Felix Jiang: A designer who understands client demands, and an effective manager who understands just how to design

Release Time: December 3, 2019

A designer with 10 years of entrepreneurial experience and extensive project management experience, Felix Jiang, now the Director of Space Matrix China, is convinced that it is only through gaining insight into the needs of the company and its users that good design can emerge; design that best meets customer expectations. He hopes that with the joint efforts of the team and its global background, Space Matrix can become a leading design company in Asia.

With global background and international services

verse editorial: Please briefly introduce Space Matrix, its Shanghai office and your daily work?

Felix Jiang: Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Singapore, Space Matrix is a design consultancy that specializes in workplace design. In an increasingly sophisticated and refined market for workplace transformation, we always strive to provide customers with professional and integrated workplace solutions. In addition to the Shanghai office, we also have 15 offices around the world, including Australia, India, the Philippines, the United States and other regions, in order to provide better services to our global customers, such as Microsoft, LinkedIn, Uber and so on.

Microsoft(Taipei, China)© Space Matrix

Microsoft(Taipei, China)© Space Matrix

Microsoft(Taipei, China)© Space Matrix

Uber(Singapore)© Space Matrix

Uber(Singapore)© Space Matrix

Uber(Singapore)© Space Matrix

LinkedIn(Bangalore, India)© Space Matrix

LinkedIn(Bangalore, India)© Space Matrix

LinkedIn(Bangalore, India)© Space Matrix

I am currently the Director of Space Matrix China and based in Shanghai, responsible for the company's strategy development and daily operations. Meanwhile, I also contribute to some major pan-regional projects that Space Matrix works on.

verse editorial: Please share a space Matrix project that that was a highlight for you.

Felix Jiang: Recently, we completed the workplace design project for Volvo's new EV brand Polestar. We created a comprehensive workplace solution for Polestar's headquarters in Shanghai and its Chengdu base, and the project was successfully completed. To our surprise, the video of Polestar Chengdu base that was posted on social media has been watched more than 2 million times. The architectural design of the project was completed by one of Norway's top architectural design companies Snøhetta, and we were responsible for the interior design.

Giuliano, an Italian senior designer from our design team, was responsible for the interior space design of the project. In addition to helping with the rational distribution and conceptual application of the overall space, the designer also did a good reconciliation between the indoor and outdoor spaces, keeping the architectural design features in mind.

Through 14 years of accumulated experience in China, we have also maintained a pleasant, long-term collaborative relationship with global companies such as Abbott, Ascendas-Singbridge Group and Diginex.

Polestar is an electric performance car brand from the Volvo Car Group. As a brand, Polestar designs futuristic vehicles that help to reduce dependence on traditional combustion engines. With the sheer innovation valuefound in its products, Polestar competes with some of the top players in its domain. Futuristic technology is a core part of their business. So we created an award-winning office design that would bring that spirit of innovation to the everyday work lives of their employees. © Space Matrix | Polestar (Shanghai,China)

Ascendas-Singbridge Group is Asia’s leading sustainable urban and business space solutions provider. With the global rise of coworking, Ascendas sees the benefit of creating coworking facilities within their existing office developments that will enable their tenants additional room to grow if needed, with meeting spaces, and events spaces made available. Space Matrix was engaged in helping them design a new flexible workplace facility called the bridge+ at Ascendas Innovation Place in Shanghai. © Space Matrix | Ascendas (Shanghai, China)

As a global fintech leader in blockchain technology that seeks to change the way the world transacts, Diginex had hoped that its first workspace in Hong Kong could reflect the company’s energy and pioneering vision. Space Matrix had to impress Diginex’s visitors through design, making it a window to the brand while creating a fascinating work environment to help attract and retain talent. Space Matrix | Diginex (Hong Kong, China)

Diginex © Space Matrix | Diginex (Hong Kong, China)

Diginex © Space Matrix | Diginex (Hong Kong, China)

A clear goal is essential for starting a business

verse editorial: how did you get in the interior design field?

Felix Jiang: I studied design in university. From 2005 to 2006, based on my insights on the entire market and by some fateful coincidence, I finally entered the field of interior design. At the time, interior design was simply thought of asinterior decoration; the whole industry was in its infancy, and there were not many domestic interior design companies. The scene was mainly dominated by foreign or Hong Kong-owned companies. At the time, the curriculum and level of teaching pertaining to the interior design major in various universities were also undergoing rapid change and evolution. I thus believed that the future market and demand for local interior design had a lot of potential to develop at an accelerated rate. At the same time,I had passion for the design industry, and decided to create my own interior design company.

verse editorial: We’ve all heard that you have ten years of experience as an entrepreneur, how was your experience as an entrepreneur?

