Deng Yumian, former DJI Mavic Pro designer & founder of LEAPX: China’s industrial design is not top-notch, I want to change it

The first time he led industrial design, Deng Yumian achieved a height that most industrial designers could never achieve in their entire lives: In 2016, the first-generation DJI Mavic Pro drone he designed was released.

This year, Deng Yumian was only 26 years old.

This seems to be the story of a talented young man who "will be the top of the mountain and see all the mountains and small" when he first entered the arena. But after designing the smaller Mavic Air, Deng Yumian chose another path: he left DJI and founded the design studio LEAPX.

Before that, he had also made a similar choice: he left the Microsoft headquarters in Seattle with a good environment and good treatment, and chose to return to China to come to Shenzhen, the “capital city”, to join DJI.

There is an underlying reason behind these choices: if Deng Yumian feels that he cannot "change anything" here, he should go to a place where he can "change something". If there is no such place, he will create such a place himself.

Creativity is a wild mind with disciplined eyes

Deng Yumian, who graduated from Duke University, majored in mechanical engineering and minored in visual art. This is where he differs from most industrial designers in China. Most domestic design students are liberal arts or art students, not engineering students.

There is an old saying in the design industry that "creativity is a wild mind with disciplined eyes", which just happened to form an intertextual relationship with Deng Yumian's profession.

When he was in DJI, Wang Tao, the founder of DJI, criticized him, saying that he "has a lot of ideas, but the multiple-choice questions are not good enough." The implication is that the mind is wild enough, but the eyes are not disciplined enough.

▲ DJI Mavic Pro

The launch of the DJI Mavic Pro is actually a story of two crazy minds.

After graduating in 2013, Deng Yumian successfully joined Microsoft. In the Windows Phone department, which had high expectations at the time, but the comfortable working environment and rhythm made Deng Yumian, who was naturally restless, uneasy. He felt that it was difficult to achieve success here.

The turning point came in 2014, when DJI professional drone Inspire was released. Deng Yumian was very excited when he saw it. It was an industrial and mechanical design that could make him excited, and it also came from a Chinese company. There are other students working here.

Just out of interest, Deng Yumian drew some sketches of UAV design and improvement plans to DJI's classmates, and then these sketches came to Wang Tao. Immediately, the two made an appointment to meet in Yosemite National Park in the United States. The two walked in the park for two days. During these two days, they came across a design inspiration that made Deng Yumian extremely excited.

It was also this design inspiration that made Deng Yumian make up his mind to return to China.

Wang Tao, founder of DJI, hopes to make a drone that can be put in a pocket, while ensuring certain battery life, shooting ability and obstacle avoidance ability, but Deng Yumian believes that although there were some toy-level pocket drones at that time, it was necessary to If you want to make a pocket drone that meets the requirements of yourself and DJI, you must compromise too much, and he wrote a document to persuade Wang Tao to temporarily abandon the idea of ​​pocket drones. Of course, the Mavic Air designed by Deng Yumian later helped Wang Tao realize his dream.

The recently released DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro is a complete realization of Wang Tao's vision at that time, but this is already 8 years later.

Deng Yumian, who was on foot, was thinking about the paradox of pocket drones. When he felt thirsty, he took out a water bottle to drink water. Looking at the water bottle in his hand, he had the answer in his heart: the pocket is too small, but a water bottle-sized drone is It can meet the requirements of itself and DJI. And by folding, it can be easily put into a backpack for travel and outdoor scenes.

▲ Size comparison of DJI Mavic Pro (left) and Phantom 4 (right)

If you compare the sizes of DJI Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro, you will find a huge gap in size, and understand why the latter can sell well.

From the inspiration of the water bottle to the popular Mavic Pro drone, for Deng Yumian, there is a 10,000-kilometer-wide Pacific Ocean, and more than a year. There was even a gap that looked like an outsider: Deng Yumian hadn't even played a drone at that time.

▲ Before joining DJI, Deng Yumian drew product sketches for DJI founder Wang Tao

However, this is one of the places to judge the pros and cons of industrial designers. In the face of brand-new needs, can it be implemented as imagined.

Judging whether a company gives industrial designers room to play is also here: do you have the resources, time, and courage, as well as those "disciplined eyes", so that wild ideas can be perfectly implemented.

The process of continuous polishing, trial and error optimization for more than a year in the middle is not shown. The birth of Mavic Pro has some luck and accidental factors, but it is inevitable that it appeared from the hands of DJI and Deng Yumian. DJI consumer drones have entered the era of folding, and Deng Yumian has also harvested the first blockbuster product developed as a product manager and leading industrial designer.

