Does service also need to be designed? (CBi Featured by ForbesChina)

Recently, Our President and Founder, Cathy Huang met with Forbes China in an interview to discuss the development of service design in China. Below is the full interview:
Interview By  ForbesChina  Editor: Chenjie Ding

The first time I saw Cathy was at the Global Service Design Jam in Shanghai, which was the first time Chinese design teams participated in the global contest.

Cathy helped oversee the contest in Shanghai, during which participants worked in teams to complete a service design from scratch within 48 hours.

For the majority in China, service design is a new term, and the sector is in an embryonic stage. “People understand it as industry design, advertisement design or fashion design, but actually the concept is wider and more complete. It is a huge industry overseas,” Cathy said.

Globally, the most famous service design company is US firm IDEO, which was formed by the merger of a design company founded by David Kelley and ID Two. In 1982, David Kelley designed the first Apple mouse, while in the same year ID Two designed the world’s first laptop computer.

To put it simply, “the special feature of service design is it’s intangible; it is similar to industrial design, but from a different perspective,” said Cathy. “The point is, where is the opportunity from a service standpoint?”

“For example, banks cooperate with different design companies at different stages. If we look at the service design in the banks, most of them are pretty much the same. What is the experience with those service designs? How do you show your products? Are you satisfied with the transaction process?”

“If you can think about these one after another, then you can create a service that the others don’t have, and it also becomes the source of your corporate competitiveness.”

Though professional service design companies are few in China, the topic of innovation in service has become important in recent years. “Shanghai will be the focus for this area, and the next five years will see great development,” Cathy said.

Right now, many domestic enterprises are experiencing the transformation process from OEM to original design manufacturing, and are building up their R&D departments in order to get more orders and enhance their core competitiveness through independent innovation. Meanwhile, traditional industrial design firm growth has slowed in recent years, with emphasis shifting to the strategic level of innovation.

“If the service is the same, then how to provide a service that is unique? How to improve the added value? Such services need design,” said Cathy. She highlighted some business services that are commendable, such as a hot pot restaurant called Haidilao. Those who have eaten at Haidilao must have been left with a deep impression of the restaurant. Services include manicures and shoe polishing for people waiting for tables. The experience can be said to take every aspect of the service model to the extreme, increasing the bond between customers and business.

Before Cathy founded CBi, her roles included Marketing Director of GE/Fitch China, and Project Manager of Haier Design Centre, where she acquired practical design knowledge and built strong relationships within the global design community.

What’s more special about CBi is its unique position as a domestic design innovation consulting firm leading the Chinese market, with a working philosophy based on a combination of the ancient Chinese theory of Wu Xing and modern Western management.

CBi has three key words: connect, solutions and empower. “Connect” refers to insight and analysis, aiming to bridge the gap between clients and consumers. The service CBi provides is all about gaining insight and then using it to power innovation and design. “Solutions” means innovation and design strategy. CBi provide their clients and partners with solutions that empower them to choose the best strategy when creating products and services designed for Chinese consumers. “Empower” is innovation and design management training.

Now Cathy has an interdisciplinary, cross-nationality team of more than 30 people. Their company is located in a quiet courtyard in central Shanghai’s Jing’an District, with an area of more than five hundred square meters. Its stylish office includes a balcony, studio and observation room.

CBi’s clients include multinational companies like Toyota, Samsung and Disney, and well-known domestic companies like China Telecom, Li Ning and Shanghai Jahwa. Compared to the industry’s leading multinational consulting firms, Cathy and her team have a deep insight and better understanding of the local market.

Cathy’s team allows researchers to target consumers engaged in their living environment, to experience and understand the lives of target customers, their interaction with the product, consumer decision-making and their views of the brand. “We use ethnographic methods to study the consumer, involving people in China covering one, two, three or more cities. We also use field interviews, accompanied shopping and interactive research methods to assess the consumer experience,” said Cathy. In addition to being held in high regard by clients and experts, Cathy and her team’s design proposals have been highly appreciated by consumers.

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