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Beyond form and function: Designing progress in China

Working with Audi China and speaking at Design Shanghai, Yunzhou Wu and Scott Zhao know a thing or two about China’s wishes for a world shaped more sustainably.

06/03/2021 Text: Patricia Jell - Photo: Dirk Bruniecki Reading Time: 6 min

Yunzhou Wu of Design Audi China wearing VR glasses and using VR equipment the design teams on different continents harness to work collaboratively.
Yunzhou Wu of Design Audi China using VR equipment. The Chinese and German colleagues at Audi are utilising VR technology to work collaboratively despite being on different continents.

Mr. Zhao, Mr. Wu, you two are representing Audi at Design Shanghai this year — an event which brings together Chinese and European design. How do these worlds compare?

Yunzhou Wu: As designer, I think that at its core, design itself isn't that different between China and Europe. After all, in the broadest sense, it’s about creating something and making it look nice and easy to use. We at Audi would go several steps further and say: We are striving to design holistic, integrated experiences. While these are the guiding principles, it goes without saying that culture and historical background impact the final result. China entered the modern design industry later than Europe but is catching up really fast, combining traditional culture with modern technique to create its own aesthetic.

Scott Zhao: Chinese design is so varied and diverse that it’s hard to identify only one comprehensive aesthetic. The local design market is very large and very new, so Chinese designers can set their own benchmarks. Coming from my background in innovation research, I’d say diversity is their defining feature.


As Audi China employees who work closely with the colleagues in Germany, navigating two worlds is part of your day-to-day work. How do you manage that?

Wu: In fact we are far removed from our design headquarters in Ingolstadt and are working together on the future of Audi, which is really cool. Connecting with our Ingolstadt colleagues through virtual reality remains one of the most interesting parts of our work. Standing beside 3D car models on the same stage while 10,000 miles separate us - that is amazing.

And what’s the main mission of your work in China?

Wu: We incorporate both customers’ wishes and requests as well as the latest trends into our new, forthcoming products. Since China is the Four Rings’ biggest and most important market, we wouldn’t want to lose the design battle in China.


What are Chinese customers looking for in design?

Zhao: The next generation of premium Chinese consumers has new values and needs. Design should provide them with unique, sustainable, efficient or purposeful experiences. To be specific, Design should be more eye-catching and outstanding; design should provide an individual experience rather than a mass product; design should not be wasteful, but sustainable; design should provide smarter, simpler, efficient solutions; and design, devices and vehicles should be designed for multiple purposes to fit different occasions. You can say that sophisticated Chinese consumers desire luxury in their daily lives. Wellness-oriented purchases and experiences have become a key marker of exclusivity and sophistication. At the same time, the need for sustainability and convenience in their daily lives grows.


Which makes more sustainable design a trend?

Zhao: The need for sustainability in their daily lives grows among eco-aware Chinese consumers as a way to overcome environmental and health issues. In terms of design, tech-enhanced materials, natural materials, such as organic, handmade materials, and more natural colour themes are considered as more promising trends among premium consumers in China, yes.

Wu: On that point, I think there should be a mission for all the designers in China to be innovative and generate smart ideas to nudge the public to pay more attention to the environment. I think we need some attitude to preserve our world within creation.

Yunzhou Wu & Yu Zhao

Yunzhou Wu is Senior Interior Designer and Coordinator Interior for Design Audi China in Beijing. After graduating from Duisburg-Essen University with a degree in design, he worked in Germany, spending a total of 15 years in the country. He joined Audi AG in 2011 as an interior designer and left Ingolstadt in 2018 to grow the interior design team in Beijing.


Yu (Scott) Zhao is Head of Audi Innovation Research for Audi China in Beijing. With more than 13 years of experience in market and trend research in China under his belt, he takes a keen interest in customers and their stories. The insights he gleans are invaluable, since China is the single biggest market for Audi and Zhao considers its customers “unique.” His mission is to foster understanding between east and west.

View of the Beijing skyline from Audi China’s headquarters.
View of the Beijing skyline from Audi China’s headquarters.

How can design create this kind of progress?

Wu: At its most basic, design combines beauty and functionality. Today more and more brands and designers are contributing sustainability into design as the third important factor. If every product in the world, starting with design, would contain smart thoughts on sustainability, from production to customer and recycling, it would be a huge step for mankind and the next generation of us humans.


How are these sustainable concepts reflected in contemporary design?

Zhao: In China, living in the overheated density of megacities with increasingly serious environmental problems causes consumers here to look for more natural and “green” experiences. Natural design provides a soft, cosy, healthy and healing feeling, creating a fantasy world to help consumers escape from the fast pace of mega cities such as Beijing. Natural colours are used to simulate the plants and soils of nature, expressing a natural, pure and soft tone.


That chimes with Design Shanghai’s current theme of regenerative design and Audi’s showcase, which focuses on more sustainable materials. To what extent do shows like Design Shanghai drive progress in design?

Zhao: Design Shanghai is one of Asia’s most important design platforms. It attracts leading international and Chinese design players and enthusiasts while offering an agenda that is meant to forge a better understanding and deeper appreciation of different designs between different worlds. For a brand like Audi whose core value is progress, this is a great opportunity to meet with the most progressive designers in the country and around the world - being able to share our visions and experience in the automotive industry, and at the same time, learn from best practices from other sectors.

Wu: Audi is a design brand. Why do customers choose an Audi? Reason number one is its fantastic design. That’s the result of a survey we as design are really proud of. We are eager to open the discussion with all the designers around the world on how we could play our part to change life into a brighter future.

Looking ahead to the future, what will be the next big thing in sustainable design?

Zhao: Tech-enhanced materials will be one of the big trends. With the emergence of new production technologies new materials can be produced or processed. The new materials can empower humans through self-cleaning, self-repairing and even bacteriostatic features, such as those found in self-repairing concrete.

Wu: Everything is connected nowadays. Digitalisation makes our life easier. However, with more and more functions being added, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with digital trash… I think for reaching more sustainability we as designers need an attitude to relieve power and energy and we should think about the original demands of people to create more freedom and generate the new premium of the future – which for us at Audi always involves designing holistic experiences.

Design Shanghai

Design Shanghai is Asia’s premier design event. It provides a platform to network with Asia's top architects, interior designers, real estate developers, retailers and private buyers. Themed around regenerative design, the June 2021 show marks Design Shanghai’s eighth anniversary. Audi is main sponsor and will be represented with a booth and an installation. “We are very happy to be present at Design Shanghai together with Stella McCartney this year to provide an insight in a walk-in installation into how sustainable thinking and living is practiced in both the fashion and automotive industries,” says Henrik Wenders, Senior Vice President Audi Brand. The Audi e-tron GT quattro* will also be on show as a perspective on forward-looking mobility.

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Yunzhou Wu at Audi Design China.
The Audi e-tron GT quattro.

Progress in design and performance

Progress at its most pleasing: Experience the Audi e-tron GT quattro.

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Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

German model shown. Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

German model shown. Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.