Shanghai calling - Interview with Yifan Zhang

Phoenix Design has opened its third studio in Shanghai in September. In the interview, Yifan Zhang, General Manager China, talks about the beginning, the different culture and the potential of the Chinese design metropolis.

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  • 1 - Yifan Zhang, General Manager China at Phoenix Design

    1 - Yifan Zhang, General Manager China at Phoenix Design

    Yifan Zhang (*1987) is General Manager China and leads the Phoenix Design studio in Shanghai. As an international background designer who has studied and worked both in China and Germany, Yifan Zhang is committed to combining German design quality and design philosophy with the evolving Chinese design. He applies the successful experience of German Design by brand building, strategy thinking and design quality to Chinese enterprises. And at the same time to help the successful German brands, through a better culture and market understanding, to get a better business development in China.

  • 2 - Phoenix Design, Studio Shanghai im Designkreis

    2 - Phoenix Design, Studio Shanghai im Designkreis

    Since September, a team – still small – of experienced designers has been working on projects for mainly Asian clients. After six years of running a representative office, we further enlarge our design presence in the Chinese design capital in this our anniversary year 2017.

The decision on the third Phoenix Design studio was made for Shanghai. Why?

Yifan Zhang: After 30 years of development, in depth, Phoenix Design has accumulated deep expertise and talent, and as an external design company, we are the number one in the IF ranking. In size, we have over 70 employees in different fields Designers and experts. But in the international dimension we need to continue developing in the next 30 years. At present, in the field of innovation, China is a market that cannot be ignored and is rapidly developing. To enter China is not only necessary to bring Germany's advantages to China, but also to learn new experiences in China. Focusing on China, the most cosmopolitan city in China is Shanghai. Here it is rich in resources in terms of art and design and culture, and also has excellent international talents. We hope that through the Shanghai office, we can further open up the international market and have a more macro perspective.

With an office Phoenix Design has been present in Shanghai since 2010. What will change now by the new studio?

Yifan Zhang: Offices and Studio are completely different concepts. The existence of offices is more administrative and communication realistically. However, content, that is, the understanding of the market, users, new technologies and new business models, requires the participation of the design team, only the design team to live in this atmosphere in order to experience. These fresh experiences and experiences will also be transmitted back to Germany for a more macro perspective.

How did Phoenix Design cater for its Chinese clients in the past?

Yifan Zhang: Before we have studio in Shanghai, we mainly have a remote communication, such as video conferencing, of course, we will also fly to China and get a close communication with customers. But as the complexity of the design project gets higher and higher, the pace of the project gets faster and faster, and the connection between design and technology and production becomes more and more tight, we need a close collaboration with our clients. This close cooperation model is also the key to our success in Germany. Our goal is to form a close strategic partnership with our clients, and we also hope to continue the model in Shanghai. Through the design team in Shanghai, we can understand client needs and corporate culture through close and in-depth understanding, and not only in the design side, in the strategic research, product positioning, design and development, to production quality and marketing, and so fully coordinated.

How would you describe the new Phoenix Design studio in Shanghai?

Yifan Zhang: In the selection of sites, we chose downtown Jing'an District, on the one hand no matter where you are in the city, to the company are more convenient, I understand that many Shanghai workers, every day will spend a lot of time on the road, so the quality of life is very affected. On the other hand, since we come to Shanghai, we want to work in the places where we can feel the most changes and cultures. Jing'an District is a very international atmosphere of the area, where coffee shops, restaurants, design shops, are subtle in the transmission of the latest trends and information.

In the office, we have a very open working space for communication within the team. Through the open working space, different departments, different cultural backgrounds designers can interact better.

In the team building, we want to build up an international design team, the team has a team of designers from Germany headquarters, there are foreign designers living in China, but also chinese designers who had working experience in Europe. Our office language is very rich, German, English, Chinese have. In an international atmosphere, thinking becomes more open and diverse, and often can hit unexpected ideas.

How does the collaboration with Stuttgart and Munich work?

Yifan Zhang: Unlike some re-establishing teams in new countries and regions, most of our team is from German headquarters, so our understanding with Stuttgart-Munich teams is very high. Our goal is to combine the features and strengths of the whole Phoenix Design to create innovative solutions and design quality. Therefore, we implement the project in a holistic and collaborative manner rather than in a completely separate way. We have regular meetings every week to talk to each other. Designers from Germany will come to Shanghai to participate in the project, Shanghai's new designers will also have on boarding program in Germany.

For many Europeans Asia is a whole nother world. How would you describe the culture in Shanghai?

Yifan Zhang: Shanghai is historically a place deeply influenced by Western culture. There are many places where Chinese amixed with Western culture can be found in culture. So one of the first words I wanted to describe Shanghai's culture was "diversity." On the same street, you can see restaurants from around the world such as Japanese, Italian, vegetarian, Organic food. In the architectural style, you can see the traditional Chinese architecture, Art Deco style and very futuristic architectural style, in the arts, there are local music and drama, but also the Western symphony, music festivals, and avant-garde art. It is also because of its diversified style that Shanghai has a very open mindset and acceptance level, so it attracts talent from different fields around the world.

Daily life compared to Germany – what’s the most obvious?

Yifan Zhang: The new e-commerce model and logistics system have given Shanghai a new life style and pace of life. Although e-commerce and logistics are no longer fresh words, their infiltration and universality in China are developing rapidly. E-payment has been widely popularized in Shanghai and even in China as a whole. There are very few people in Shanghai who travel with cash, electronic payment is anywhere. Sharing systems have also been generally developed, such as the sharing bicycles making traffic trips more flexible and swift between rail transit and cycling. Express logistics is also a feature of modern Shanghai life, do not need to go out, food, shopping, etc. can be served almost in hour or just the same day. It can be said that life in Shanghai has been inseparable from all kinds of life app.

How do you see the development of the Shanghai studio and the Asian market as a whole?

Yifan Zhang: On the team side, we need to build a complete team that integrates product design with interaction design. The future belongs to the new user experience model of hardware and software, online and offline integration, so we need to walk on two legs. In addition, we also want to train more specialists in all aspects, whether it be user research, trend research, software development and so on. New young designers will also bring new atmosphere to the team.

China's current market is in the state of overall development, that is, not only in terms of growth in quantity but also in quality. More and more consumers and brands will pay attention to quality improvement. Our Phoenix Design team can take advantage of many of the quality improvement experience to help Chinese consumers and brands more smoothly to achieve their goals. In addition, China is experiencing the stage of mass innovation. It is not only big brands that need innovative solutions. Many young, targeted start-ups are also strong competitors in the future. We are also very happy to work with young Enterprises in-depth cooperation.


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