If you have seen a video produced by mass-market VR cameras where you get an awkward “goldfish” view with an obvious distortion in perspective, the difference between the Obsidian is clear. To produce a higher-quality video, the Obsidian’s stitching algorithm helps to put together the images real-time so that less editing time is required by the users. In addition, as the Obsidian has six lenses, you don’t have to point at one specific object when shooting which gives you greater flexibility.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the two co-founders of JU&KE Design Studio: Julien Gueuning and Christophe Branchu. They are working and living in China, launching their own industrial design studio around two years ago to focus on creating products catered to both the China and international markets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Julien: In terms of how we met, I worked for a well-known American designer in Shenzhen, when this company joined an incubator launched by Christophe that mainly worked with big international brands. Shenzhen is regarded as the global Silicon Valley of Hardware. For example, a project that takes one year in France only takes six months in China.
And faster speed doesn’t involve a quality decline as Shenzhen is tightly integrated with an advanced manufacturing ecosystem built from contract manufacturing expertise of over 40 years since the start of China’s economic reforms. Industrial designers like ourselves can control the design outcomes better because your prototype is assembled next to an actual production line.
Chris: As we received more queries from international brands seeking to launch their products in China and vice versa, JU&KE was born in 2016 as both of us are keen to bring function as well as positive emotion to the consumers.
Julien: To explain further, many brands seek to design and manufacture products in Shenzhen for both the China and international markets. There are a few reasons why Shenzhen is chosen: This city has ranked first in the number of companies winning the Red Dot Design Award for six consecutive years up to 2017, as well as in the German iF Design Award. It is also easier to find foreign designers such as ourselves who are more familiar with international brands and the respective brand DNA as well as heritage.
As both Chris and myself have been in China for around 10 years, we are more attuned to appealing to local as well as international tastes and offer a comprehensive “Design & Manufacture in China for the world” solution. Here, we design a product, handle visual identity elements such as the packaging & copywriting and launch these products at internationally renowned exhibitions. We serve brands from various industries such as technology, cultural products, lifestyle products, and jewelry (see this collage that displays an intelligent robot household assistant, a smart thermometer and one of our watch designs).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Chris: Although our company is very young, we won a total of four CES and CES Asia Innovation Awards in 2017 for the Obsidian 3-D VR camera developed in cooperation with Kandao Technology, a Shenzhen-based startup. It was a big deal for Kandao as they became China’s first CES Best of Innovation Honoree in the Digital Imaging product category. Previous winners in this category include top international brands such as Sony and Nikon. This product was also honoured at the German iF Design Award in 2018 as well as other design competitions.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Julien: We are working on a few terrific projects but can’t reveal additional details at this moment. Therefore, we will focus on the Obsidian camera which has two formats, the Obsidian R which prioritizes resolution with 8K video at 30 fps, and the Obsidian S that puts the focus on frame rate, with 4K video at a faster 120 fps speed. The Obsidian goes beyond 360° by shooting in 3D 360°, using a clever algorithm that processes both left and right channels, stitching together the videos and images captured in real-time.
Even now, this feature is a great example of how an innovative product can feature design, hardware and software technology born in Shenzhen but consumed by the world. In terms of the benefits, seeing is believing so you can take a look at this video shot by the Obsidian. You may notice that six lenses don’t just to make this product look cool as this feature optimizes results of the stitching algorithm.
How do you think this might change the world?
Chris: If you have seen a video produced by mass-market VR cameras where you get an awkward “goldfish” view with an obvious distortion in perspective, the difference between the Obsidian is clear. To produce a higher-quality video, the Obsidian’s stitching algorithm helps to put together the images real-time so that less editing time is required by the users.
In addition, as the Obsidian has six lenses, you don’t have to point at one specific object when shooting which gives you greater flexibility.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Julien: There are concerns in relation to privacy as facial recognition software becomes more advanced and examines video captured in public places. However, VR cameras are a different product designed as a “one-man camera crew” to provide a different perspective and fun to users when shared on social media with their friends.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Chris: Kandao participated in the CES Innovation Awards in previous years but did not win anything. When they approached JU&KE, there was a high-specification prototype in place, so we agreed to help them put together an entire winning package in preparation for CES 2017.
