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      Home Living in China Foreigners in China Foreigners in China Boukje Koch: Don't Worry, Just Ask Me
      Boukje Koch: Don't Worry, Just Ask Me
      Foreigners in China

      Boukje Koch

      Boukje Koch, founder and CEO of Ask4Me, a Dutch design company based in Guangzhou, shares with us how she and her company settle down and survive in the city.

      When western companies come to Guangdong Province to do business - typically to have products manufactured by China's cheap and abundant labor force - they often run headlong into a wall. 
       
      If that wall had a headstone, it would read, "A Failure to Communicate." Sometimes it's simply a language or cultural barrier. At other times it's a clash of ideas or intentions. It may be a misunderstanding over a product's price or design or quality. 
       
      Whatever the cause of poor communications, it can doom a foreign venture or at the very least create painful headaches and lead to staggering costs. 
       
      That's why Boukje Koch can be a godsend to investors and businesses interested in setting up shop in South China. She is the co-founder and CEO of Ask4Me Group, a Dutch design and engineering firm that can do virtually all the heavy lifting for clients enticed to South China by the region's manufacturing reputation. 
       
      "We translate our customers' ideas to the factories," she explains from her office, 24 stories above Guangzhou's Yuexiu Distirct. "We understand both sides. And because we are designers, we take extra care." 
       
      She and a partner launched Ask4Me in 2007, opened an office in Guangzhou in 2008, and began by helping clients from the West who had products they wanted manufactured in China but had trouble communicating with factories from abroad.  
       
      Sometimes the product ideas from western companies couldn't be turned into reality by the Chinese factories. "It's not always possible to manufacture products the way the firms envision them," Boukje explains. "But we can come up with solutions that satisfy both sides - and explain why we must do what we need to do." Boukje, 37, is a design engineer by both training and inclination. "When I see something, I want to know how it's made" - and how it's designed, she says. She earned a master's degree in industrial design engineering in Delft, a lovely Dutch city that has a history of producing fine art. It is the home of Johannes Vemeer, the 17th century Dutch master. The city also is famous for its production of the blue ceramic ware that bears its name and, which, coincidentally, was initially modeled after 17th century Chinese porcelain that was imported to Holland. 
       
      Sometimes Ask4Me will design a product for a client and then shepherd it through the entire production process - from start to finish. At other times it might tweak a product somewhere along the way. And then there are those clients who merely want Boukje and her colleagues to be their eyes and ears in the factory to assure that a product is manufactured precisely to specifications. 
       
      Among the products that Ask4Me shepherds along the manufacturing belt are scales, toys, cosmetic devices, small electronics, barbeque grills, Chinaware, design books, home decorations, and chain saws. The firm's biggest item is a solar bicycle light.  
       
      Boukje came to China in 2005. She then was working for a Dutch firm that deployed her as chief product manager for a team that set up operations in Wuxi, not far from Shanghai, to produce gifts. 
       
      For the culturally inclined Boujke - she also has performed as a dancer - Wuxi was a little on the slow side at that time. She already had made contacts in Guangzhou, and she thought the cultural possibilities were more promising here.  
       
      So she and her partner set up shop in the city and began by helping western companies deal with local factories. The firm has grown to 10 people - half of them Chinese, half designers and engineers - and has a client base that spans the globe. Ask4Me also now has quite a few Chinese clients - about 25 percent of its customers are Chinese firms needing production and/or design help. 
       
      As the company has grown, Boukje finds herself withdrawing from doing as much design work as she once did, since she needs to devote more time to the business side. 
       
      She believes the decision to locate in Guangzhou was a prescient one. While Beijing and Shanghai might be more stylish places to live and work, Guangzhou has the entrepreneurial zeal that meshes with the mission of a company like Ask4Me, Boukje points out. 
       
      "Here they know how to get things done," she says. 
       
      She sees a greater appreciation for design in Guangzhou than when she founded Ask4Me, both with factory management and among attendees at the Canton Fair, where Ask4Me has become a regular participant since 2010. 
       
      Factories also have become better at communicating and at understanding the needs of clients, she says. "I'm happy that I'm in this city," she asserts. "The factories that we can find in this area are good." 
       
      The "made in China" branding will continue to prosper, Boukje believes, because local manufacturers have come to realize that quality design can give them a competitive edge. Some Chinese brands are gaining increasing recognition in overseas markets for their "good quality and competitive prices," Boukje says. For example, she points to a tablet made by Huawei that is popular in Holland, "even though we could never pronounce its name right." There now is a growing appreciation for aesthetics as well as functionality during the product development phase. 
       
      Boukje lives in Guangzhou with her four-year-old son, who, she acknowledges, speaks better Chinese than she does. She also bikes to work, something the Dutch do even more than the Chinese, and laments that Guangzhou is not more of a bike friendly city. If it were, Boukje suggests, Guangzhou would be a cleaner, healthier city. 
       
