Why you should set up your studio in China

With the BRICS nations going up in the design world, there are a whole lot of opportunities for agencies willing to step out of their Western comfort zones. Studio Output recently branched out into China and set up a Beijing studio, specialising in video and motion, digital and experiential work. We spoke to group managing director Ian Hambleton about the challenges of expanding overseas.

What are the biggest challenges that you face as a startup in China?

Over there we're a challenger agency that represents a new way of working, and getting people to think outside the big agency landscape can be a challenge. Equally, it can be an opportunity as clients begin to realise that they can get better quality work, from a far more devoted team, for less money. Various pressures can drag down the quality of work in China - tricky clients, cultural and language issues - so it can be a constant battle to deliver high-quality work.

What has surprised you the most about the approach to design there?

We're creating a lot more motion and digital work over there, as the market for design and branding is much less developed. Up to now its requirements have been more simplistic - nuts-and-bolts design work that's not particularly well crafted, as often a brand proposition and accompanying marketing is centred around the cost or perceived quality alone. Mobile devices are the primary mode of interaction for Chinese youth when it comes to internet and social media, so any competent advertising and marketing strategy needs to be aware of this shift and create content that can be consumed on the go.

What do you see as the future of the Chinese design scene?

There have been numerous stories recently about brands in China realising they need to build loyalty and create stories. I can see branding projects becoming increasingly important - there is an overriding desire by companies both foreign and domestic to support their brands with content that's 'authentic' and 'real'.

What's been the best thing about setting up in China?

Some of the projects we are asked to pitch for are unlike anything we'd ever get to work on over here, in terms of scale or creative freedom. Budget is much less a concern in China, and they have a wonderful respect for the UK creative industries. You feel much more valued.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of following in your footsteps?

Cultural understanding is crucial. We're fortunate to have a management team in place who've been over there for some time and speak fluent Mandarin. We don't want to be perceived as an arrogant international agency, and the way we conduct ourselves and our brand values (amazing work, anti-ego, openness and fulfilment) have been really well received.

Words: Laura Jordan-Bambach

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 226.

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