#BeyondCOVID is the new mindset we have all had to adopt… how do we operate in this new changed state? I've gathered together some amazing Design Executives to share what they are doing now and in the coming months to survive and thrive in these difficult times.
Adrian Battisby Senior Director of Interior Design at LW
Dylan Brady Conductor (Owner) at Decibel Architecture
Doris Fong Head of Creative Industries at Invest Hong Kong
Bob Neville Global Creative Director and Head of Retail at New Balance
Michael Tam Global Associate Design Director at IBM iX
Ping Xu Founder and Design Director at PH Alpha Design
Quotes and Resources:
"Let the design work talk for itself" - Adrian Battisby
@hongkongbob living it up in NZ
Mark Bergin 00:00
Hello and welcome to another Design Exec Club Town Hall. I'm Mark Bergin, the Founder of DRIVENxDESIGN and joining me here is a panel of awesomeness. Hello everybody! Alright, so the theme behind the- Hi Ping, you just came in a little bit late, now you're in Shanghai at the moment aren't you?
Ping Xu 00:19
Yes. I'm actually in a hotel room.
Mark Bergin 00:23
Well I'm glad you're with us. So, viewers, we have people from Hong Kong, we have people in New Zealand who are based in in Asia, but actually because of quarantine, aren't able to get into the country. I'm coming to you from Australia where we're in stage four lockdown. I think I've got two and a half weeks to go before I can actually see another human being in real life and we'll get that energy exchange. Dylan's coming in from Melbourne and he's in the same circumstance that I am. But what I want to focus on is not so much what 'isn't', I want to talk about the New Possible and what 'is', and I think Michael in the pre conversation we were having a chat about what you're seeing in other markets in the UK and Europe, the GDP is down 20%, the US we know they're having lots of troubles, but you're finding your clients in Asia are actually, if anything, hitting the accelerator and their digital transformation is just forging forward. Is that right? Yeah, I actually wouldn't just limit it to to Asia, I'd say pretty much global, all around the world. I totally agree with you, GDP is down, economy is difficult, but I think it just makes a lot of these enterprises a little bit more cautious in terms of how they spend the money but I don't think they are putting a pause on anything they were already been planning to do in terms of transformation, digital transformation, because, you know, life's gonna go on right? They have to the plan for whatever happens after the New Normal. Now is pretty much normal for everyone. So I can see a lot of these enterprises definitely leveraging on global resources, tapping to talent all around different regions. So I think not just people, but enterprises are used to this kind of looking model now. And the fact that we can all connect with each other from different markets, different countries, is a good example of that. So I think this is actually quite exciting. Yes. And, Doris, I want to bring you in to the call because you were telling me in the pre-conversation about this startup festival that Hong Kong normally has and your role with Invest Hong Kong. I think it's about 10 years you've been in this role here, so congratulations on getting your first decade up and for bringing people up in Hong Kong with their posibilties. But we were talking about the startup festival and you were saying that the audience, it was much broader and much larger than it normally was. Help us out there.
Doris Fong 03:12
Sorry about the fire alarm testing! I hope you'll bear with me and if it gets too loud, then I'll just mute myself and wait for another round.
Mark Bergin 03:29
We can always ask people, what was the unusual thing that happened when Dorris was speaking and we'll know whether they sing episode or if they're just pretending? The fire alarm. Okay, so let's have another try anyway.
Doris Fong 03:42
Okay, well, we're just talking about possibilities because I was quite excited when we have our new Samia festival in July in a new format, because usually we have our Start Me Up Festival, which is a week long festival for startups. Usually we have it in January, it's a physical event in a big venue, a lot of speakers coming from overseas and Hong Kong and attendees as well, with the traditional booze everywhere and people can interact, it is our old normal, right? And the one that we had just now in July, we have huge interest, we attract 180,000 attendees. We weren't able to attract so many attendees in the past in our traditional physical events. And we also have 470 speakers, I think because they are all over the world and they can do it via Zoom, and therefore more people are interested in speaking at the event and more interaction digitally, of course and virtually, but we have 200 exhibitors, which we didn't have in the past, and these exhibitions are all coming from different parts of the world, startups of course, entrepreneurs and angel investors from 97 countries. So I see this as an opportunity that the digital tools enable us to connect to the rest of the world in a very different way than before. And all these digital interactions, even though we missed the human touch, I think it has also opened up possibilities that we never had before. People nowadays are so, so used to these kind of interactions but in the past if we tried to do it that way I don't think we could have attracted so much interest. And not to mention we have the digital assets, just like what you're now doing Mark. You're creating content, right? When we talk about creative industries, we are all content creators. And we are now creating for the Start Me Up festival I think nearly 160 hours of content. So like we are now our own content creator will have to create something interesting for our clients and find new ways of interaction which I think is all about reinventing ourselves?
