Orange Creatives: the quest for better-designed and better-manufacturable products
Almost fifteen years ago, two entrepreneurs settled down in the Guangzhou area to convince local manufacturers that the times for making ‘just cheap stuff’ were over. And: to show international clients that China is able to produce well-designed products at a good price. Orange Creatives has proven its point. Founding partner Arthur Tideman: “We help achieve better designed products as well as better manufacturable products.”
In 2005 Arthur Tideman and his business partner Boukje Koch started working in China for a Dutch electronics manufacturer – they were colleagues before they became partners in the new business Orange Creatives that was launched in 2007. “At that time”, Tideman recalls, “high-value manufacturing of consumer products in China was very much export-oriented. Manufacturing, labor, housing, energy and social admin costs were already rising in a very rapid pace (10-15% per year). And: competition between manufacturers in China was no longer only on cost advantage. They also competed on quality, process control and design.”
Create new products
“Hence, the importance of design and of IP was increasing for Chinese manufacturers – they need their own brands. To companies outside of China, working with manufacturers to create new products better suited to a fast-moving market has become more important. And: speed was and is essential. Chinese manufacturers were facing increasing pressure to move up the value chain or face irrelevance and extinction.”
Tideman and Boukje Koch found that, with their expertise in design, they could offer something that was lacking in China. “There was no integral design approach in companies and universities, leading to a fragmented and ineffective design process and a general lack of resources in this space. We understood the reason behind this: in China, design is traditionally perceived as belonging to the arts and less to engineering, establishing a combination of the two is key for successful designs. With our experience in both worlds and with a background in Dutch design, we imagined we had a chance to find our corner in the market.”
They settled in the Guangdong area, which has the most intensive manufacturing industry for export. Here we would be able to convince Chinese companies that just making cheap stuff is no longer enough. To overseas clients we would show that with the right support, amazing things can happen with Chinese manufacturers without losing too much sleep. Basically we presented ourselves as a best of both worlds solution for Chinese companies to achieve better designed products and for companies outside of China to have better manufacturable products and if needed have them made and delivered by us as well.”
After fifteen years, the pitch is still strong. Orange Creatives has grown to one of the most knowledgeable design companies operating in China. Over the years, the agency designed (and: was often involved in the manufacturing of) products ranging from consumer electronics – hair dryers, tooth brushes – to kitchen appliances, such as mixers and blenders. And from complex packaging robots for companies such as NuevoPack to educational toys such as CubeLets for the Modular Robotics brand.
“We are uniquely suited to offer in-depth services to Chinese companies, and companies outside of China who are interested in manufacturing a product in China. Over the years a bridge over a large chasm has been built. Giving all who pass a measurable advantage.” Clients such as Ricoh, IBM, Infinitus, iBaby, Sharing and Turing Robot can testify to that. Obviously, success does not come by itself. Therefore: what are the challenges?
“Protecting a product idea. Finding skilled workers. Maintaining quality levels. And a few more. China is challenging, no doubt about it. With such an industrious hard-working population competing with you, you have to be on your toes to rise above those challenges. I think the old adage still applies: hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
What is your advice/plea to international brands?
“A large part of our clients outside of China with a product idea, which they aim to produce in China, would benefit from an early-stage assessment by our team as to judge feasibility before any major investments in the development have been made. It is also for this reason we decided to open up offices in the USA and the Netherlands and work with partners in the Gulf region to exactly answer to that demand. We even cater for other design companies in this space who struggle with the manufacturing question. We can help them make better decisions how to design a product with Chinese manufacturing in mind. Our support is not only the design process but also, we may help their clients to actually put the design into manufacturing, form a legal basis in China to secure their IP and intervention or litigation without crossing borders. We assure quality, 3rd party testing and social compliance of the relevant manufacturers. All this should secure a more cost-effective design process and a faster time to market. For our partners it means they stay longer involved with their clients as we enable manufacturing support to be added to their services.”
Looking ahead: is Guangzhou region still the right place for their business?
“It has been the largest province by GDP since 1989 in Mainland China. What makes this area so interesting is the speed of development (prototype your product faster than anywhere on earth), the manufacturing prowess (largest and most diverse manufacturing ecosystem on the planet) and the access to foreign collaboration on a grass roots level with startups, access to investment, government support. So: yes, this is still the right place for us. We’re staying!”