China has a dearth of high level industrial designers. Lars Blacken is one of the few.
Lars heads up onetwodesign, a small industrial design company with offices in Shanghai and in Seattle. I learned about Lars after a China consulting firm client asked us to look out for good service companies in China they might recommend to their clients. Days later, Business Week ran an article highlighting Lars as a leader in China’s nascent expat industrial design community. Additional Internet research revealed Lars is listed as one of four people “bringing innovative thinking and a fresh look to the Middle Kingdom.”
Though Lars is only 29 years old, he has been an industrial designer in Shanghai for nearly three years, the last two after founding onetwodesign. Much of Lars’ work in China has been for Samsung, but he also has worked for Huawei, China’s leading networking firm (often called “China’s Cisco“) and for a multitude of foreign firms with a China presence.
Lars told us how foreign companies in China need industrial design that fits with both what they are doing outside China and with the increasingly sophisticated demands of Chinese buyers. He also talked about how his company assists foreign companies in integrating the outside with the inside, in large part by overseeing implementation by Chinese designers and manufacturing facilities. Lars speaks enough Chinese to communicate with the Chinese on design issues and foreign companies call on onetwodesign to go to their factories in China to confirm their design intent is being upheld and to fix problems when it is not. Onetwodesign is essentially the Western (sometimes Taiwanese and Hong Kong) company’s industrial designer on the ground for companies without their own industrial designer in China.
It was interesting to listen to Lars describe the work he does in China because it is similar to what our China lawyers do there. Our job too is usually to meld the goals of a mostly Western client base into the realities of the Chinese environment. The leading foreign operated service businesses involved with China all seem to combine the ability to use their Western based knowledge and experiences to understand fully the needs and goals of their Western clients, while using their China knowledge to ensure implementation.
Because of its China base, onetwodesign’s rates and costs are far less than those of comparable firms in the West, yet its knowledge of the China market is more intimate. According to Lars, Western companies looking to China to save on their industrial design tasks often underestimate the difficulties in wringing efficiencies out of the Chinese designers and facilities and so they end up paying more in money or delays (often due to substandard quality) than had they given all or most of the job to onetwodesign at the outset.
Lars is a good guy who knows China and that is the type of person we prefer to work with and to recommend.