Mark Bergin 06:03
Well, we're definitely going to put a link through to the library of that material. Now, Adrian, I want to go across to you because if I'm right, you've found that there's been new possibilities that you found, particularly with operators in hotels and venues in Macau, and this is work that you may not have normally bumped into.
Adrian Battisby 06:27
Correct. I think the timelines have been either accelerated, I know in any large development, there will be a constant cycle of upgrading etc. but we've had some very accelerated activity and fee proposals and are starting to commence work. We have been working with one of the with one of the leading casino operators there and they mentioned to us that they normally run at 89% occupancy all year round and of course that has changed, so they're taken the opportunity to renovate. So we're working on other projects, where we're taking the key count down from a 300 key hotel, to a 160 key hotel to create a more luxurious experience, two hotel rooms come into one, and three hotel rooms go into a suite. So it's fantastic to have all that space and it's an it's a very, very fast track project. We have to complete all of the documentation by September next year, so it's a lot to get done. And that's happening really fast because they want to take advantage of the travel restrictions, otherwise, they wouldn't want to press the button on the project.
Mark Bergin 07:36
And it's interesting that you mentioned that, you know, so the play they're going for is actually people buying space. That's a very interesting play. I've seen also in the food services space, that people are starting to talk about how fast they've sanitized the air with UVC and other strategies like that, that, you know, we now have new communications which is 'come to my hotel', 'come to my cafe', because it sanitized, there is space, there's air around, and I find that really interesting. You've also come across some bars where they've turned around and they've worked out how to go and actually deal with the space dilemma as well.
Adrian Battisby 08:21
For those of you that know Hong Kong, it's quite an intense and densely packed city and a lot of the F&B venues are a little bit on the cozy side, the small side, you know, and to keep operating during the COVID pandemic. A lot of the bars have introduced clear plastic screens that can segment either the bar counter or can give you a physical barrier to your neighbour so you're you're still kind of cozy together in a cocktail bar, but you have this perspex screen here that almost creates a little private nook and one thing I did really appreciate was normally in this particular bar it's very noisy, and you can't hear your your partner speak and now with these plastic screens that they have on either side of you have created an acoustic bubble. So you can actually continue a conversation without having to shout. So in a way, I kind of liked it because you had your almost semi private space in the in the public space of the bar and because they were clear, you didn't have any visual obstruction, you know, you could still see what was going on. So it's quite a cool idea.
Mark Bergin 09:24
And Dylan, I want to go across to you now because you're in a brand new space in Melbourne, which I don't think there's been any other conferences or meetings there? It's a boardroom for a company-
Dylan Brady 09:35
This is the first meeting and VC call that is happening in the boardroom of the new John Holland headquarters that we've just finished in Melbourne.
Mark Bergin 09:47
Can you swing the camera? Oh, you can. Okay.
Dylan Brady 09:50
It's pretty nice. I've built a built a table here that's got a cracking view out to the city.
Mark Bergin 09:57
Dylan Brady 09:59
So we are right above Federation Square, the other project I did the facade for. Five and a half years. It's a really interesting round room in what was a very square building with a vesica pisces kind of plectrum shaped boardroom table, which we pulled together after much consideration around the power and how best to wield it and how to make people feel comfortable and how to make it feel intimate and large, you're gonna get 26 people around the table, it's quite difficult to do that in a coherent way. But doable.
Mark Bergin 10:36
But it's beautiful. That's interesting, that power of meetings have. Doris, you were talking about the idea of the virtual meeting, which have other opportunities attached to it, but there is nothing like being face to face and feeling that vibration and energy from another human being. Yeah, I'll get the crystals out in a moment. If you have read those, you know what I mean? It's like, there's just energy here.
