Guangzhou Design Week Feature: Workplace New Normal

The pandemic has completely changed what we took for granted as normal life. The line between work and private life is becoming blurry. In this post-pandemic era, we continue to explore the possibility of workplace design under the new normal.

Editorial Team16 Dec 2021

The pandemic has completely changed what we took for granted as normal life. The line between work and private life is becoming blurry. In this post-pandemic era, we continue to explore the possibility of workplace design under the new normal. As a curator of the latest edition of Guangzhou Design Week (GDW), an initiative started more than a decade ago, Cui Shu put together an exhibition titled “Work?” showcasing the various forms of working life around the world.


Cui, the founder of Cun Design studio, has been in the design industry for years and has participated in countless design projects, such as HWS atelier, WU fashion boutique at Beijing Sanlitun Tongying Centre, UMA WANG fashion store, Liu Zongyuan’s Beijing studio UTTER SPACE, Tenglong Apartments, etc. In fact, Cui is not a stranger to GDW. “I was the national winner of their 2015 Design Star of China competition. From that point, I have been deeply involved in some of the GDW events every year. Compared with other international design exhibitions that I have been to, personally I found the content and the scale of GDW is richer and more diversified. The benefit of choosing Guangzhou as GDW’s base is obvious – not only can it project its influence to other parts of the mainland, it is also geographically convenient for friends from Hong Kong and Taiwan to exchange ideas, interact and collaborate together.”



A peek at the working life new normal


Asked why he came up with the theme “Work?”, Cui said it’s just something that happened. “GDW approached me at the beginning of the year to organise an exhibition about workspace. That’s how it happened.” So what would be the highlights of GDW? “The theme is about solving various issues or questions that we are facing under the pandemic. How can workers be physically and mentally happy in a workspace? How would the future way of working affect corporate development and work efficiency? Can future workspace design help achieve the carbon reduction and net-zero targets? These are the curatorial topics, and we have also included a Cun Design response to those questions. When we think of the new formats of our future workspace, we also have to factor in technologies, health, efficiency, sustainability as the core ideas. This time we not only have invited experts from respective professions to share their insights but also a few gold award-winning designers from the Office Space Innovations Awards to give us a deep-dive analysis and interpretation of their works. Plenty of things to watch, so please stay tuned.”


Economic activities around the world have been severely impacted by the pandemic. We are all learning new ways to restart our economy, testing various new approaches to “work”, and making more effective use of virtual communication. Cui said the changes observed in the past two years are something seismic and fundamental. “What can be said about the pandemic is that it has really changed our way of life and of work. Today, people can actually just work with their handsets. And the most significant change in the past one or two years is the emergence of the idea “Metaverse”. Not many of us have a full understanding of what Metaverse really is. I myself am also gathering thoughts, understanding and learning about this idea. All these have given us unlimited imagination about the future.


“Future of Work” is a topic that many care about. “I always tell my team that ‘the future has come’! When we talk about the future of work, we are not predicting the trend, but we are already being led by the times and technologies without much knowing. With China being one of the world’s leading economies, it is not surprising it will be leading the trend in the area of “work”. We have been closely looking into the ideas of smart workplaces and workplace digitisation ever since 2019. The “smart” part will be an indispensable part of “work” as we welcome this new era.”



Reset and inclusive design with people in mind


Besides work, urbanisation and the ageing population also bring challenges to cities. “Inclusive design” can deliver the maximum benefits to members of the public, and it is the trend to be. Cui also has his own thoughts on this. “Urbanisation and ageing population seem to be the two irreversible trends in the future and in China. While ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘design’ seem to be two contradictory concepts, but it is through innovative design that we can achieve harmony. Past and future, east and west, technology and humanity, complexity and simplicity… we are all exploring ways to find a fine balance within diversity. This continues to stimulate our design inspirations and think about new perspectives and ideas about livable cities. I guess from a design perspective, there will be more attention gravitating towards greening, and then integrated sustainability, and more about people-oriented design visions.


In the midst of uncertainties in this post-pandemic era, breaking through the mould and “reset” will really require interdisciplinary creativity and thinking in order to embrace challenges at hand and respond to various emerging trends in the society. On this note, Cui has more to share. “Today, things known and unknown are happening fast and coming onto us at incredible speed. When the new era comes, do you embrace it, participate in it, or ignore it? My motto is that I will neither be a slave of experimental designs nor a follower of certain trends of beauty admiration. I will continue to move forward on my terms. For me, I will definitely be an active participant!”



Move through adversity and create a brilliant future together


This interview actually took place after GDW concluded. GDW CEO He Wenguang said, “This is a year of immense difficulties and challenges. Under stringent infection controls, we doubled our efforts in our preparation. Not just about safety, but also perseverance and capabilities. Health and safety continue to be the top priorities of GDW. We must also move through difficulties. Delivering our best while keeping things within manageable parameters is perhaps a microcosm of the state of our society is today. Not just that, it is also about delivering what’s been expected by many. Never give up until the very end is perhaps what GDW stands for.”


This year, Business of Design Week (BoDW) became GDW’s working partner in championing the application of design thinking against adversity. The BoDW summit this time has also touched on other themes ranging from building a future of happiness to designing a smart future. “Live Long & Live Well: Building a Value-Based Care Future” and “Carving out Future WorkSpace and Living” are amongst the related panels featured this year. Click on the links to review the seminars.