Turning Design into a Game
An online platform is giving budding talent and seasoned professionals a new way to interact with industry, Li Yingxue reports.
Peng Xiangbin started his first job as a graphic designer in Beijing at the end of July, after moving to the capital a few days earlier. What helped Peng, a fresh graduate from Heilongjiang University, land the job after a week of job-hunting were two logo design projects that impressed the interviewers.
The projects, one for a financial institution and one for a social app, are being used by the companies.
"As a college student, it's difficult to have a design portfolio," says Peng. "I've done internships during summer vacations, but only had the chance to do some basic work."
Peng bagged the two design projects by winning open competitions on Whale Design, an online platform that brings together companies and designers.
Whale Design, which launched in 2017, takes companies' design requests and floats competitions for designers, with the winner being allowed on work on the company's project and earning a bonus as well.
Peng's first win came on his second attempt when he took part in a contest and won a prize of 20,000 yuan ($2,933), which gave him the chance to work directly with the clients.
"I had no experience of talking to clients before, and the staff at Whale Design helped me," says the 24-year-old.
Besides taking part in Whale's design contests, Peng also uses the platform to see other designers' works. "I learn from them, comment on their work (on the platform) and discuss ideas," Peng says.
Designer Luan Peng's talent was spotted by a friend who suggested he participate in the Whale Design competition, which he did, and later he got a job there.
He likes the platform as the background of the designers does not matter.
"It is a place that gives young designers a chance to show their talent," says Luan, who won a contest to design a logo for a children's education company on the platform.
"They sent our work to the kids who studied at the educational institution, which makes the result more credible."
Luan, 24, moved to Beijing just before Peng, after he graduated from the Dalian Neusoft University of Information this June.
"As design straddles art and science, and a designer's work is not regular, Whale Design is a way for the best designers to be selected for a project," Luan says. "The platform is quite new and I want to see how far it can go. Besides, I can join competitions at the same time."
Whale Design has competitions in various categories, including graphics, illustration, clothes, space and products, so Luan says he can learn from his colleagues-professional designers in other fields. One of those is Wang Simin, founder of Whale Design.
"He is good at balancing design and presenting it which I need to work on," says Luan.
Wang Simin (third from right), founder of Whale Design, at a meeting with colleagues.
Before he came back to China in 2015, Wang, 31, used to work at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, an architecture, urban planning and engineering firm in New York. Wang studied civil engineering at the University of Michigan, and then went on to study architecture at Cornell University, where he gained his master's degree in 2014.
He set up an institute of design in 2013, to teach designers online. Then he found that while there were many good designers in China, they could not find proper projects to display their talent. Equally, companies struggled to find qualified designers.
"China has about 20 million designers, and my intention was to find out a way to match good designers with companies," says Wang.
Whale Design is like a game, says Wang. "So, all the registered designers are gamers who join open competitions and gain points. Then, members with more points can take part in invitational tournaments and closed competitions."
Wang says they don't look at the backgrounds of their designers. "Only work talks."
So far, more than 3,000 designers are on the platform, with about 80 percent of them in full-time jobs.
The platform is also a place for designers who want to change fields. For example, if an architect wants to do graphic design, he or she can take part in a logo competition to see how it goes.
Meanwhile, Wang and his team are developing the platform to provide a whole service chain for companies, so that "the designers can focus on design, and we will help companies complete their projects".
Wang Xiaoyu, the winner of the sign design contest for Peking Academy, is working with Wang Simin's team to complete the design.
"I've taken part in many design competitions; Whale Design has the most categories. It gives me a chance to bring what I learned in the US back to China, and let me understand how projects work here," says the 28-year-old, who completed his master's degree in architecture at Columbia University in 2016.
As for Whale Design founder Wang Simin, he feels it is a bit of a loss that he does not have much time to design. "I wish I could be a designer on the platform," he says.