Dylan Brady 11:02
As I've said in previous town halls there's an acceleration on the way and the speed and the number of times that we might be able to digitally meet without the flights and travel and the check ins and checkouts which seems inefficient but there is a rapport built when you meet people in a place designed to be met within and I think that coming up to six months on it, the rapport bucket is running low and I'm really looking forward to shaking hands and being together with people.
Mark Bergin 11:42
Well I'm going to then cut across here to Ping because you've done that yourself, haven't you? You've gone out of Hong Kong, you went to Shenzen did your quarantine there and now you're Shanghai because you want to be with the people.
Doris Fong 11:58
Yes, actually, I would like to share quite a lot on this. I think I went back to Hong Kong in February and then come out. I just finished my quarantine last Friday. I've just been able to meet people. I jump out immediately I'm flying to Shanghai and I try to meet people, more than 10 people, at least more than 10 potential clients and current clients in the past, in not even three days. And I I totally agree with Dylan. There's a pullback and also we are quite efficient in terms of working, in terms of delivering, because we didn't have to travel in the past seven months, but in another way, I did feel from all this conversation and meeting with people I actually find that I understand the China clients hold back quite a lot on Hong Kong architect. They actually said friendly to me because of this, because of this travel constrain between the force on both sides of the boards, they are actually very hesitate to hire and to use the Hong Kong architects and Hong Kong consultants for this moment. Only for those like more international, very mature teams like Hong Kong and they know as well and we worked with them before already. So they still trust us and also we did manage to win some new projects but only because we have met these people before already. So for new business development, you have to come here you have to be in touch with people and talk to people. We met one of the clients in June, but only online and we actually did them a favor, we have some others but it was the development idea and master planning but we also send them our company profile, like materials. But they they still couldn't understand us, they don't get a full picture of how we are, how big our company is, because they cannot meet us face to face. And only this time I came to meet them and I really need them really got impressed that actually you are you are bigger company not just a small one. We thought you're just a small studio. So that was a To me, this is so important. That's why I decided to that I had to ump out, no matter how difficult this current thing are. And yes, actually the quarantine thing is really bad. Yeah, I learned some trick and now I teach people how to do that. And the best thing you can get is to get yourself quarantined wherever you can. If you have a home you can go to the home and something at least make the the whole thing bearable, or otherwise it's difficult.
Dylan Brady 15:32
My journey to China will be on a million dollar yacht. But it should take me at least 15 days to get there. And I will leave and I'll do my quarantine on the ocean, and I'll arrive perfectly fine.
Mark Bergin 15:47
Well, that's one option, Dylan. I'm very pleased to know that you've got a million dollar yacht that you can afford.
Doris Fong 15:59
I just add a few thingsthat's why I do I do not say so this can bring this a lot of new opportunities but I'm really hoping because there are there are rumors again about this opening between Hong Kong and mainland so I hope that will happen definitely before October This is what yeah what which was talking about all around but the the latest maybe before November so I yeah so this is I would say the pullback D yeah the the influence is still not very positive to me. You know, that's why I'm I would rather try even harder.
Mark Bergin 16:49
Thanks Ping and we'll come back in a moment but I want to go across to Bob because Bob, your home is in Hong Kong, you've got a business and studio set up in Shanghai, but for the last five months you've been in New Zealand.
Bob Neville 17:06
Yes, since Januar I've been in my garage, which is where I am now still. And actually, two weeks ago, I did some work with the local government here so I had my first human presentation, there was actually an audience of 90 people and that was a really exciting day. But to Dylan's point, in the morning, I had meetings in Rio, I had a meeting with a guy in Miami, a couple of other meetings, but then then I needed to be in my car for like a two and a half hour round trip, lunch and chitchat for, in essence, something that would have been a Zoom call for maybe 45 minutes. And obviously, there was a there was a lot of other human interaction benefit that sort of came out of that. I mean, I actually needed to put some shoes on that I could walk outdoors in rather than just sit here in my slippers all the time. But one of our considerations is that the way we're looking at things is that we're working with lots of people in lots of different countries and and the sort of areas are really diverse in a really interesting way in terms of the services we're offering. So for myself, you know, we've got this office, we've just opened a new office in Shanghai. So I've seen the film. I've been around it virtually, but I've not actually been there yet. But what I'm looking for is the ability to move in and out of country a bit easier, in terms of Hong Kong, Shanghai, but up at this point, yeah, we've got people on the ground in China. We've got people on the ground in Hong Kong. So we're able to work through things and we've just opened a brand experience for a large beverage brands in China. We're working with some large American brands in terms of e commerce photography. We're even doing some social media and branding work for a face mask brand that's involved in actually testing the performance of face masks and that's being not not something I would have expected to do eight months ago, but a really interesting exercise. But again, our business is all about brand, brand experience, emotional connection through physical to digital. And I'm just quite amazed where opportunities are cropping up from so at this moment in time, I'll carry on sitting here in my garage and interacting with the world.