      She finds doing business in China easier than when she first arrived, even though there are more legal constraints today. Perhaps flexibility has dissipated, but communication from factory management has improved, so the overall environment in south China is more conducive for a company like Ask4Me. 
       
      And even though factories may be more communicative and receptive in the way they deal with clients, the need still exists for an entity like Ask4Me that can make "the road from idea to finished product as smooth as possible," as the firm claims in its literature.  
       
      That concept should be music to the ears of local authorities and boosters of the South China economy, because Ask4Me is a company that helps keep the wheels moving to assure that "Chinese made" actually gets manufactured the way investors want their products made. 
       
      Boukje Koch,中文名瑪莎,荷蘭出生留在中國的工業設計師,2007年,創立Ask4Me Group。
       
      “我熱愛設計,熱愛工廠,我喜歡將兩者的力量結合起來,創造出色的產品。”——Boukje Koch
       
      05年在無錫成立了生產工廠之后,瑪莎便決定留在中國開展自己的設計事業并創立Ask4Me Group,一眨眼就在中國走過了8個年頭。到底是什么原因讓這位荷蘭女生毅然留在中國的呢?在2013深圳國際家居飾品展上,瑪莎給觀眾帶去了立體空間裝飾秀,看似簡單的飾物經過瑪莎的精心安排,在空間綻放出獨有的魅力。在展會上,中奢網有幸能跟瑪莎進行了一次簡單的采訪,從而了解了這位荷蘭女生對設計,對自己事業的一些看法。
       
      當瑪莎還是小女孩的時候,就很享受欣賞漂亮的東西,從巴黎地鐵站的新藝術風格燈籠到阿斯頓馬丁的跑車設計,各種各樣的設計都深深地吸引著她。滿腦子充斥著設計圖片的瑪莎開始試著以此勾畫出自己所理解的樣子。但是她并沒有因此滿足,除非她能清楚地揣摩這些東西的構造以及它們是如何被生產出來。這樣的感受使瑪莎專業于工業設計工程,并在2002年獲得其碩士學位。
       
      關于Ask4Me Group
      Ask4Me Group創立于2007年,為幫助海外客戶將他們的產品主義在中國實現出來,并且為中國供應商設計符合市場需要的創新產品?,斏f道:“我們的產品的研發是從設計理念開始直到大貨生產而結束。我將這個流程分為幾步。每一步都有明確的開始和相應的完成步驟。這使得我們的客戶可以從這些步驟中選擇他們最為需要的。這使得我們可以為任何一個客戶進行完全個性化的服務, 不論他們是否只是需要理念創新、產品設計、生產, 或者整個完整的步驟。”
       
      而談起為什么會選擇在中國實現海外客戶的產品主意,瑪莎說,她們服務的客戶都有一個共同點——那就是他們想在中國進行生產。因為最開始的形式是,通??蛻粼谧约簢疫M行產品研發,然后再將設計交給中國的制造商去制造,然而這恰恰是一個糟糕的開始。因為工廠很難按照設計的要求進行生產同時又很難與國外設計師溝通。但是因為Ask4Me Group在中國進行設計,所以一開始能更容易的與工廠溝通,同時,也可以讓他們更早的融入西方設計中避免后續發生的問題。
       
      國內的工業設計跟國外的工業設計是有區別的,而瑪莎覺得這種區別主要是:國外的產品大多數是依托品牌來發展的。他們有非常清晰的定位并與公司的價值相匹配。在中國,產品大多數都是以代加工為基礎,這意味著他們沒有清晰地發展方向。在這種情況下會導致產品可以完整的實現其功能但是沒有靈魂。國際消費者們意識到這種情況正在逐漸增長同時代工更加難以實現這一要求。這就是瑪莎為什么會去幫助他們的原因。
       
      “我的設計研發是從產品加工到最終的成品。我發現如果我在中國完成這些設計的話,那意味著我將更加接近這些產品的生產地從而能更好的了解到這些產品的生產流程,對于設計師而言這是非常完美的地方。”談及為什么會選擇留在中國,瑪莎給予了這個回答,也許這也是作為一個工業設計師最理想的狀態吧。
       
      關于設計
      在設計師的眼中,設計應該是一種語言,或者是一種手法。對于瑪莎來說,工業設計跟建筑設計,室內設計等其他設計雖然是不一樣的,但是在創造性的過程中又是相似的,例如:理念、視角、最終設計以及生產和執行設計。這些步驟的細節和局部表現是不同的,這些其實都是設計師通過雙手來表現出來同時作為生產者工作的基石。
       
      跟其他設計一樣,工業設計的設計師同樣要面對產品設計與用戶體驗之間的矛盾,有些產品設計很新穎,但是卻未必能獲得良好的用戶體驗,為了平衡這些矛盾,瑪莎通常會尋找一個折中的解決方案。如果這樣還不行,她會重新審視要求的每一個細節,權衡每一方面的重要性,尋找每一個步驟的正反面最后做出一個均衡的決定。
       

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      亚洲 欧洲 日产 国
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