The Hong Kong Dillema!!!

ok, so Ive got an interview real soon … for a product designer job in Hong Kong… so any clue how much a fresh undergrad should get/quote ? Anyone working in central Hong Kong??? :laughing: Also if I dont know Cantonese ( chinese) is it difficult to sruvive there? URRGH!!! Ok… basically wanna know what to figure out before I land up for the interview… no wisecracks please… my nerves are fretting at their ends right now…
thanks a ton

Firstly I’m an IDer and I’m fluent in Cantonese. I thought about going to HK myself, but after talking to some people and doing a lot of research, I decided its not a good idea at this time. I have my reasons and since this is a public forum I can’t really say. Best to do your own research and ask why the majority Chinese Americans/Canadians choose to stay in NorthAmerican rather than to go to HongKong/China. You talk to enough people you’ll know what I know.

Basically if you don’t speak Cantonese you’ll still survive as HongKong is an international city, with many foreigners. Shouldn’t be a problem. But, whether or not you’ll be at a disadvantage, that’s just common sense. And IDer who has fluent Cantonese/Mandarin, and, who is ‘raised’ in the West will have an obvious advantage over you. Don’t expect to get any deals when your shopping, eating, negotiating because foreigners are easy targets. There’s a Chinese saying when a foreigner goes to HongKong ‘you’ll get your neck all cut up its full blood’ when making a purchase. So if you’re Caucasian (or Asian who can’t speak Chinese) you’ll be at a disadvantage. When you go to noodle houses they give you ‘Western’ menus that don’t have the full comprehensive menu that regular Chinese people have. But don’t worry. Its its a disadvantage. Don’t let that be in the way of you going there.

Some people would say to learn Cantonese. Its not that easy.

Salary wise, you need to have about $2200HK/month to do well.

1.00 HKD = 0.13 USD
Rate current as of 14:15 (2.15 p.m.) on Thursday the 24th of March, 2005 Central European Time.

Do not be discouraged by others who don’t even live there, or worse yet “visit”.

I have been living here for over 2 years and find it a very refreshing change from the complacency in the US. Things move very fast here and are open nearly 24 hours. HK has become the finance center into the Guandong Region (South Eastern Region of China).

As far as design is concerned. HK, not compared to China, still struggles with cost more than anything. Cost certainty of a project will always win out over a brilliant design here. However, what this does is teach you to maximize the resources you have available, and above all, NEGOTIATE with vendors, bosses, and clients. If you can survive in HK and china, your negotiating skills will be superior to any, if you decide to move on.

Cost… well, I do believe Jumbo is wrong on that one. $2200 HK won’t get you a hotel room at a 3 star place more than 3 nights. At a minimum you should be recieving around $15,000 HK to start with. HK can be both very expensive and cheap. Just depends on if you. (ex. a 12 oz. steak $120 HK (min), pork chow mein $15 HK, health care is very cheap, income tax (the only tax asides from property tax) is 15%, etc.).

A lot of companies hire only foreigners. If you look around, they actually pays foreigner more money than locals.
I am a local hongkongese who study design in the states.
I will not go back just yet, but I do recommand you to do some job search in HK. you probably find job pays $15000 or more.
Best thing is that you don’t pay as much tax in HK.
(sorry about my bad english, still learning!)

I’ve been in HK for two and a half years now. I am white and didn’t speak a word of Cantonese when I came here (you don’t need to). I came out here two weeks after I graduated with two internships as experience under my belt. I am glad I had some experience as HK is a very fast paced city and so is the design I was doing. I started as an intern for a western owned locally based consultancy. The place demanded that I hit the ground running and there wasn’t much room for mistakes. In 6 months I worked on a ton of projects and managed to build up a decent portfolio. I was getting about HK$16,000 per month which is barely enough to survive on. I have seen salaries offered to local guys between $6,000-15,000 for being fresh out of school. Keep in mind here that most people live at home with their family.