Mark Bergin 19:49
It's really interesting that there's possibilities out there, there's intent from people, but we still do have some barriers. I think Ping you mentioned about this, the barrier of the opening for Mainland China for people in Hong Kong. Adrian, I saw your head nodding away. It's like yeah, we want it to be open, Bob, you're stuck in New Zealand such a terrible place to be in. I know you're in the hardship place there. We'll put up Bob's Instagram account, you can see just how hard it is the life that he's living there. You know, I'm stuck in the international design station here and I've been here for six months. I never in my own bed for six months. So this is ridiculous. And then for Michael for you, you've got you know, an international team that you're managing, but you might have had face to face time with them. Like I saw that IBM have recently just had all of their cohort for an induction program. It happened in a digital way for the first time. So they've worked out how to adapt it, and they found out that they were good results there. But as Dylan said, being in each other's space, being in that meeting room, there is something very powerful about That and so I'd like I'm really impressed with ping that you have actually taken the time of quarantining, and then going out to make people because I haven't met anybody who's actually worked out how to create new business and new relationships without actually having a cup of tea with somebody. You know, there's a, there's an old thing that the moment that we actually were with people that it works, and I know for the last eight years, I spent so much time traveling the world so that I could actually create those new business opportunities, but a lot of people seem to be trading very well out of their existing relationships, Doris, with those startups that you've got, how do you bring people into Hong Kong? At this point? Is that Is it like there's a delight pipeline for you? There's lots of interest but people are saying, not quite now not be putting up until the borders are open or what what's happening there because I think a lot of people have had a concertina where there's been delayed engagement.
Doris Fong 21:56
Well, I think there are different scenarios depending on how fast the company wants to develop their business. So sorry about that. [laughter]. It was so silent when i was on mute! But I think it's interesting that I always say, because people are now stuck in their own place, and therefore they have time to rethink. And they can do a lot of rethinking about how they want to engage and how they want to develop new business. And I'm fully with Ping that nothing is as as impactful as human interaction face to face. But at the same time, you also need to think ahead. Covid is not going away. It's not going away in the next three months, or even six. So how are we going to do our business? Are we going to stop because we just don't have the human interaction or not being able to travel and take Ping as an example, you can travel but are you willing to take those 14 days of quarantine right? You have to share with us paying how you do the warranty and things so that we can have all these tips for our clients. But I guess at the moment, some of our plans are actually making use of this opportunity to think how they can engage somebody locally to do the work for them. If they are really wanting to speed up the plan for Asia, it doesn't have to be in Hong Kong, for example, but of course, I'm from Invest Hong Kong, I'm helping people to understand Hong Kong. But if you are thinking about expanding to any countries, of course you can't start from scratch, you have to have your own connection started beforehand. But if you don't want to get stuck because of COVID maybe you can start something small, starting working with partners in that country or in Hong Kong. If this is Asia that you're thinking about and or having a small presence. Maybe start with one person or a partner to explore the market, understand the market and not wait until COVID is gone, because it's not going away in the next six months or more. So we have to plan ahead. So that's what I think this is a good timing that we have to rethink how we engage in future. Has that changed? Has COVID changed the way that our clients wants to get engaged with their customers? So is it a good time to reinvent and rethink and re skill?
Mark Bergin 24:32
Yeah. And I know with the DRIVENxDESIGN Award Programs it was direct business, and now we have a team seven different agents in different parts of the world who are helping us with the award programs. But you know, that's something... how do you accelerate those opportunities. That's the thing that interests me, Bob, you know, you've recently gone out of your role at New Balance into your new venture. Was that tapping existing relationships existing networks to go create that next wave of business? Or are these people that you've never met? But they sort of sign that said, Bob is a good bloke, we should actually do some work with them?