Felix Jiang: Before starting a business, I was working in a workplace design firm. It helped me to establish a valuable network of contacts and gain experience within the industry. During this time, my partners and I were offered a large-scale project, and we used this business opportunity to go into entrepreneurship. When the business first started, we also encountered economic downturns and issues of bottlenecks. We stabilised in 2010, undertaking deeper collaborations and relationships with companies like Abbott. After nearly 10 years of entrepreneurial effort, we decided to join the Space Matrix family last year.

verse editorial: Can you give some advice to college students who are involved in startup companies in the design field?

Felix Jiang: No matter what industry they go into, before college students decide to start their own business, they must first choose a path that suits them, and have a strong heart that can withstand pressure. This is the primary concern, I think.

Secondly, entrepreneurs must be clear-headed, especially in the design industry. You have to decide if you're creating a studio or a company, as the growth strategies for the two is quite different. This was also the first thing I thought about. My goal was to create a well-respected company, so my identity gradually evolved from that of a designer to a manager.

Thirdly, the design field is very broad with many different typologies. Interior design, for example, encapsulates workspace design, or design for public display, chemical companies, healthcare, and educational institutions etc., but they all have different requirements for their specific spaces. So, my suggestion is that university students should choose a typologyniche based on their own expertise, resources and judgment of the global market, and continue to refine their expertise.

Uber(Wuhan, China) © Space Matrix

Uber(Wuhan, China) © Space Matrix

Understanding life lets you design for others’ lives

verse editorial: As a project manager, what would you be more concerned with during project implementation?

Felix Jiang: After becoming a project manager, the biggest difference - from being a designer - was how I got to take control of the project from an overall perspective. In my opinion, the preliminary plan of a project is the basis for all subsequent execution, and design is an important part of this process. Only by controlling the quality of the design and planning in the early stages, could we ensure smooth implementation and avoid many problems in the later stages of work. Therefore, I pay more attention to the planning stage now.

Of course, in the course of advancing each project, there will be unpredictable problems. How can we minimise these? It is a problem that the project manager needs to think about and solve.

verse editorial: What difficulties have you encountered in past interior design projects? How did you overcome them?

Felix Jiang: For example, we faced communication problems with customers on design schemes, financial constraints, and issues caused by suppliers. Every project will run into big or small problems, the key thing is finding a solution, as well as having the right attitude and principles to deal with the problems.

Our team has always believed that the customer's interests come first. There was once we experienced a production and delivery delay caused by a factory. In the end, we undertook the additional cost of getting the required products in via the quicker but costlier means of air transport instead of land transport just to ensure delivery as agreed.

The act of design is a service, we always put the interests of customers first, and strictly adhere to this principle no matter what problems we encounter.

verse editorial: Workplace design needs to incorporate corporate culture into the design. Faced with business owners from different industries, what was your approach for each project from the beginning?

Felix Jiang: My teacher once said, "As a designer, you must first understand life. Only then is it possible to use design to better the lives of others."

The same applies to workplace design and any company's planning requirements. As the manager of a business myself, I am better equipped to understand the demands of an enterprise, this is our advantage.

We need to understand the customer’s brand positioning, corporate strategy, and focus on the customer’s true needs, such as the customer’s growth plan in the next 3 to 5 years. These are important aspects that we need to consider in our designs.

Usually, if we ask corporate managers about what the company's requirements and pain points for their office space are, most of the answers we receive will center around improved sound insulation, more meeting spaces etc, but for the specific needs and usage of each department, the managers don't have a clue. We need to spend a lot of effort and energy to dig deeper into each department and do one-on-one research in order to gather useful information.

Frankly speaking, design companies in Europe and America attach great importance to in-depth customer analysis, but in China, in the pursuit of efficient implementation, the time for planning is greatly shortened. As we are based in China but deal with businesses globally, we try to compromise between both cultural requirements in order to achieve a balance.

Being a great designer is more than just being great at design

verse editorial: What are the design differences between a traditional closed workplace and a modern open workplace?

Felix Jiang: Before opening the conversation on closed workplace design vs open plan design, we first need to pay attention to the specific employer's needs and their business model. For example, the financial or healthcare industries have very strict requirements for data confidentiality, and these companies cannot choose a completely open office space.

