any ideas about c0-work with CHINESE designer/firm/manufactu

hi everyone,

I am currently working on my thesis which is about collaborative work on product design between China and America. I am trying to look for the common problems and give suggestions. If you have experience , or have heard about other people’s co-work experience with China, please let me know your opinions, i.e., the headache on communication, or the thought pattern difference, or the finishing quality problem, please let me know even if it’s a bad story. Thanks a lot ~

Are you planning to write a thesis or a multi-volume book?

You have taken on a very large task young grasshopper…

He has, let’s get the lead out guys and give him a hand.

I think a big part of it is just experience. Our Chinese counterparts who have been working with American’s for a bit start to get in the groove of how our creative process works, how we might try 5 things to get to 1 really good execution, how there are certain things that are very important and certain things that we are flexible on.

Same on the other side. It seems to take a designer 2-3 development trips to China to start to understand that a change means an new sample mold, or how to prioritize wht is important to the design and how to start collaborating with the factory to see if their solutions might inspire something you haven’t thought of.

The language issue is a small part, but I think it is more about experience, maturity, and having an open mind.

when you speak of collaborative work on product design between China and America do you mean collaboration on the design side (ie. a product going back and forth between designers here and there), or more about the development/production end of things from a design originating here (NA) and being developed to sample/production in asia?

I can certainly speak on the later (I did 100+ days/year in asia on development for the past 6 years), but perhaps not the former.

If talking about the process from design to development working in asia, I would make the following key points-

(just a quick overview, i can certainly give further examples and comments)…


  1. understanding of the culture and mindset of your counterpart in asia is key. this includes the culture of negotiation, cultural differences in admitting wrongs, and the “OK, no problem” mentality often found with chinese suppliers. this alone is a huge topic I can’t really cover it briefly… also this includes the differences in general course of business from drinking together after hours, to eating together, and such other “casual” aspects that are way more important than you would think.

  2. thinking from their perspective. this includes an understanding of the process to know what they are thinking and why, and also certainly includes the aspect of experience Yo mentioned.

  3. humility/respect. an important concept in eastern cultures (and often overlooked here in north america). almost nothing is as relevant when you have a young designer come in and try to tell a mold maker who has been in the business for 20+ years how to do their job…

  4. clarity. given the difference in language, process, experience, etc. almost nothing is as important as clarity. as a result of working directly in/with asia on a constant basis i know have developed a great appreciation for this that i also take to all projects/clients.

for example, in drafting an email with stuff to be addressed, i make sure every point is in numbered/bullet form with one specific task. each task should also have a clear expectation of result, date to be completed and request the confirmation for each issue individually. formatting it this way makes it much easier to track the flow of info, and make sure everything gets done. i’m still surprised how often i get requests (from clients/suppliers here in north america) that have just a full page of babbling things to do mixed with comments, asides, etc. and yet they are surprised if something gets overlooked. garbage in, garbage out.

to the same extent, i have also found (again with all partners, buts esp. those in asia) that sometimes a muti-step process is best. what i mean is even though you may want to end up with X (and esp. if X is particularly complicated/new/different), sometimes the best way is to spec G, (which may give you F) then comment, adjust to get to Q, then lead them to X… understanding that not everything can happen all at once and that design/development is a process and i’ve often found will get better results and less all-round frustration than trying to skip all the in-between steps thinking it would be more efficient.

I’ve got lots of stories for sure and would be happy to share specific experiences but thought at this point i’d just post the above to get the dialog started.


i lol’d at that.

what? too soon?

Great stuff R… I definitely take these approaches as well.

All of these points are good. Tactically, point 4 is very important as every ambiguity seems to result in a misunderstanding. I also re-review my emails to take out every ambiguous word I can find. I replace all pronouns with specifics and spell out what I’m talking about. No "it"s, "that"s or “the feature”. Use short specific sentences, and it may read very redundant to a native English speaker. It may seem very pedestrian, but turn it around - see how well you can explain it in Chinese!

Also, I’m not sure why, but try to keep things short. If you send a numbered list of ten things, you’ll probably get attention on the first three or four of them and the rest will be ignored. Or if you send 3 emails each with a list of 3 things, maybe the first will get some attention, the other two ignored. Perhaps this relates to the multi-step process explained already.

Take a look at my series of Business in China posts in the Design in Asia section of this forum

Yes, I am going to write a thesis on it. Currently I am just looking into different phrases of the whole collaboration thing ( the design part and manufacture part) , after dig out enough problems, I will set up a model and explain how things going along with it. Including explain different thought patterns, different experience, different approaches. etc. My goal is to make my thesis a useful handout for designers.

I think YO is pretty much on mark-- two sides, from American side and from Chinese side. It takes time to understand each other although language is no longer a problem.

rkuchinsky, I am very glad to get your response… esp you said you have spent lot of time working with Asia designers. I am wondering which country do you usually work with ? coz there might be slight difference between Asian countries.

All the points you listed is very important, I appreciate you could share this experience with me. The last point you talked about, “to the same extent, i have also found (again with all partners, buts esp. those in asia) that sometimes a muti-step process is best. what i mean is even though you may want to end up with X …” seems interesting to me. Coz I never thought of this when I was in China. could you give a example?

Thank you again for your sharing… I am looking forward to talk more with you… :slight_smile:

thefirststep2000, is this thesis/handout been published?

I’ve found that a picture tells a thousand words (cliche but true). I’ve often had more success sending over a full size printouts or PDFs as opposed to complicated detail drawings. Lately I’ve been able to send 3D files when we need plastic parts made. I use Pro/E as a design tool, so if I need something like a speaker housing made I can keep my intended form and let the plastic factory do the engineering elements like mold details, mounting posts or ribs. It may not be perfect on the first try, but usually I can get what I need after a couple prototype rounds, hopefully without changing a mold very much, as that can get expensive. It also really helps if you can send them a physical model to copy, like an SLA.

I try to explain things visually as much as possible, so I can get my point across in any language. If I do need to email comments, I try to be very clear and use the simplest English I can.