Bob Neville 25:19
Hopefully there's there's a sign like that out there. But I don't like the look on Dylan's face when he when he said that. They are. Yeah. I mean, as an example, a client we picked up this week is the result of him attending a KPMG conference there in Hong Kong, I presented at a year ago. Another client, we've got, again, through existing relationships. So yeah, in terms of this, there's good dialogue with people that we're meeting online and virtually, but to Ping's point. Yeah, it's always much more better and much stronger when you're working with people that understand who you are, what your background is, you've got that relationship already. So you can you can bridge that sort of virtual virtual gap. But yeah, I'm, I'm a firm believer that at the end of the day, everything that I have a responsibility for is about something humans are going to interact with, whether it's a virtual thing or a physical thing. And you can't, you can't do that as a designer remotely at some point. Yeah, that there has to be that human interaction. But I think I said before in previous town halls, what we're gearing ourselves up for, based on the level of work and activity we've got going on now is when things sort of open up or these bridges come around a bit more. I think there's going to be such a massive pent up demand that this been reshaped and evolved you know, I don't think we're going to go back to the old days in many many ways, but There's going to be a pent up demand there's going to be a fresh understanding about how things need to happen or shouldn't, should happen and people are going to want to remould reshape reinvent themselves. And we're seeing that already. But I can only see that it's accelerating. But, you know, none of us here would have predicted, you know, what 2020 was going to look like this time last year. But yeah, existing relationship and human relationship is critical and key. And I'm really looking forward to getting back into Shanghai back in Hong Kong and traveling, but it does seem a little bit farcical now, when I think back to previous years, where maybe four or five of us in different countries working on something in Tokyo would all sort of say, right, yeah, let's meet there, we'd get on the planes, there would be the hotels, everything else. It seems a little bit sort of crazy now thinking about that as opposed to: Okay. Let's have a zoom. Let's have a conversation, exchange some work. We can take it so much further before you need to get into Tokyo because now we can't just jump on a plane to Tokyo so you have to really, you know, Think long and hard so those days of jumping off and on planes I certainly don't think they'll come back for a while.
Mark Bergin 28:16
Yeah, I want everyone to help me out with just a show of hands here, because Dylan I recorded a longitudinal podcast series that we're doing which is talking about an architectural practice on what and what's happening in in particular, we're looking at one project, the polit name for it was Magic. Is that still the name for the project at the moment, Dylan, or has it changed? Okay, so we were talking about the magic project. But in addition to that, we explored what other things were going on in the studio. In the practice at the same time, so what I want to do is actually find out as far as from first conversation to completed project, who has projects that 10 years that they take to get from that first conversation to finishing? Now architects are probably the next. Doris, do you have any people that are coming in from a direct investment perspective and it's taking them 10 years from first conversation?
Doris Fong 29:27
Not my project, but from my colleagues. Yes.
Mark Bergin 29:29
Yeah. Okay. From first conversation between the five to 10 year period, I think Ping you'd have some of those I'd imagine yeah?
Doris Fong 29:42
My project usually it takes so long, now in China everything is a little bit faster. Yep.
Mark Bergin 29:47
Okay. So in the one to five year period from first conversation to project finishing, yeah. Okay. From the one week to one year period, which is probably you Michael, you're probably getting it. And actually, they are often called recovery or held up by those really fast built space projects. Yeah. So. So I think what's important here is considering pipelines can take a long, long time. But what we what we have to do is keep filling them up. And so paying you, if we had an award to go give out as the as the person who is actually doing the most to explore new opportunities and new possibilities, you're going to take it out today because getting on that plane. I was like getting to it, doing the quarantine and then getting on a plane to Shanghai. You've shown that there is such initiative there. It's no wonder the PHA has grown so fast over recent years. But for the rest of us, it's working out well. Maybe we don't have that enablement Michael, I think you're in Hong Kong. So you're grounded a little bit like on grounded Dylan, you're grounded absolutely. And I don't think you can go more than five kilometers. Is that right Dylan?
Dylan Brady 31:08
Um, it depends. There are some care needs that have led me travel slightly further than that at the moment. But, yeah, we're pretty much restricted to within five kilometers, other than doing critical sign offs for practical completion on projects and stuff.
