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Friday, December 07, 2018, 12:15
Monetizing creativity
By Rebecca Lo
Friday, December 07, 2018, 12:15 By Rebecca Lo

Hong Kong’s leading designers share diversification and marketing strategies with Rebecca Lo on the sidelines of this year’s Business of Design Week.

Marc & Chantal’s Marc Brulhart, Chantal Rechaussat and Marc Cansier believe design belongs in the core of a business. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In the past 18 years, Business of Design Week (BODW) has become the region’s leading conference and exhibition celebrating design excellence. Read between the lines, and the event showcases diverse ways to build successful, creative businesses. While many designers are trained in a specific discipline — interior, graphic, fashion, technology or industrial, to name a few — the best designers know that their chosen discipline has no boundaries. If they can design one thing, they can design anything.

Born in Austria, Yat Siu, founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based tech conglomerate Outblaze, originally studied cello, flute and piano at the Vienna Conservatoire at the insistence of his Chinese parents who were professional musicians. 

“I taught myself code and started writing musical software as a teen,” he says.

Siu’s work caught the attention of Atari and he began to work for the gaming giant in 1990. In 1992, he relocated to Hong Kong. “My trip to Hong Kong started as a serendipitous adventure — I was 19 and single, and realized that I didn’t need a visa to be here,” Siu notes. 

Serendipity is Siu’s mantra and the basis of Outblaze’s success. With a staff of 150 in Hong Kong and a total of 400 in Vancouver, Finland, Argentina and the Philippines, the company grew organically as an accelerator for technology-based businesses that include cloud, artificial intelligence, block chain and smart phone software. It counts video games Doraemon Gadget Rush and Garfield as its successes.

“I believe that the greatest innovations all come from serendipitous connections,” Siu states. “My philosophy is to be an early adopter. In order to have purpose and impact, we must be early. Emails and phone games — we rode these waves early many times. We are constantly diversifying. We learn through failure. We are into many things: education through Dalton Learning Lab, music and games — some work and some don’t.”

He sees lecturing at BODW as both marketing and giving back to the community. “I consider myself a designer,” Siu acknowledges. “We design businesses. Design is creation. Most people in technology are big believers in design thinking. Designing a solution is solving a problem.”

Virginia Lung and Ajax Law are expanding their design business to include fashion. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Retail projects provide creative latitude, says One Plus Partnership. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Finger on the pulse

Virginia Lung founded One Plus Partnership (OP) with husband and business partner Ajax L.K. Law in 2004. Now the company is dabbling in fashion, branching out from its base of retail and cinema projects with an online shop for its own brand, Pulse On, a collection of mix and match tops that can be zipped together. “Eventually, we hope to sell other products and maybe other designers through Pulse On,” notes Lung.

When OP started, it focused on designing residential show flats, clubhouses and sales offices across China. “Inevitably, we found commercial projects such as cinemas and retail shops including Chow Tai Fook in Festival Walk and Yoho gave us more creative latitude,” Lung recalls. “Cinemas increased throughout Chinese cities, and we were able to cater to that demand.” 

Lung cites posting on Facebook about awards competitions as a good marketing tool; in 2018 alone, the 15-strong studio has won 60 local and international awards. Other marketing strategies include design lectures at BODW and other events and acting as guest juror on competitions. Lung has also worked for the past six years as a curriculum reviewer at HKU Space’s interior architecture program.

Garfield, the video game, is among Outblaze’s milestone projects. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Outblaze founder Yat Siu is a self-taught coder. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Branding is king

Branding specialists and designers Marc Cansier and Chantal Rechaussat met while studying design in Paris. They wanted an interdisciplinary career and relocated to Hong Kong in 1993 to experiment. Swire asked them to design spaces as an extension of the developer’s graphic program. Interiors expert Marc Brulhart came on board and Marc & Chantal (M&C) was formed in 1994.

“Design in the 90s was very compartmentalized,” Cansier remembers. “European agencies did graphics, marketing and interiors separately. I wanted to be in Asia, and Hong Kong gave me the space to invent the way we want to work.”

He does not equate design with art. “Design is a way to engage with business,” he affirms. “We advocate that design is not wrapping paper: it has to lie at the core of the business. And we wanted in on the decision making process.” 

M&C most recently completed work on Tai Kwun’s brand strategy, a six-year comprehensive plan that encompasses wayfinding, interior design and visual identification. 

“We no longer take on a project unless we can get in when the company is developing strategy,” he says. “The brand is the product and the product is the brand now.” 

As a way of getting its interdisciplinary message out, M&C hosts studio talks where guests from diverse backgrounds form a panel to discuss a topical subject. “We plan to have a satellite event the week after BODW,” he notes. “We want creative content to be part of the conversation.”

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