Of course, I will say current office space design trends are heading towards open plan, which allows for more design possibilities. Meanwhile, the choice of office plan also partly represents the level of flexibility of corporate decision makers when it comes to design ideas. The more open-minded the company, the more flexible our designers can be in the design scheme.

Within Diginex’s office space, employees can use their equipment at any work station and various spaces run seamlessly together throughout the office. This encourages teams to collaborate and share experiences using different workplace technology. © Space Matrix | Diginex(Hong Kong, China)

verse editorial: Technology is changing the way people live and work. How does this affect workplace design?

Felix Jiang: With the development of technology, people can work anywhere. Therefore, it is important to create a workplace that is consistent with the brand's corporate strategy and that is well-loved by employees. With the advent of the 5G era, a growing number of technologies will be applied to the workplace, such as IoT. The combination of office and workplace technology will undoubtedly bring about more efficient work methods for enterprises.

End users can work flexibly in tech-enabled spaces. It will make them feel more comfortable and increase their usage of and engagement with the space, and enhance their sense of belonging to the enterprise as well. For example, we can introduce automatic lighting control systems, air quality monitoring systems, height adjustable sit-stand workstations to create a healthy workplace environment.

Environmentally sustainable design is one of the key elements of any smart workplace. The automated lighting system in the Polestar Shanghai office makes it stand out. In addition to saving 9,000 yuan annually and obtaining a LEED Gold Certification, this automated lighting system also provides employees with a futuristic work experience. They do not need to worry about shutting down their computers after work or pay attention to light changes throughout the day. Thanks to a pre-set timer, the lights are activated automatically between 9 am and 6 pm on weekdays. After 6pm, these lights are controlled by motion detectors. They turn on automatically when someone is in the room, and they turn off shortly after the employee leaves. © Space Matrix | Polestar (Shanghai, China).

The smart locker is another type of future-oriented office equipment, which can make employees feel more at home in their workspace.

These lockers are placed in cabinets near open office areas, and their stainless-steel surfaces look clean and futuristic. The smart locker can also be unlocked via a mobile app. Employees just need to enter a password on their phone and wait for the locker to pop up and open. In this way, the sense of security and privacy provided to employees can allow employees to fully consider the locker space as their own. © Space Matrix | Polestar (Shanghai, China)

verse editorial: What are the future plans and directions for Space Matrix Shanghai?

Felix Jiang: Space Matrix enjoys a good reputation in the field of interior design around the world. In the list of Top 100 Design Giants by the Interior Design Magazine, Space Matrix ranks in the top ten. However, not many people in China know about us, so improving our brand awareness in the Chinese market will be our next important goal.

Sustainable development is one of the core values of Space Matrix. While the company provides efficient green solutions to customers, Space Matrix's own office space also embodies this. Last year, designers at Space Matrix Shanghai redesigned the company and received LEED Gold certification. © Space Matrix | Space Matrix Shanghai Office (China)

Design work requires great collaboration and flexibility. The designers of Space Matrix had hoped that their office space could also reflect and encourage this workplace culture. Design Lab was born out of demand. All of the company's materials and decorative material samples are stored here, and when the designer wants to discuss a project with colleagues, or even to show a customer an idea, all the resources they need are within reach. In addition, the space features a huge projection wall, creating the ideal venue for training, events, and vendor presentations. © Space Matrix | Space Matrix Shanghai Office (China)

© Space Matrix | Space Matrix Shanghai Office (China)

verse editorial: Do you have any advice for young interior designers?

Felix Jiang: In our design team, I always say that the designer is not just an artist. Ultimately, the space we design is to be used, so in addition to look-and-feel, their designs need to be practical - this is my advice to young interior designers who are just starting out in their career. she added "just" before "an artist".

In addition, many students share a common problem. They are too focused on certain details, such as material selection and the pairing of colours. Of course, these are also very important, but they should develop a broader mindset. This means that as a designer, you have to understand other things too, such as air-conditioning, lighting, fire protection and the latest technology, which are all part of the design universe. To be a great interior designer, there is still a long way to go.

verse editorial: What are your thoughts on the design stage created by the World Campus Masters Selective Graduation Design Programme?

Felix Jiang: This competition is quite innovative. I would like more young designers to get more opportunities to train and to improve themselves through various means. After all, I have grown to look at design, understand design, and interpret design from different perspectives. At the same time, I also hope to see more outstanding local designers compete on the international stage. I am passionate about the design industry and look forward to the rise of Chinese design expertise.

Mr. Felix Jiang has been invited as one of the judges on the Super Nova Jury for Winter World Campus Masters Program 2019, which launched by the international design competition platform Young Bird Plan.


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