In any event I paid my dues and moved on to another job, working for a local manufacturer which owns quite a few american brands. That was an amazing experience complete with all the factory visits across the border into Guangdong. The design director was a westerner but the company was locally owned and run. As such a lot of things were assbackwards. Local owners can be very narrow minded and are usually concerned with making tons of money but do not put great value on design and do not have a natural appreciation for it. Very often the only reason why there is a demand for innovation is because western buyers are sick of getting the same old shite and demand something different and new.

Here are some things to consider:

First and foremost, you need to come here with an open mind. Chinese culture is very different from what we are used to. On an average, I would say, it takes about half a year to get used to the madness that is Hong Kong. My girlfriend is an ABC who grew up the US. She speaks Cantonese, yet she is constantly frustrated with the way she is treated by the locals.

Hong Kong is a very international city with English and Chinese signs everywhere. Whether you use the metro or taxis, getting around is not a problem. Most taxi drivers on Hong Kong island speak enough English to get you to where you want to go. In general, speaking Cantonese is not a requirement but making an effort to speak some can go a long way and can keep you from starving. McDonald’s is on every corner and you can always fall back on that if you are too scared to dive into the tasty local cuisine.

Things to consider when getting hired and negotiating:

You can’t work here without a work permit. A big company should get this for you without asking you to pay for it.

Some companies provide good packages and will pay for your housing and roundtrip ticket out here. Getting a housing allowance is a must as renting a place is quite expensive. A 500-600 square foot apartment goes for about HK$10,000 and this was during SARS when the economy was in the gutter.
A housing allowance is tax deductable as long as the housing contract is under your name. As an expat, you can negotiate a higher salary. If this makes for a very high discrepancy between what your local co-workers are getting the housing allowance can be used to tactfully mask and justify why you are getting higher pay.

I would say don’t settle for anything below HK$20,000/per month (U$1=HK$7.78 pegged to that thank god). If you can get HK$25,000-32,000 per month fresh out of school then more power to you. If you are good, you can justify good pay. There is a lack of good designers in Hong Kong (this is a common complaint from various principals I have talked to). Most companies offer a 13th month bonus equal to your monthly salary paid at the beginning of the Chinese New Year. This is prorated if you start in the middle of the year but it is useful for paying your taxes which usually amounts to slightly more than a month’s pay due to the government on a yearly basis.

I would not recommend working for a totally local outfit. The designer sitting across from me worked for a company which did not allow him any interaction with their clients. Any emails he wrote went directly to his boss and all feedback came from him. This can be a very frustrating way to work and personally I would not even consider a place like this.

If it is at all possible come visit Hong Kong and see for yourself. If you do pm me and we’ll get a drink.

Do not miss an opportunity to come out here and work for a bit. It is a great eye opening experience as long as you keep an open mind.

That’s my rant for now. Good Luck!


I have one question for you. As a Design Manager with 16 years experience, I am looking to move to Hong Kong. I am using a lot of my contacts to search out available positions. All I can find on the web are positions for 1-5 years experience. Because you are there, do you know of any web sites that would have positions for more experienced deigners?

Sorry Timf,

I am not sure where people would advertise for a design manager out here. I know of a chinese website: Search Jobs, Careers & Employment in Hong Kong | cpjobs
This site is in chinese but if you do a job search with keyword “design” it will return the ads in english. It’s geared for locals, so I am not sure if you might find what you are looking for there. At the least, it would give you a sense of what jobs are being offered to local designers.

Alternatively, I can suggest a couple of different places to contact that are or were looking for designers and or design managers as of recent.

Product Solutions - - just moved into a new office and are expanding.
Philips(Asiapacific regional headquarters based in Hong Kong) - Philips - 香港 The head of the Hong Kong office is Murray Camens. I would suggest looking through their careers link.
Techtronic Industries - - Owner of Ryobi and Milwaukee power tool brands. Responsible for the design of Ridgid, Craftsman and a slew of other power tool names. Were looking for an experienced design manager at one point.

Finding a good place to work for out here is tough as there aren’t that many consultancies. I would recommend looking for a job with a Western firm that would be sending you out here on business trips 4-5 times per year.