Mark Bergin 31:25
So, you know, most people know now that I'm a competitive sailor. And as a competitive Seiler, what we do is that we work out when the condition changes. So you're sailing in some breeze, the breeze changes, and the person on the boat who can work out when the condition has changed and work out what the new condition is, and we start to race the boat in the new condition, they're the most valuable crew member because what you're able to do is you're ahead of everybody else if you change sooner, and I think we all know that the condition has changed with COVID. Now we have to work out how to work that. And bit still, while we're working that out, we've been able to talk about lots of possibilities. I'm going to go do a wrap up. Is there any itching possibility that anybody wants to go add? Ping looks like you've got something you want to throw out there?
Doris Fong 32:15
Yeah, my idea is that I come out and meet people and spend maybe two months here and then I will go back. I think for COVID the worst will maybe last another three months, but for some of my other even rebels, competitors or other consultants, what they're trying to do because they're trapped and they don't want to go to mainland China. What they do is they trying to hire new people. New emplyees who can get inside China, people to travel around and meeting people and meeting your potential cons think this may be an idea, especially for people who are unable to come back to China.
Mark Bergin 33:08
Yeah. Well, we all know that having you know, good people anywhere is useful. But nothing is as powerful when the owner and the director turns up. So I hope I hope the coming week for you ping is very successful. But it's more than a week. You've got about a month there is that right? How long until this chapter for you in Shanghai ends? Is it a week or a month?
Doris Fong 33:34
Here only a few days then and I will go to Beijing and Xingxing and I will travel around China in the next this this one, how
Adrian Battisby 33:44
long How long are you planning to do this tour?
Ping Xu 33:49
Four months and then I will go back to work because I I'm also a designer so I have to go back to work with my team. I just took this opportunity to fresh up with my current clients and meeting new clients. And I think this is the most important as we discuss already, you need to get physical people, but you don't have to stay with them forever This is so that's why I'm saying either you can come back and continue for 14 days or otherwise, you can hire some people to go around and talking with people while you can be connected through the internet. And I think that's the way to help. I wouldn't say it's of course the best idea, that is that you come here, physically.
Mark Bergin 34:38
Well, I think Adrian's gonna be doing a month's worth of cocktail bar research so that when you get back, he'll be able to tell you which cocktail bar you should go to.
Adrian Battisby 34:48
Actually earlier, Mark, when you said has anybody signed up for a project without actually meeting the client and the new work in Macau. We were speaking to the operator To the we sent her a portfolio, they liked us and we had a Zoom call and they didn't even turn on the camera. So we didn't even see them. We then had various conversation with their conference and legal team to sign the contract. And we're now about to submit our schematic proposal to them and we've not seen their faces once. I've tried to google them, search them on my LinkedIn, I don't even know what they look like. So it's kind of all happening and we're being paid so something's working.
Mark Bergin 35:30
Actually, we had some people who had been involved with the DRIVENxDESIGN Awards Programs in across a bunch of cities in the world. And I'd never met them. And they apparently turned up to the award ceremonies and collected trophies and they were ghosts we didn't know who they were. And so when I was in Shanghai, I made sure I went to their office and again, as Ping said, it's a huge office. They've got incredible projects. They're involved in. And there's something about just seeing the face to face. So you're going to find out that there's actually a chat bot, at some company that you're interfacing with Adrian, I think it's not a real human, it just is their procurement department has put a chat bot out there, and they're getting you to do the work here.
Adrian Battisby 36:17
What I've noticed is instead of human engagement, we are slightly divorced through this very, you know, useful technology. And it's the design work that's talking, it's not us talking. So the way that we have to communicate our proposals, they almost have to read for themselves, because we're not going to be there saying, if you look at this, and this relates to this. So we've spent more time preparing the design work and how it reads for itself. So that's also been a learning curve, and also that we're going to probably add to most of our projects now. So interestingly, we don't have the chance to present them, they kind of they have to speak for themselves.
Mark Bergin 36:55
Well, everybody, I do appreciate your time. I know the audience will as well. Adrian, I think you've given us the best quote there, let the design work talk for itself there. Thank you, everybody. It's been a pleasure having on the call.
Hosted by: Mark Bergin
Podcast production: Pat Daly
Show notes: Lucy Grant