Collaboration is key to survival

After a stint working in Hong Kong, Laura Williams reflects on the UK’s future role in the global creative industry

Marilyn Monroe was placed next to Chairman Mau, Che Guevara next to Oasis, Barack Obama next to Nirvana. I stood, rooted to the spot, looking at the T-shirts on the market stall, where people were unaware of the ironies. Suddenly, everything became clear: Hong Kong is a place where Eastern and Western ideas, beliefs and cultures fuse and directly influence the creative process, sparking the development of explosive new products and services.

I had arrived in Hong Kong a few weeks earlier to undertake an international leadership placement for creative entrepreneurs, a scheme administered by the British Council. My mission was to gain a greater understanding of how the creative industries in Hong Kong and China operate differently to the UK and experience leadership in a new time zone and out of my own comfort zone.

I was working at Goods of Desire – a funky lifestyle and furniture company where I spent 12 weeks. My role there was varied: undertaking mystery shopping, co-writing editorial for a book and developing customer service strategy.

Although I had worked in Asia before, what surprised me most was the sheer speed at which products were designed in Hong Kong, produced in China and sold around the world. This is product development and retailing at 0-100km/h in a Lamborghini.

It seemed to me that though Goods of Desire is positioned geographically to make the most of its manufacturing suppliers in China, it is a real-world example of how different cultures can work together to produce great results.

The global creative economy is undergoing huge changes. China and India – which have spent years accelerating their economies through the manufacturing of products and the delivery of services respectively – are changing their strategies. They don’t just want to service the world, they want to inspire it by becoming creative economies themselves.

The ability of India and China to offer creative services en masse was demonstrated to me recently by a business contact. The recession has prompted some of his consultancy’s key clients to outsource product design to Indian consultancies, using his group for front-end innovation and strategic branding activities. His consultancy is commissioned to develop creative briefs which are passed over to the Indian consultancy, which then sends the finished designs to China for production.

If this is the beginning of a truly international creative product development process, then designers will need to develop a suite of softer skills, including communication, intercultural dialogue and an understanding of different business etiquettes from around the world.

If the UK’s creative industries are to grow and survive among more intense global competition, the people who lead, and work in, UK consultancies need to evolve, adapting their business models and up-skilling their workforce with internationally relevant and useful attributes.

I believe that over the next ten to 20 years we cannot compete globally with these emerging countries, so the UK needs to find ways to work in partnership, bringing the talent and skills inherent in every good UK designer to the world stage. The UK needs to be positioned to make best use of the resources at our disposal: our creative talent.

We have the ability to understand current trends and imagine the future, and with some careful consideration and intelligent leadership we can step out of our comfort zones and design the future through collaboration with the world.

Competing In The Global Creative Industry:

  • You don’t have to go abroad to gain a greater cultural awareness or develop ‘softer skills’ – start by getting involved or volunteering with different cultural groups at home
  • Take yourself out of your comfort zone – employers are increasingly looking for people who can empathise and communicate with customers (service users), clients and suppliers from different cultural backgrounds
  • Consider undertaking a work placement abroad
  • Read the papers and find different ways to keep informed of global developments – understanding changes in the world will help you to identify future trends and stay ahead of the game
  • Find out more about other design and related disciplines, join different networks (nationally and internationally) and discuss the differences and challenges in each of them
  • Don’t be a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ – consider what your core specialism is and use it as your unique selling point, but actively pursue other ways to broaden your skill base, such as gaining skills in complementary disciplines
  • Keen an open mind and absorb, develop and communicate new ideas

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  • Michael Hartland November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Is there any issue of national boundaries and ethongraphic insight in the choice of designer and architect, or do we currently consider any firm purely on its creative merits?

  • Fran O'Hara November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I worked in Hong Kong for Disney Consumer Products for 4 years, and continue to use the experiences gained running my business in Cardiff today. You have to have an entrepreneurial attitude and be prepared to work long hours, but the insight into different work cultures and ethics is invaluable – nothing beats being on the spot rather than reading about it second-hand. The internet (and trusty DHL) enables me to work with my contacts across Asia Pacific to develop products and getting samples produced cheaply, quickly and to a high standard – something which is impossible in the UK.

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