August 28, 2012
Do you remember playing as a kid? Or perhaps more recently watching kids play? There is an exquisite freedom to explore, invent, question, create, problem solve, fail, try again...and it’s all fun. But as we get older, play becomes something that children do and work becomes something that adults do. And we believe these two activities to be mutually exclusive: play is not work and work is not fun.
Even for those of us working in creative endeavors, where freewheeling creative energy is essential to our success and our well-being, it’s difficult to give ourselves permission to play. But think about the perpetuating energy of play. If you’re having a good time, do you want to stop? No. But how do we justify playing when faced with dragging timelines, ballooning budgets and indecisive clients – in essence, when we don’t have answers to questions or solutions to issues? We would put forth that this is exactly when we should play.
At a TED Talk conference themed, Serious Play, legendary graphics designer Paula Scher reviewed her career within the literal context of the theme. During her presentation, Ms. Scher describes only four moments during her 35 year career when conditions combined to make her work serious play. She considers these projects, including creating environmental graphics for buildings (pictured above), to be her most successful, both professionally and personally. And what they all have in common is that she felt utterly unqualified when she started, which gave her the freedom to play.
Play lets us move beyond asking what a thing is, to asking what we can do with it. It allows us to let go of assumptions and play with possibilities. In working with natural stone, it would be easy to only supply the standard finishes for the standard uses that designers have come to expect, and that they understand. But where is the fun in that…for anyone? “The most satisfying part of my day is when I can play with a designer to unlock new possibilities – something beautiful that neither of us have previously imagined, but is perfect for the project,” said Nicole Gelpi VP of Marketing for YMSW.
The simple truth is: that no matter our age, play stimulates our imagination, arouses our curiosity, and encourages collaboration – all of which leads to discovery and creativity. Play gives us a safe context in which to take risks, get messy, find new perspectives, and innovate. And it’s fun. A whole lot of fun.
And so we encourage you to play. And in writing this, we remind ourselves to play. The best design starts on a playground of infinite possibilities and a rousing game of kick the can.
July 13, 2012
Over the course of the last ten years, as we have built our business, a recurring theme in the marketplace has been the vagaries of buying cut-to-fit stone form China. There always seems to be an ongoing parade of horribles in the marketplace, including mis-fabricated, unconscionably late, or just plain disappearing product. It is frightening to clients. And it is immensely frustrating to us, because it doesn't have to be that way. We have certainly stubbed our toe from time to time, but at the end of the day, the formula for success is pretty much the same as it is elsewhere in the world market. You have to know the lay of the land and the conventions of the culture as it relates to the business you are doing. China is a rigorous place to do business. It is a market unforgiving of bad assumptions, poor research, or lax expectations. That said, it is the most exciting stone market in the world, with materials and craft skills simply not found anywhere else.
Here is how to protect yourself as a buyer.
Do not buy stone from anyone who is not a legal business entity in China, properly licensed to do the business they are doing. You need to see two things for sure: the company's tax registration certificate and its Chinese business license. Those two documents tell you three important things: that you are dealing with someone with legal standing in China; that they are committed to the market, not a day trader working on a quick turn of paper ownership; and that they can actually write enforceable contracts to buy the materials they are selling you.
Do not buy from anyone until you understand the proposed supply chain and their value in that chain. In the general stone market, most entities selling material are brokers of inventory-based stock items. In this scenario, there are no nuances, no special details, and the modules are routine and common; the largest part of the process is the transfer of ownership. It is a disaster to get that supply chain to furnish cut-to-fit/custom stone fabrication. In the Yellow Mountain supply chain, we are the only entity between fabrication and our client. Unless you are going to become a licensed entity in-country, that is as short as the chain gets.
Do not buy custom stone without a complete set of shop drawings detailing all of the particulars of your work. A supplier of material from China should be able to show them to you in Chinese if you ask.
Do not buy custom stone without both a set of control samples and a mockup of the proposed modules and finishes. It verifies two things: the supplier can produce what is drawn on the shop drawings, and the real thing looks like what you said you wanted.
Ask how the company communicates, both with their suppliers in China and with their clients. It can be nerve racking not knowing where your order is in the process or when you're going to get it. Find out if you'll be kept apprised or left in the dark.
Get and check references. A really good smell test is to ask for a reference for a supply job that went badly and check how it was resolved. Stone is not an exact science; things can go wrong. The measure of a company is how they act when problems occur.
I strongly believe the Chinese stone market will only continue to expand. In fact, China is now going beyond their own vast resources and is sourcing stone from around the world for international markets. If you're an architect, designer, or artist passionate about creating and innovating with stone, this is a market that must be understood, not feared. Take advantage of the insights we've gained as we've continued to work in China - our hope is that you unleash the creative potential of custom Chinese stone while actually enjoying the purchasing process.