This is the third post of Now in Shenzhen, where TechNode visits a handful of Shenzhen-based companies leveraging Shenzhen’s core strength: manufacturing. 

China is moving from “Made in China” towards “Designed in China”. China has made eye-catching growth in its technology and innovation, and now is the time to make the global audience fall in love with their design.

“Shenzhen need more designers and more creative education. China is a global market now, but if they don’t have a good design, they cannot seize the market. China needs help from the rest of the world,” Saravanakumar Kandasamy, co-founder of Madrasters, a designer community in Shenzhen, told TechNode.

Why Shenzhen needs more expat designers

Designer community in Shenzhen

In fact, China is now getting the global spotlight on its designs, and Shenzhen takes the lead. China won over 100 design awards, among which, more than 27% was won by Shenzhen companies, such as Huawei, Baojia Battery, and Netplan, according to German iF Award. Shenzhen won the UNESCO City of Design award in November 2008. Shenzhen is the youngest city in China in fact, with the average age of 30.8, most of whom are well educated covering one-sixth of the country’s PhDs.

Xiaomi’s laptop, Mi Notebook Air (Image Credit: Bloomberg)

“Xiaomi’s design is great. The cover of Xiaomi laptop doesn’t have a logo. I have never seen a Chinese company that doesn’t place their logo on top of their laptop. That’s a very brave move,” Saravanakumar says. “Huawei latest Honor phone, One Plus campaigns, Oppo have good designs too. Yet, Chinese design cannot compete with Scandinavian designs.”

“If you want to compete on a global scale, you need the help of designers from outside of China. In fact, now a number of big Chinese companies are hiring foreign designers,” Saravanakumar says.

There are more than 6,000 design companies and 60,000 designers, according to Bloomberg. Saravanakumar says designers in VR and AR field are needed at the moment in Shenzhen.

“Here in my WeChat group “SZ designers” full of 500 designers, about 400 designers are expats, and the rest are Chinese,” Saravanakumar says. “Many Chinese companies post on our WeChat group, ‘We need to find someone who has working experience in Unity.’ They just keep on asking.”

He goes further to say, the makers need to care about design when realizing their products.

“543,000 businesses are started every month all over the world, among which 80% of them fail. Apart from the product design or service, they need to take care of a lot of things,” Saravanakumar says.

He gives examples of successful startups, their co-founders are designers such as Stewart Butterfield from Flickr, Evan Sharp from Pinterest, and David Karp from Tumblr. The problem he sees now in Shenzhen is that makers just make stuff without thinking about users.

“They do not spend much time on market research when they come up with the idea. It’s not what people want to use. They create something new, that people don’t want,” Saravanakumar says. “They get first funding, and apparently, they cannot make it to the second deal. I met so many companies three years back, and now they are gone. The 30 to 40 percent of startups fail because there is no need for that product.”

The importance of asking “Why” on design

Saravanakumar Kandasamy, the leader of Madrasters, designer community (Image Credit: Madrasters)

Saravanakumar Kandasamy spent three years in China as a User Interface and User Experience specialist, working with three Chinese companies managing more than 100 designers.

“When I directed designers in Chinese companies, no one asked me why. I want them to ask me “ Why?”, why the icon should be placed here, why should it be this color, why should it be a round shape. With more “Why”, you get much better design,” he says.

To drum into startup’s ears on the importance of design, Sarav started Madrasters, an open platform where people can learn and chat about design trends and network. In this July, he is opening a designer school for adults who want to convert their career as designers.

“This is the only thing I want to change. I want the designers to fight me. Many universities teach design, but nobody teaches asking ‘why’,”  Saravanakumar remarks. “I want to change the thinking.”

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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