Design Trust Seed Grant

Global Digital Shanzhai: Mapping the Reach of Shenzhen

Global Digital Shanzhai: Mapping the Reach of Shenzhen aims to map and document the global impact of an object from the shanzhai ecosystem, with a focus on distribution patterns, pricing and reach, across a variety of localities.

In the World Economic Forum’s vision of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, networked systems are integral to how things are made and distributed. We believe this is a pivotal time in the history of manufacturing, and, for Shenzhen, one worthy of exploration, as it presages larger trends. The internet is having a transformative impact on how shanzhai products reach the world. As well, the growth in China’s consumer class means that products are now increasingly being designed for China first, and the evolution of China’s creative class means that these products, that used to be considered poorly designed, are increasingly able to compete on a global scale. These new aesthetics, ways of manufacturing and the values inherent in them will be the defining forces that shape ideation, production and consumption worldwide this century.

Utilising a research and design based process that explores, documents and extrapolates the dynamics of what we call “digital shanzhai” - objects that have resonance in digital and physical spheres - with the goal of sharing learning both about Shenzhen and for global communities interested in fostering innovation in their own sectors. Looking specifically on a single object, such as the fidget spinner, that has a global reach, the project will map its production and testing in Shenzhen through field research. Then, leaning on the global community of researchers, the team will crowdsource data on the object’s reach in different localities, with a representative set of urban and rural communities in a variety of different countries. The aim is to visualize and articulate a map of the global reach of shanzhai and how this bottom-up process of distribution operates, both on the internet and through physical shipping networks.


About An Xiao Mina and Jan Chipchase

An "An Xiao" Mina is a technologist, writer and artist. At Harvard University, she is a research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a recent 2016 Knight Visiting Fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, where she studied online language barriers and their impact on journalism. Mina leads the product team at Meedan, where they are building Check, a platform for collaboratively verifying news in real time, and Bridge, a platform for translating social media and messaging app content. She is also co-founder of The Civic Beat, a research collective focused on the creative side of civic technology, and she is working on "Memes to Movements", a book about internet memes and global social movements (Beacon Press, January 2019)

Jan is the founder of Studio D, a design consultancy based out of San Francisco. He has pioneered a number of the human centered design methods that are widely adopted today, and continues to innovate with approaches to amplify the impact of research. For four years he lead the global insight practice at innovation consultancy frog, as Executive Creative Director servicing commercial and nonprofit clients. Prior to that he was Principal Scientist at Nokia. His pioneering research has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, Die Zeit, Nikkei, and many of the world’s leading media.