Interview with Roger van der Linden

by Waikit Chung on July 29, 2009

Last week I had the pleasure to talk with Roger van der Linden, a Dutch industrial designer who is living and working in Shanghai since 2004. He graduated at the same university as mine, which is the Delft University of Technology. And I already knew him as my mentor at Philips, who supervised my team when I was working on a shaver design project during my study.

Currently Roger, together with his Dutch partner and industrial designer Chantal Voskuilen, is running his own design engineering and prototyping company and so far he is really enjoying his work and life in Shanghai. You can learn more about his services at:

http://www.chinacreativecompany.com
http://www.prototypingchina.com/

Could you please tell us about yourself and how you came to Shanghai?

I was born and raised up in Maastricht (Netherlands). After graduating as an industrial design engineer at the Delft University of Technology, I started to work for Philips DAP as design engineer and researcher and worked there for 4 years on the development of shavers, working together with Philips design, marketing and ergonomics departments. During my job at Philips I got interested to work in China, Hong Kong or Singapore, where Philips design offices are located as well.

In 2004 my girlfriend and current partner Chantal was offered a job in Shanghai and I was thinking about what I could do to join her. At that time I also observed that the Chinese economy was really booming and I was aware of the opportunities in the design industry and finally I decided to work for myself as a freelancer in design and sourcing in Shanghai.

It was very easy to settle down in Shanghai, because of the international character. And I was able to find my group of friends in a short time and therefore Shanghai became my second home very fast. In the beginning of my stay in China, I only experienced a culture shock when I did sourcing work outside Shanghai, because of the industrial landscape, the factories and the poorer region.

Please tell us more about the services your provide

We are mainly focused on design engineering and prototyping work. Occasionally we do design as well.
By the way, when people search for prototyping in china at Google, they will find us at the top of the search results! So it is great that we are able to market ourselves at very low costs.

Please tell us about the work you are most proud of

We worked on the engineering and manufacturing of a child seat for Kids Nautique that can be attached on a sail or yacht boat and we helped the client to deliver a large batch of seats within 3 months. It was a very new concept and the challenge was to find the appropriate manufacturers that are able to realize the product and we needed to protect the product from copying. So we involved a couple of manufactures with different capabilities to work on different parts of the product and therefore we prevent that none of them would be able to rebuild the complete product.

What have you been working on recently?

We have been working on a water alarm for Kids Nautique and a prototype design clock for the Deutsche Telecom, a design and engineering for a teppanyaki Cookingplate with a fan and currently working on a walking beverage dispenser for Heineken and on new air refreshers for SC Johnson.

What are the advantages and disadvantage being in China?

The biggest advantage is the incredible source of manufacturers and vendors. You can find anything you can almost think of. And the manufacturing speed is high as well. As for the minor things in our work, I think that in general the Chinese manufacturers are not very strong in planning, so often we need to put a lot of effort into following up with them to make sure that the manufacturing process runs as smooth as possible.

Furthermore I love the night life and food, which is fantastic here! But for green landscape you need to drive 2 hours outside Shanghai. And China is surrounded by beautiful places and countries for outstanding holidays.

What are the challenges being in China?

The opportunity in design innovation and management is an interesting challenge.

I also would love to work for Chinese clients, which is certainly a great challenge in terms of difference in culture and communication.

Ultimately it would be interesting to design for the huge Chinese market or helping the Chinese to launch a product in the western market.

How is working with Chinese clients/vendors/manufacturers?

I like to travel and discover the different kind of manufacturers and cities and meeting people from all levels and to understand how they live and work.

To communicate with suppliers is sometimes difficult, especially on a detailed technical level. As the sales person from a factory can usually communicate in wonderful English, their technical knowledge isn’t at a high level, so that can deliver some misunderstandings! So, we have made it a habit to communicate with a lot of pictures and renderings, together with bilingual ( English and Chinese) descriptions.

What is your opinion about industrial design in China?

I believe there is a great amount of creative talents in this country, but somehow the Chinese industry, especially the large companies, is not making good use of it yet. But I do see some interesting design work coming from a few local design studios that are influenced by western design process and management.
I think that the design industry in China now is quite similar to Korea’s industry from 10 years ago, when the Korean also made a lot of copycats. Many foreign designers went to Korea and they left their western design influence and as a result Korea is doing very well now in terms of innovation. For instance Samsung has created some beautiful designs and innovations. China is experiencing the same situation and it takes some time to reach the same level.

What is your plan for the coming 3-5 years?

I would like to expand my company and try to do more design and innovation work. Furthermore we are looking for opportunities in Vietnam, which is a very interesting place to live as well. We have already been to Ho Chi Minh for a few times and it is a really attractive city and it is developing very fast and it is experiencing the same change that Shanghai had 10 years ago.

Do you have any tips for people who want to come to China for setting up a design business?

Just do it! Be bold and try things out and you will learn and improve a lot from it.

You can learn find more info about Roger van der Linden and his services at:

http://www.chinacreativecompany.com
http://www.prototypingchina.com/

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