Behind-the-scenes of our ID team, and more

In our last post with Li Ningning, senior director of ID, Mi Ecosystem, we learned about her thoughts on the Mi Ecosystem design. Now, we dive deeper into Mi Ecosystem’s ID team and its opinion and plans for Xiaomi’s design.

Tell us more about the Mi Ecosystem’s design team. 

Our team keeps growing. What started as a 2-3-person team has grown into a team of almost a dozen members.

The team is extremely diverse and our designers come from various backgrounds. Work experience is extremely important when we hire new talent and we ensure that their previous design work matches the tone of our tastes.

I trust my team, and we have team brainstorms to get initial ideas going. Then, I let the right person take over a project in which he has more interests and is more familiar with the topic. I think if you love a product, you will be more inspired and have the patience to carry through the design.

Do Mi Ecosystem designers receive any perks for impressive designs?

Xiaomi attaches more and more importance to designs and provides designers with rewards; however, what drives our designers relentlessly is the recognition from more authoritative design experts and associations.

After winning the Gold iF World Design Award and the Red Dot Best of the Best 2017 Award, our designers were given an incentive trip to Germany to see world-class industrial design. This was a great reward that will directly benefit our work.

Xiaomi invested in 89 ecosystem companies. How does the ID team solve the disagreements and conflicts among so many moving components?

We have very strict standards for quality control and we push our ecosystem companies to increase yield rates. Our designers are encouraged to go to front-line to get a better understanding of manufacturing and operation. This allows our designers and our ecosystem companies to have better mutual understanding, knowing how strict we are with our products and designs.

Some products seem simple, but require complex techniques. Take our Yeelight Beside Lamp, Mi Beside Lamp and Mi LED Desk Lamp, for example. Each lamp uses a different technique, which was more difficult than initially expected, so massive production with the same standard can’t work. We strive to overcome difficulties, by working closely with our partners and ecosystem companies to create a great product.

What do you think of Western and Eastern design styles? Are they very different or are they becoming more similar? Why?

Western and Eastern aesthetic tastes are becoming more similar. They learn from each other and add shared elements to their designs.

How long is the life span for consumer product designs?

Five years at most, but this is not the fault of designers or designs. Consumer product designs are largely affected by hardware, which updates very, very fast, so design styles have to change accordingly.

What separates Mi Ecosystem’s designs from other brands

“Mi Ecosystem has its own design style, and our designers have their own bottom-line,” according to Li Ningning, Senior Director of Industrial Design of Mi Ecosystem and the 79th employee of Xiaomi. Li shared her unique perspective on Mi Ecosystem’s design style and provided an inside look into her journey on the Xiaomi team from the company’s infancy to now.

Why did you join Xiaomi?

Xiaomi co-founder Liu De was my senior schoolmate, and almost two years after I graduated from Art Center College of Design, he came to me and asked whether I’d like to join the startup.

I learned design strategies at school, so I hoped to apply them in the workplace after graduation. I also thought it would be great to work with a group of talented people.

Frankly speaking, I didn’t consider too much and simply took a leap of faith on the opportunity. I joined Xiaomi in February of 2011, becoming its 79th employee.

How do styles of different brands in various industries look alike today?

First, I think we need to differentiate aesthetic trend from design style. Simplicity is a general aesthetic trend of our time. Most people like it, so most companies and designers follow it.

That’s why when you see today’s home decorations, fashion trends, and things in other areas, their designs are very simple. But style is different. Style can’t be copied.

How would you describe the design style of Mi Ecosystem? How does Mi Ecosystem’s design stand out among others?

I would use three words to describe Mi Ecosystem’s design style: Simple, peaceful and humble.

By simple, we are saying that 80% of our customers can accept our design style. We always use white or other neutral colors so as to suit most of our customers’ tastes.

Peaceful means that we are reasonable and efficient in balancing between designers’ professionalism and products’ functionality.

Humble means our products won’t clash aesthetically in an environment. They can easily fit in almost all kinds of home decoration styles.