Julien: There was a high degree of mutual respect as Kandao were technical domain experts. In a very short time, we re-designed their logo, packaging, and product. A good logo and packaging really complement an excellent product as all these are consumer touchpoints that impact their feelings about this product — we want consumers to get excited from the moment they see this product in the store to the moment they start using it.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Julien: As designers, we aren’t best placed to talk about the specific technology behind the Obsidian. But we can share how innovative design is playing a bigger role in technology innovation within Shenzhen.
Let’s begin with a quick introduction: Low-end manufacturing, where copycats tend to thrive, is no longer profitable within Shenzhen as the costs of production are rising. Only mid to high-end manufacturing is sustainable and requires a state of constant innovation which comprise technology, design and marketing. Shenzhen designers have a lot of hands-on experience as this city’s manufacturing excellence means that we get additional opportunities to partner a whole range of technical experts ranging from electrical wiring, injection molding and IoT.
Chris: In Shenzhen, there is a more open-source attitude towards design innovation as there is always something that can be learned from others. We have been actively participating in joint events involving designers in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Macao such as the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Design Biennale, to facilitate learning from one another and enhance our design quality.
Therefore, if your brand is planning to design and manufacture an innovative mid to high-end product for the global market, our view is that you should consider Shenzhen where world-class design, prototyping and manufacturing expertise are available.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies? [Prefer to skip this question]
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?[Prefer to skip this question]
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Julien: Designers are trained to keep things simple — why make a product with three components when you can do it with two? This lowers the costs of production and environmental impact.
The tricky part is when we seek to persuade clients to lower environmental impact while incurring higher production costs. For example, recycled packaging materials are relatively more expensive compared to standard cardboard. Ultimately, these are difficult conversations and we keep trying to educate our clients on these trade-offs.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
· Chinese youth are leading consumers worldwide: Chinese youth are leading consumers worldwide: China’s Generation Z (those born in 1998 and after), are big on consumption, and they have marked differences in their attitude and lifestyles relative to previous generations and even peers across the globe. As revealed in the latest research findings, over half of young Chinese shoppers spent more than US$7,450 on luxury goods in 2018 and accounts for 15 percent of their household’s spending in the survey compared with 4 percent in the U.S. and the U.K.
· Stay consistent with your founding principles: We believe that all designers start with an objective to positively impact the world in their own way. Although our clients’ interests always come first, we strive to stay consistent with our founding principles, which are to bring function as well as positive emotion to the consumers.
· Listen more and adapt: There are so many smart people that we have met, and we learned to listen carefully and learn from them. Even when we encounter bad experiences, we are always taking notes so that we can avoid making the same mistake if it was our fault or to handle a similar situation better in the future.
· Grow with your employees: When we first started our company, more senior staff are tougher to find as turnover rates throughout China are high. We tended to hire more junior designers and train them in-house and to grow their skillsets as well as careers with us. This will give our staff greater career satisfaction.
· Grow with your clients: Design is a service and our mission is to help our clients grow. It is a symbiotic relationship since the better our clients succeed, the better we do. Therefore, we always approach our clients as long-term partners.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 [Prefer to skip this question]
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?[Prefer to skip this question]
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Julien: We will love to partner a VC who is well-connected to brands that seek to design and manufacture innovative products for the world.
JU&KE is a young industrial design studio founded in 2016 but in this short time, we have made a name for ourselves among the 6,000 design studios in Shenzhen. In addition, as both Chris and myself have been in China for over 9 years, we are more attuned to the local tastes while being better able to understand where international brands are coming from.
Therefore, we cordially invite such VCs to partner us to leverage Shenzhen’s unique ecosystem of technological, design and marketing innovation. Feel free to reach out via [email protected].
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Chris: You are welcome to view our portfolio on Behance, Instagram, and Pinterest. However, you wish may also search “JU&KE” and follow us on major social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.