Galilei Circle of Friends - Interview with Davide Conti

Galilei Circle of Friends – Interview with Davide Conti

Today we bring you the story of Davide Conti, founder and design director of the Davide Conti Design Studio. He was born in Genoa, over the years the studio of Chiavari saw so broaden his horizons in Milan and since 2013 in Shanghai with the opening of his company in China. Since 2015 he has been actively participating as a jury of international design award and since 2016 he has been teaching interior design and Italian design for different Chinese universities, developing courses, workshops and design tours in Italy for Chinese design students. In 2017 he founded the IADC, Italian Architects and Designers Community in China. In 2019 he founded IDM – Italian Design Masterclass in Shanghai, an extra-academic course of high education for Chinese designers. Lives and works between Shanghai (China), Milan (Italy) and his beloved Chiavari(Genoa, Italy).

Enjoy his story!

INTRODUCTION – Personal relationship with China

How did your experience with China begin? Was it a casual meeting, related to your work, for pleasure?

Meanwhile, before starting this interview, allow me to thank you for the invitation, it’s a pleasure to be able to respond. It was 2013 when I received the proposal to come and work in China. This opportunity was proposed to me by the Italian Design Association based in Milan and it was therefore for work that I approached this great country that I knew very little, and which from the first months upon my arrival was able to impress me in a very positive!

How has your relationship with China evolved over time?

Right from the start, as I was saying, it was like love at first sight, obviously initially I had to study and understand how to approach work in China, the importance of relationships, learning to make and maintain them, overcome the obstacle of food, and obviously the language that it is the key to fully understanding China’s thousand-year-old culture. Month after month I learned quickly also because the fast and dynamic Chinese working world gives you no respite, and therefore over time my relationship with China and the Chinese has evolved very well thanks to a lot of work and sacrifice which over time have given important fruits.

What has your personal experience in this splendid country taught you?

Certainly to be humble, also because without humility and a spirit of adaptation it is difficult to resist in a country so different from Italy. Arriving in China with the arrogance and security of already knowing how things are done and how the world should go is profoundly wrong. Not because what we know is wrong, but for the fact that it must be put in the right way, and understanding that China has a thousand-year history that must be understood and respected, and that if we have to explain something we must do it by first trying to understand who the people are. Chinese people and what they do, and then try together to work to improve and grow, but not by confronting our countries and ideologies, but by doing for a common good that goes beyond borders, it is everything for man.

BUSINESS in China and with China

How has China changed compared to its early years from a business perspective in your specific sector? What are the differences that most affected you positively and negatively?

Definitely a big change, initially my approach was exclusively Western, European, Italian because I thought it was the only way to work, but inevitably daily reality turned my certainties upside down. Over time I have learned to work with the Chinese and for the Chinese, but without forgetting that I am Italian and that I have a cultural and professional background behind me that can coexist in the country of the dragon, but which must be adapted day after day with patience and flexibility. Flexibility was certainly the key to my professional path in China, and still is.

Tell us about your business experience. What is your role and what are the main results you have achieved over the years?

I arrived as a manager, then I became general manager, and then I started to gain multiple experiences in my reference sector which is design. Today I own my own design company that operates in both China and Italy. I became a professor for various universities in the field of design and then I work as a Creative Director for the development of many activities, events and promotions for Chinese companies. Therefore a flexible professional figure managing various companies and activities.

How important is it to know the local culture and language in your business?

It is very important to know Chinese culture, such as the language, but time is short when working in China. It is not possible to know the Chinese language and culture in one lifetime. We should be scholars and researchers every day, but how do we do it? If you have to work there isn’t the time to go that deep. Therefore it is important to take step by step every day in China to learn more about the Chinese language and general culture which for us foreigners is very complex to know, but is the key to respecting and loving this people and great country.

Have you noticed any changes in recent years compared to your arrival from a work point of view? If so, what were the most significant?

Surely, precisely because of what I was saying, initially my approach was mainly and exclusively based on my Italian notions, but over time, thanks to the study and openness towards Chinese culture, it has improved a lot. In addition to this, I lived through the Covid pandemic and therefore I saw what it meant to work before 2020 and after 2022, things have changed for the better because month after month I know the Chinese more, but at the same time the country has changed a lot and therefore inevitably there were also difficulties that we all hope will resolve in the coming years.

