This article was originally written in Japanese by Kimi Nakajima here.
From Japan to the world, Loftwork is doing a little more than that of a creative company. Rather, utilizing its connections with creators and companies from all over the globe, it has been transforming setbacks into opportunities for innovation under the new coronavirus normal.
Always one to quickly respond to the latest global developments, Loftwork and its fabrication cafe brand FabCafe Global launched Mask Design Challenge back in March – a design competition that sought to innovate mask designs in the wake of the global pandemic and the ensuing mask shortages. Born of a conversation between Loftwork headquarter’s Director of Global Marketing Christine Yeh and FabCafe Bangkok founder Kalaya Kovidvisith, the project quickly expanded to a fully-fledged global award, attracting over 228 ideas from 24 countries in just three weeks, with even experts and companies signing on as support. See all entries here.
“We had a casual conversation about what kind of masks would be good to have in the future, as well as what materials are needed to fully block the virus,” says Yeh. “Then, we took one week to plan, and the following week we made an offer to the judges; three weeks later, we were able to launch.”
Turning opportunities into viable solutions
As the brains behind the project, Christine Yeh is someone who has extensive experience in media and travel, having previously founded a lifestyle publication in Taiwan. She is no stranger to thinking on her feet in a fast-paced setting. As she says: “I’ve always been in the media business, and I think it’s important to be able to react to current events with a sense of timeliness; Mask Design Challenge was no different.”
As a solely digital competition, Mask Design Challenge allowed creators from all around the world to quickly and easily spring into action. As Yeh says, many creators had more time on their hands, with various stay-at-home orders, as well as cancelled gigs. Not only was it an effective way to involve them, the pressing nature of the challenge topic itself motivated many to think up viable solutions to existing problems. Winning entries included a smart mask that records temperature, humidity and other information in real time, as well as a ‘mask cutter’ in the shape of a roll of tape, allowing one to customize the size of the mask.
The challenge and creators’ ideas would go on to be developed even further. Some of the entries are now being showcased at Bangkok’s TCDC (Thailand Creative & Design Center), while creators at FabCafe Bangkok used 3D printers and laser cutters to make face shields and virus testing booths for a Thai hospital. FabCafe Barcelona also joined the fight against coronavirus, converting itself into a logistics hub to lead the maker community in making and crowdfunding medical equipment for hospital staff, as Forbes reported earlier this year.
“I think it’s really interesting that, starting with Mask Design Challenge, a trend has emerged at FabCafe for creators around the world to ‘try something’ as a response to Covid-19,” says Yeh.
Read more about FabCafe Bangkok: Hacking for Covid-19 with Collaboration and Fabrication: Five FabCafe Bangkok Projects
Innovating with creative people power
The successful response to Mask Design Challenge could not have been achieved without the global creative networks of Loftwork’s subsidiary company FabCafe and in-house platform AWRD.
Thriving communities of creators around the world can be readily tapped into through the physical locations of FabCafe, Loftwork’s series of fabrication labs. Based in over ten major cities including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Barcelona and more, FabCafes act as local creative hubs, hosting talks, workshops and industry events, as well as collaborating with various organizations. In this way, they are both facilitators and participants in the local creative communities – as demonstrated via the pandemic relief efforts of the Barcelona and Bangkok teams.
“One of the reasons for why we were able to gather so many ideas is through collaborating with the FabCafe bases around the world,” says Yeh. “FabCafes in each country hold events for creators on a regular basis, and have formed mature creative communities.”
FabCafe’s global network can also serve as a gateway to global collaborators, such as campaign designers like Thai artist Gongkan, expert judges like Hong Kong’s ‘Godfather of Chemistry’ Dr. Kenneth Kwong Si-San – or even guest speakers like Pablo Rueda, ‘an urban visionary‘ and Barcelona’s father of ‘superblocks’ (superilla). In conjunction with the 2020 YouFab Global Creative Award theme ‘Contactless (by Default)’, which focuses on the ways in which we turn adversity into opportunities, Yeh and FabCafe Barcelona were able to invite Rueda to offer crucial insights into the impact of technology on the city, in a post-Covid timeline.
Having lived in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand and now Japan, Yeh believes in the value of a range of perspectives from other countries and cultures. Serving as the head of overseas expansion initiatives of the Loftwork group and FabCafe Global, part of her role now also includes keeping up with the news and social trends of Asia, Europe and America. Her biggest goal now is to unite creators and businesses from all over the world and, through effective collaboration and exchange, create the blueprint for products or services of the future.
“I feel that the creative network of FabCafe is a very valuable thing. If you have a strong mission, you can connect with interesting people,” she says. “It’s important to have the feeling that the person in front of you now may be someone you can collaborate with someday. Anything is possible.”
Read more about FabCafe Barcelona: Can a 3D print of an MRI scan help one man get his face back?
Creating new values, in an uncertain world
For Yeh, global awards like Mask Design Challenge have the power to bring together ideas and perspectives that companies or organizations themselves could not have – greatly expanding the scope of what can be done. Moreover, a global event can jumpstart research into the trends of different countries, such as people’s mindsets and expectations.
Though there has been an increasing need for projects to undertake overseas design research in recent years, this year’s coronavirus has completely transformed – or worse yet, halted – traditional methods. “It has made it necessary to find a way to conduct research without having to travel to the region,” Yeh points out. “Global awards, which can explore local needs through a creator’s perspective, then, is a viable option. By utilizing the diverse networks of FabCafe Global, companies and projects will be able to have the opportunity to connect with people overseas.”
As the world changes, Loftwork is eager to get a head start on new, innovative ways to work and think. Yeh suggests that technology moves forward rapidly, regardless of people’s perceptions or expectations. In response to our current lived reality, which is mostly online, she says: “Some people thought that it would take more than 10 years to realize the technology for online schooling and remote working, but it’s already here.”
As part of that dialogue on our new world order, Yeh has now taken Loftwork one step further by initiating the global event series FutureCity. Through talks, competitions and more, the series joins forces with companies and creators to tackle issues such as education and retail – and ways to overhaul flawed systems of the past. While many of the events are accessed online, offline events are hosted in the Hong Kong branch – FabCafe HK. Subscribe to get event reminders.
Read more about FabCafe HK: FabCafe Hong Kong & design community fight coronavirus with innovation
“The way we work and the way we live has changed, and we will be forced to live under new rules and values. I want to work with creators to shape and deliver new services and products that are born out of these times,” she says.
Though there are inconveniences involved, Yeh is excited about the new possibilities and the new lifestyles that are being brought about: “I find it very exciting that we’re in the midst of a change that’s redesigning the world.”
Beyond offering a range of design services, including web design and space design, Loftwork stands out particularly in its ability to support the growth of businesses – either through innovative product development or refining existing work processes and frameworks. With collaboration being part of its ethos, Loftwork now looks forward to a much more globalized future, working with companies and startups around the world that are interested in engaging with Japanese businesses and creative communities. Loftwork is excited to share both its network in Japan and its FabCafe global network for collaborations. Contact today if your business is interested in entering the Japanese market or in hosting a global design challenge/award with us!
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Loftwork is a creative company dedicated to making a positive impact through design with a global community of innovators. Aside from providing innovative design solutions to global clients across various industries, Loftwork also operates a number of owned services and platforms. Learn more.
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