective quality, which is, ironically, ‘quality’. At worst, they can totally warp an agency’s culture and turn relatively normal people into career dickheads. Irregardless, it was welcome news to learn that both our China team and our Sydney team were handed silver trophies from the DMA Echo Awards last week.

When we’re talking about demand generation in particular, the Echos are the creative awards you want to win, because of the fairly significant and reasonably rigorous effectiveness component of the judging criteria. The work has to be good, it has to be real and it has to have worked.

What was really interesting was that the two pieces of work were for the same client, reaching the same (basic) audience, entered in the same awards category to produce the same awards result: silver. But the 2 pieces are radically different from each other – in form, strategy and tone.

The Ogilvy China team produced a branded content film called Parallel Paths for the Notes productivity suite, which told the story of two young and hungry salesmen climbing the corporate ladder, and let the Lotus information flow naturally throughout the story. This piece picked up a similar coloured trophy from Spikes just a few weeks earlier.

The Sydney team were tasked with convincing CIOs to outsource parts of the workload and resources they would normally consider to be the domain of ‘their department’. The approach here was to appeal to the audience as people, not roles, and draw a parallel (see what I did there?) with their own workloads – in this case, mowing the lawn.

DMA echo, award, Ogilvy Sydney

It’s hard to ignore the fact that someone just sent you a load of grass.

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The “Grass Pack’ as it became known is particularly interesting, as it’s almost retro in execution: a completely analogue, dimensional mailer. It was particularly effective, I believe, because of the contrarian approach the team took to delivery. The average IT manager’s inbox is overflowing with messages, while their in-office pigeon holes would be lucky to see more than the occasional leaflet. If you want to stand out, move away from the crowd, which is part of the reason why a piece of artificial turf outperformed a dozen email campaigns, combined.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”.

I love to say it. Which is why I’m going to point out that I called Direct Mail “The comeback kid” a couple of years ago, and I think the assertion is still valid. There are a lot of fundamental disciplines that classic DM can offer to digital campaign planning (the importance of the list, the creative opportunities of segmentation and personalisation, the advantage of perceived value versus actual cost and so on).

But if you treat the desk space (rather than the desktop) as media space, the reach and frequency of creative mail can be spectacular, especially if you are selling into a ‘buying cell’ of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.

I don’t think these pieces are good because they won (I think they are good and they won). We’ve had other great pieces struggle in award shows this year, I believe, partly because the complexity of the solution slowed them down. We’ve even had pieces rejected by awards show entry co-ordinators for being in the wrong category, only to be rejected again in the categories suggested to us by those same co-ordinators, again for being in the wrong category. At that point, you know it’s time to walk away from that particular casino.

Again, congrats to our China team for creating entertainment from email software and to our Sydney team for cleverly moving against the herd.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

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scheduling

July 26, 2010 — Leave a comment

Looks like w2fm will be landing @ Ogilvy Beijing and Hong Kong in September – can’t wait.