What an amazing experience to have been part of the Hello Shenzhen residency program put together by the British Council. Having hosted two residents from China for an intensive three weeks, we now feel we have a much greater understanding of the maker culture, manufacturing ecosystems and infrastructure that underpins and propels Shenzhen forward.
During this residency we built Making Connections, a platform to allow all residents to have a voice, share knowledge, and build a community of makers. We live-streamed a different maker each day talking about their area of expertise, from manufacturing to creating a service based business. Our hope was that the international community of makers would get to know each other through the platform and use it as way to reach out and start making connections. What became apparent during the exchange was that nothing beats human contact and face to face exchange. The online platform will act as an archive of all the connections made, and live on as an active portal between the two cities, but undoubtedly the connections and working relationships that will prove to be most fruitful will be the ones where human contact was the first point of exchange.
One of the biggest cultural differences centred around values. Honngang from Maker collider placed a lot of emphasis on the technical capabilities of his products, and was most interested in demonstrating the speed and various technical abilities of the microprocessors he brought over, whilst Violet was keen to communicate how the maker scene in Shenzhen is so well connected and that all parts of the making process can be catered to, from funding to manufacture and selling. Making is viewed very much as part of an industrial ecosystem. In the UK makers, while interested in getting products to market, place equal importance on the purpose of the thing they are making and the problem that it tries to solve.
“The potential for rapid transformation of products and services when you combine these two ways of thinking is huge and exciting”
A very useful lesson for me was realising that no matter how much you prepare a program like this, you never really know what will come out until you know who you’re working with. Being responsive and reactive to our residents was crucial to getting the most out of the exchange. Following the residency with Violet Su, we came up with a number of ways of how we can continue to work together to support cross collaboration between the two cities in the coming months and years:
Chaihuo and Makerversity will offer free membership to makers in each space, in exchange for a skill swap or workshop session. Chaihuo will act as a soft landing for any Makerversity member visiting Shenzhen and help connect them to resources and tools. Equally, Makerversity will offer Shenzhen makers a place to tap into local cultures of making in the UK.
Makerversity and Chaihuo will bring together designers and engineers working in similar fields to develop new innovative IoT (Internet of Things) products and services.
Resources and Tools
Together we are creating shared resources and tools to help our communities work together, such as a Shenzhen 101 guide and an internal Slack Channel to meet makers and share knowledge. It was interesting to see how even the most simple and basic of tools where the most needed.
Shenzhen is in an exciting age, with a huge manufacturing infrastructure in place, Makerspaces popping up across the city, and designers trained from all over the globe locating to Shenzhen to create innovative products. It's the dawn of a new era for China, positioning itself as the new centre of innovation and ideas. We are proud to work with them and help showcase and promote talent between the cities.