Showcasing Hong Kong’s student design talent

Hong Kong design talent

For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in ‘Imaginations’ a major design competition run by Disneyland Hong Kong for teams of design students. Yesterday was the presentation day, with the winning team rewarded with an amazing prize of an internship with Disney’s Imagineering team in California and here in Hong Kong.

The teams typically come from the four big university design schools in HK (S.C.A.D, the Chinese University, HK Design Institute and HK Polytechnic University), featuring a mix of students from different disciplines including architecture, animation, film, graphic design and digital interaction. Their brief is a fairly open one: to create a new experience at Disneyland. And they have a large amount of flexibility as to how they approach it, spending up to six months on the project, much of it over their summer break.

Ten short-listed teams go forward to a final presentation day, each having just 15 minutes to present their project to a panel of senior management from Disneyland. And that’s where I come in. The work (certainly from the finalists) is outstanding. But historically their presentation of it was very poor. So Disney asked me to work with the teams to help set up their presentation, tell the story of their project and get their message across in a powerfully engaging and memorable way. And much to the students (and sometimes their professors’) surprise, that does not involve doing a skit with costumes, songs and dancing that whilst possibly entertaining, completely buries the work itself and wastes six months of effort.

I try and disseminate my experience from my 20 odd years of presentations in the commercial world. Years of presentations that can significantly affect a business; positively or negatively, depending on how they are received. Disney are the master story-tellers. And they’re certainly not short of experience when it comes to creating world-class experiences. So the panel are looking for clarity of thought around a big idea, detailed consideration of how it can come to life and most importantly, they are looking for belief that visitors to the park will love it – that it will add to the magical experience Disney have been delivering around the world, day in, day out since Walt & Roy Disney opened their first park in 1955.

Working with the students is inspiring. Their technical skills, whether it be architecture, animation or graphic design are brilliant – a testament to the teaching in HK’s design schools. But more than that, it’s the raw creativity that I love. Creative thinking as yet unimpaired by the commercial world, by agencies and design firms ‘coaching’ it out of them.  It inspires me to bring that back to my own business; to ensure that my creative team have freedom to express themselves, aligned to a full understanding of the client’s business need, the problem we’re trying to solve and relevant market insights in order to create world class work. I look at the work of the students in the competition, and then at the average level of creative work in Hong Kong and there is a massive gap - in the wrong direction. There is still a job to do to raise the standards of work in Hong Kong (and more generally across Asia). Importantly, a key part of that is for marketers and CEOs to understand the value of investing into great design – from strategy to execution – and not be content with a quick fix.

As economic growth in the region begins to slow, as competition increases and consumers become more savvy, brands will need to work harder to differentiate in order to win. To me that bodes well for these students. I hope that they will graduate into an environment that encourages and values innovative thinking and world-class creativity.  In the meantime, we at StartJG will continue to do our little bit to move the industry in the right direction.

Jonathan is MD of StartJG in Hong Kong. Read more from him in our Clubhouse and follow him on Twitter @JonathanHK