Creative Globetrotter at Yunma Design, Chinese vs European creativity

Last week, after the extremely busy graduation exhibition and evaluation interviews at MIADA were completed, I finally got the chance to visit Yunma Design. The plan was to visit this agency in the first weeks of my stay in Chongqing, but time has flown by seamlessly. The name of the agency had dropped several times during conversations at MIADA and coincidentally or not, Vivian (head of design at Yunma Design) and I were part of the same evaluation panel for the oral exams of the graduates at the Academy. With a personal invitation from Vivian topping my pre-existing interest for the agency, I had to make time for a visit! Rens vd Heuvel (MIADA teacher) and Kym To (MIADA Head of Art and Foreign Teacher Department) accompanied me.

Yunma Design is located in the area of Nanping, not far from Liugongli (MIADA), in a creative hub called N18 LOFT which houses several (design) agencies, restaurants, bars, conference rooms, exhibit spaces, creative terraces etc. The space is created inside an old factory, which is quite unique for the area – since most old buildings are torn down to make room for new residential projects.

On our way to Nanping, Kym To – who completed an internship at Yunma Design a couple of years back – told us that although the broader team changes with the passing years, the core of the agency has stayed the same: Vivian, Tracy (a.k.a. Morning) and Joe (HeXiaojun).

On the top floor of the N18 LOFT, we were greeted by Vivian. The office itself reminded of a big factory hall but elevated through detailed design and warm wood contrasts against a concrete background.

As we sat down for a talk with some of the agency staff, Wanda – the Dutch girl we met a couple of months ago – also joined the meeting. She is an intern at the agency.

The meeting kicked off with an introduction of Yunma Design, its employees and founder. Yunma was founded in the mid 90’s and started as a design company exploring Design as a discipline/practice. Twenty years later, their proposition is to explore the core values of brand image, from a design perspective. The agency produces modern design works with (deliberate) Chinese influences. The evolution within Yunma itself grew parallel to the evolution of design and advertising in Chongqing and China. In the mid 90’s, concepts such as corporate identity, design, photography were novelties in China. Yunma kept on course, pioneering the process leading up to corporate branding and all that it entails.

They showed us some awesome works of design, corporate identity, photography, film and video from nowadays and from 10 years ago. What I noticed is that digital/online is not really part of their portfolio. They design websites, but the rest is not really up their alley – or they don’t make it be up their alley.

I liked their work. It was modern and creative, with a bold dose of Chinese heritage emerging in characters, icons, graphics, photography etc. I was interested to find out if they had ever strategized to push the limits of their concepts to the edge of tolerance – to take a stand, or generate attention by rebelling against common practices. They argued (rightfully) that they have built their business by pushing the boundaries of design and have made a name by breaking new grounds in this field, and not by using advertising gimmicks. I registered their vision, but still offered my services for that one occasion when their client may want some crazy with their noodles. And then I showed them my portfolio.

I was happy to learn that they shared the same conviction, that concept is more important than a beautiful creative. Something I keep repeating to students at MIADA and the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where I have held the Advanced Creative Thinking workshops.

Exchanging works quickly directed the conversation towards the differences between Western and Chinese advertising and design, and how great of an impact the cultural contrasts can have on defining a concept. My portfolio contains a great deal of largely known brands (like Porsche) which gave us the opportunity to discuss about emerging brands vs. established brands and brand loyalty. Whereas in the Western world an emerging brand must take on the battle against the giants in its market, in China emerging brands engage in a price war to generate as much sale as possible – which also cashes in! In the Western world, emerging brands must repeatedly court the consumer with their unique selling proposition. In China, not so much attention is paid to the unique selling proposition in the first couple of years. Obviously, China has enough market for this type of business. This model would not work in the much smaller Western markets, where brand loyalty is constantly reinforced by strong consumer data driven campaigns.

They were surprised by the average age (30) in the company I worked for back in the Netherlands. They were also surprised by the sometimes unbelievably short timeframes made available to deliver our work.

Overall impression: Yunma Design is an amazing company with great creative people. They asked us to come back any time. I will definitely take them up on that, because I loved their office and the whole creative vibe around the N18 LOFT.

About Yunma Design:

Creative Globetrotter (ft. Kym To and Rens vd Heuvel)
at Yunma Design 

N18 LOFT yard. 

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