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Students in the Industrial Design workshop at Create Change 2015.

ArtCenter in Asia: Create Change Design Forums at Beijing Design Week 

Whether it’s the impending arrival of China-made cars to the U.S. market or Film alumnus Michael Bay’s (BFA 88) Transformers: Age of Extinction breaking the $300 million barrier at the Chinese box office, these days all eyes are on the Middle Kingdom. And ArtCenter is no exception.

Just ask Mark Breitenberg, special assistant to the College’s president, who led the Create Change Design Forums, a three-day series of presentations and workshops which took place in China this September during Beijing Design Week.

At the packed forums, co-organized by Graduate Industrial Design (Grad ID) alumnus Lan Yu and sponsored by her company, ArtCenter leaders and alumni met with employees from 70 Chinese companies to introduce them to Art Center’s methodologies and creative processes.

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Product Design alumnus Martin Lotti (BS 97), Vice President and Global Creative Director for Nike Global Football leads the Industrial Design workshop at Create Change 2015.

While Breitenberg cites the beautiful venues (one forum took place in a restored Ming dynasty building) and the presenters’ excitement as contributing to the inaugural initiative’s success, he says the participants’ engagement in the workshops was what made the event such a strong first step in building ArtCenter’s relationships with China.

“The ‘students’ were shy at first but by the end they were demonstrative and active,” says Breitenberg. “It was wonderful to see them come out of their cultural reserve and for a real dialogue emerge.”

With “dialogue” being the key word there.

“We didn’t want to go to Beijing and tell the participating companies how to do things our way,” said Breitenberg. “Rather, we presented their employees the tools of ArtCenter’s methodologies and asked them how they could apply them to situations, problems and challenges they face.”

We didn’t want to go to Beijing and tell the participating companies how to do things our way.

Mark Breitenberg Special Assistant to Art Center President Lorne Buchman 
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Illustration alumnus Mark “Crash” McCreery (BFA 89), concept artist for <i>Jurassic World</i> among many other films, leads the Entertainment Design workshop at Create Change 2015.

Individuals who spoke included:

  • Environmental Design alumnus and Trustee Tim Kobe (BS 82), founder of Eight Inc., which has several offices throughout Asia, and Grad ID Chair Andy Ogden (BS 83) in the “Branding + Design Strategy” forum
  • Product Design alumnus and Hollywood concept artist and creature designer Neville Page (BS 90), who has worked on films like Avatar, Tron: Legacy and Star Trek Into Darkness, and Entertainment Design Chair Tim Flattery in the “Visual Storytelling” forum

ArtCenter’s methodology has allowed Xiaomi to “think and do without hindrance.”

Grad ID alumnus De LiuCo-Founder and Vice President of Xiaomi
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Product Design alumnus Ian Sands (BS 95), a founder and managing partner at Pilot, leads the Communication Design workshop at Create Change 2015.

As a shining example of how ArtCenter’s creative processes can work in China, Breitenberg points to Grad ID alumnus De Liu, co-founder and vice president of Xiaomi, or simply “Mi,” one of China’s leading technology firms which recently became the third largest global seller of smartphones and has also announced plans to aggressively expand into India.

One of Xiaomi’s most innovative differentiators is how it facilitates and incorporates feedback from its loyal customer base. It’s a philosophy whose DNA can be traced back directly to Liu’s Grad ID thesis project: a system in which kids draw their own toy concept and, within a week, receive a plush toy that mirrors what they imagined.

“During the last four years at Mi, we have been putting into practice what I learned from ArtCenter,” said Liu, speaking at Create Change. “The results show that ArtCenter’s curriculum is both advanced and effective.”

Liu told the audience that the College’s methodology has allowed the company to “think and do without hindrance,” and he shared a valuable lesson he learned in the Grad ID program: “With every design, Andy [Ogden] required a business plan to show how the [product’s] company would develop and grow over time. He taught us that we needed not only to be the best designers, but we also needed to be entrepreneurs and design strategists.”

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A student presents work in a Trasportation Design workshop led by Transportation Design faculty member Eric Noble and  faculty and alumnus Marek Djordjevic (BS 91) at Create Change 2015.

It’s a lesson that Mi appears to have kept in the forefront of its mind.

Earlier this week, the company announced that they have entered into a strategic partnership with China’s top Internet TV company, Youku Tudou, to produce and distribute online content to bolster its “multi-screen ecosystem” of phones, tablets, smart TVs and other Internet-connected devices.

Take Youku Tudou’s monthly active user base that exceeds 500 million (its daily video views have passed the 800 million mark) and add to that Xiaomi’s staggering 85 million active users of MIUI, its proprietary skin of Google’s Android operating system, and you can quickly see why China is simply impossible to ignore.

And why ArtCenter won’t be leaving anytime soon.

“We’re deep into planning for round two,” says Breitenberg of the already-in-motion plans for the 2015 Create Change Forums. “Next year we’re hoping to hold eight forums and possibly visit other cities in China as well.”