Mi Ecosystem has its own style, and our designers have their own bottom-line. The first principle is to never copy. The second is that you should take pride in your own designs. If you copy others or you don’t devote yourself fully to your designs, you won’t take pride in them.

We take ourselves seriously as engineers and keep crafting our designs hundreds of times, until eventually we are satisfied.

Xiaomi’s design style and ability have been recognized by more and more authorized third-party design associations – Mi LED Desk Lamp was awarded the prestigious Gold iF World Design Award and Mi Electric Scooter won the Red Dot Best of the Best 2017 Award. What stood out to you about these two products?

Smart LED Desk Lamp’s design greatly balanced functionality and appearance. It has a maximum opening angle of 135 degrees, which is enough for all types of daily usage. The revealed red wire gives the lamp some characters. In addition, it is priced competitively at RMB 169!

Scooters used to be very bulky, but Mi Electric Scooter is not. Its body uses super light aluminum that is primarily used in the aviation industry, so it only weighs at 12.5 kg and is easy to fold.

The criteria for industrial design is subjective, but good industrial design needs to be two things: balanced and simple. Good industrial design can influence or create some changes in the industry.

What Mi Ecosystem products do you use at home?

A lot. Mi LED Desk Lamp, Mi Motion Sensor, Mi Smart Power Strip and others. They have very simple and well-knit designs.

One of my favorite products is our power strip. In the past, power strips were ugly. People didn’t realize that this device could be well designed. However, we believed that everyday products should be aesthetically pleasing and we made great efforts to innovate power strips’ designs. You can see that the three-in-one holes on Mi Power Strip are neatly aligned. We changed people’s perception about power strips and we have led the industry. Now, you can see other brands’ power strips also look better.

What’s your favorite design style?

I like very simple styles. My home decoration takes a simple design, and most of the furniture has a light color. I also prefer simply designed clothes and other fashion items.

We offer smartphones, and toothbrushes

When Xiaomi released the Mi Electric Toothbrush under our “Mi Ecosystem” sub-brand, we were met with questions as to why we are creating products outside of our traditional smartphone offerings. People couldn’t understand why we were branching out to become a “supermarket”. And we’ve received this type of response in the past with our other products like the Mi Air Purifier, towels and suitcases.

And the answer is simple: Xiaomi is much more than a smartphone company. We are a company that provides innovation to everyone at every level — from smartphones and technology to IoT connected smart products to the basic everyday tools like power banks, backpacks and pens.

We live in a connected world and we strive to provide the latest technology and products to our consumers. You can understand our current product line-up in three groups: smartphones, smart products and non-smart products.

However, we don’t lose focus even with this array of products. No one company can be the best at everything, so while we focus on our core products, we invest in companies that are able to take us into new and exciting categories. We have so far invested in 89 companies that design and manufacture products beyond our three core product categories: smartphones, smart TVs and smart routers. Among these, many have been incubated by Xiaomi from their founding. In fact, we are the world’s most successful hardware incubator.

You can understand our current product line-up in three groups: smartphones, smart products and non-smart products.

Smartphones are at the center of everything we do, which has attracted a large group of users who are young and Internet savvy. From our latest Mi 6 to Mi MIX to our Redmi phones, we are able to offer the latest technology at very accessible prices.

The second product division is our smart devices that can be connected to our IoT platform, like Mi Water Purifier, Mi Induction Heating Rice cooker and others. Our hope is that these smart products help enhance our Mi Fans’ lives, where traditional non-connected products cannot. For example, with our smart Mi Air Purifier, we’re able to turn the unit on with a Mi Home app during our evening commute home.

The third is our “non-smart” products, like towels, and suitcases. While they are not smart products, they are products we inevitably need in our everyday lives. One of our favorite examples is the 90 Point Luggage, which is reliable, attractive and priced disruptively for more people to enjoy the high quality of this product.

We are a company that constantly seeks innovation at every level and the opportunities surrounding smart products are unending. We understand the rise in demand for smart products, as after all, we too reap the benefits of having a smart Mi Air Purifier. However, to fulfill our mission of “Innovation for Everyone”, we also strive to bring high-quality “non-smart” consumer products to our users.

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