How did the pandemic affect your business and what strategies have you implemented since its outbreak to respond to the crisis?

Our main work is divided into interior design and architecture projects, so the answer is very clear. With Covid all our construction sites stopped, the work could only be done online, without even being able to meet customers. Due to economic difficulties, clients have halved their investment budgets, so we have inevitably had to slow down. Based on these problems, universities were also closed and I could not teach by going to class. Even the events that I often organized before Covid have stopped since Covid onwards, for example the Salone del Mobile in Milan in Shanghai has no longer had any edition in China since 2019, and therefore all of us operators in the sector have obviously suffered these situations. In general it has been difficult, but fortunately thanks to relationships and the great work done with passion and dedication we are getting back up and starting again.

What are the main challenges you have encountered in your experience as a successful manager in China? What are the positive surprises?

I found divergent and different situations. With so many realities there is an inability to work with foreigners. Many companies and clients want to work with us, but they don’t know how to work with Westerners, they don’t speak English, they don’t want to invest, and therefore the experience is difficult to see simply because the working relationship doesn’t develop. In other cases I had a lot of confidence and carte blanche to do what I had in mind and my vision and creativity was raised and left free to express itself. A lot of trust is needed for creative works, in fact we sell ideas, vision, and therefore if the client does not trust us, we cannot give our best, in my experience as a manager of my company the best surprises are happened and they happen when Chinese customers trust us and we start working together for the best results. In this way wonderful works always happen, but it takes trust and transparency in relationships.

How important is the role of technology in your business? From this point of view, is it an advantage for your company to be able to operate in China?

In reality for us it is relative, we certainly have software for the development of our ideas, of interior design projects but our company does not depend on technology. If I have a good idea and can explain it to my client in words, that’s it. I don’t necessarily need high-performance software to make people understand what I have in mind. Same thing when I have to create promotional events or when I have to teach design at university, I don’t need innovative software to do it, but I can study and research and then tackle everything with various presentations. It is important that our customers have access to the best technologies to enable us to work best for them.

GOING EAST – Why does being in China make sense for a European company?

Why does it still make sense to focus on the Chinese market for an Italian/European company and what are the opportunities in particular in the part of the country where you operate?

We have a very clear vision on this, for us being Italian is a great value, but we consider ourselves inhabitants of the world, we have experienced the possibility from world politicians to enter a global world, right? and therefore we are global, for us the earth is the limit, not the national borders. China is a large market like Italy, Brazil or Greece. It is not important for us the place where we work, but the project we do for the client we have, and therefore our goal is to create the best project for those who ask us. Obviously, therefore, the Chinese market is important for us, as is the Italian market or others in which we can operate. Specifically, China as a large country offers special job opportunities compared to other places in the world and for us Italians this is a great opportunity to create unique and special projects and activities for this large country.

Are you already present in Chongqing or in the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle?

We do not have a base of our business in the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle, but we have already worked for clients in this area, for sure we have many friends and people we love there for work and friendship. In reality we work in several Chinese cities, without having an office in every city in China, it would be impossible for us to have a studio everywhere. We are an Italian studio based in Italy and based in Shanghai, we move from these areas to tackle projects where they are requested. For some special projects where clients wanted a permanent presence, we sent project managers to live in one location for a few months until the project was completed and there were no problems. If the customer is open, prepared and trusts us, we can work anywhere without necessarily having a base there, if there are partners we can therefore also work in that territory, as we have already done in the past.

How can the Galilei and the Sant’Anna in Chongqing be useful to your company in China?

It is very difficult to answer this question, because our work is very linked to the relationships and trust that the Chinese can have in our work. Certainly the creation of meeting moments, where one can make oneself known, promote Italian design in a stable way and with a strategy could help our reality to find new jobs in collaboration with local partners who have an interest in investing and growing with spaces and places wherever we can start again, we are always available to come to Chengdu-Chongqing to start stable and visionary paths for the future.

Interview by Marco Bonaglia

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