An invitation to attend a conference in Italy has led to the formation of a design research alliance that spans three continents.
Cathy Huang, founder and president of Shanghai-based CBi China Bridge, this past spring was invited to participate in an event on “Design Anthropology, Indigenous Knowledge and Culture-Based Innovation,” backed by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Set in northern Italy on the shore of Lake Como, the event attracted Huang and 18 others from Denmark, Mexico, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, China, Japan, Lebanon, India, Canada and the U.S. for five days of brainstorming and discussion.
The contacts she made there led to the creation of an alliance, called the Innovation Union, that encompasses not only CBi but also Pune, India-based Indi and Mexico City-based Insitum.
The group aims to offer integrated innovation and research for global Fortune 500 companies.
Huang, in an interview at the recent Industrial Designers Society of America international conference in New Orleans, said the new group also hopes to bring in a Russian firm, to allow it to cover the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The group aims to provide in-depth consumer research in fast-growing markets worldwide.
Indi was started by Sudhir Sharma, founder of and still a major shareholder in Elephant Design, India's largest design consultancy.
Insitum, meanwhile, specializes in Latin American and U.S. Hispanic markets from offices in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina. Together, the three firms employ 135 consultants and 14 partners.
Huang said the real value the alliance can offer is decades of collective experience and indigenous knowledge in these markets, as opposed to someone flying into a country to try to execute 10 days of ethnographic research and fly home with a notebook full of observations.