▲ Mavic Air

Highlights in the trough

After leading the design of Mavic Air and leaving to set up LEAPX design studio, Deng Yumian's income and personal influence fell to a low point.

But all this is his own active choice.

Since its establishment in 2018, in the past three or four years, LEAPX studio has released some industrial design works, but the combined sales of these products may not be as high as the sales of DJI Mavic Pro.

For the post-90s Deng Yumian, this status quo is indeed a bit of a gap, but more patience is required. He told Ai Faner that if he stayed in DJI, he would actually be very close to the career ceiling. After starting a business, it will indeed drop to a very low position, and then slowly accumulate and rise. In the future, there will be opportunities to do more influential projects and bring more breakthrough changes.

In fact, some products are already making a difference.

Now some real estate apps already have the function of VR viewing or panoramic viewing. These materials actually require samplers to scan the whole house with an industrial-grade laser scanner. In the past, such laser scanners were very bulky and expensive. It is not only the cost burden of the real estate project, but also the weight burden on the shoulders of the samplers.

After Deng Yumian started his business, he received a project to help a real estate app redesign an industrial-grade laser VR scanner.

▲ Industrial design is not only the appearance design, but also the internal engineering

In the end, the products delivered by Deng Yumian's team have been greatly improved in performance. The volume has been reduced by more than 60%, and the weight has been reduced by about 30%. At the same time, the price is less than half of the same equipment in foreign countries. Industrial grades don't care too much about this).

For this product, what Deng Yumian values ​​most is actually the "reduction" of the samplers.

He has seen the sampler's backpack, which is basically worn out by the old equipment, and the shoulder straps are also broken. If you carry dozens of kilograms of equipment to an old house without an elevator, and sample a dozen houses a day, it is indeed very hard. .

Deng Yumian said that the influence of design is equal to the number of users of the product multiplied by the influence on each user. Even if the number of users is small, as long as a big breakthrough can be made, the influence will be considerable enough.

He thinks the laser scanner designed by LEAPX studio is such a product.

On the contrary, in products such as smartphones, there is an obvious framework, and only a small change can be made in a small framework, and the change may be negative. Breakthrough innovations in these mature industries need to wait until the technology has accumulated to a certain level before they have a few years, but a once in a decade opportunity.

▲ The unmanned delivery robot solution designed by LEAPX

Breakthrough and innovative opportunities for industrial design often exist before the thing becomes mainstream, such as consumer drones years ago, and now home and commercial robots. Now LEAPX has several projects related to this, and they are also changing or are about to change some vertical scenes.

▲ AR product designed by LEAPX, will be released soon

"China's industrial design is not top-notch, I want to change it"

Shenzhen is the world's hardware center. Countless supply chain companies are surrounded by this hot land, and it is also the center of industrial design. Countless designers are here for dinner.

However, according to Deng Yumian, industrial designers are prosperous in quantity in Shenzhen and even at the national level, but they are not top-notch in terms of quality. Most of the people in this industry are doing fast-moving jobs for meager wages.

This status quo is the fundamental reason why Deng Yumian started LEAPX: the industry as a whole is doing things without creativity and innovation, and he can make industrial designs that change the industry in more fields and make more types of "Mavic Pro".

Especially in the field of high-tech robots, or for projects with a high degree of integration of R&D, innovation and design, designers who lack engineering knowledge will not be able to do it, but Deng Yumian believes that in these cutting-edge fields, the level of LEAPX is one of the best in China.

Deng Yumian very much agrees with the two words Steve Jobs said:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. itself.)

The first sentence explains why industrial designers need deep engineering and technical understanding, and the second explains why there is always a great designer behind a great product.

The former is what Deng Yumian and LEAPX are currently good at and the industry is scarce, and the latter is their lifelong pursuit.

In China's industrial design industry, there is a dislocation between talent and return, demand and supply. In most companies, the return of industrial designers is not as good as that of hardware and software engineers, and few companies will give products like Mavic Pro more than one year of design and development cycle like DJI. Of course, some companies have awakened and realized the importance of industrial design, but it is difficult to find good enough industrial designers.

Treating designers kindly is the first thing Deng Yumian did when he founded LEAPX. From the very beginning, Deng Yumian hoped that everyone in LEAPX would be in a cutting-edge design environment, so he spent a lot of thought on the creation of the studio. For example, the sofa in the reception area is Muuto from Scandinavia, the table lamp is from Dyson, and the ergonomic chair is from Herman Miller…

Maybe the selection of these products was accidental at the beginning, or maybe there was a connection between the designers, but when Deng Yumian pondered the products he personally selected, he found a deep resonance. For example, the expensive Herman Miller ergonomic chair took several years and tens of millions of design and development costs to achieve the ultimate in function and design. Such products can be sold for more than ten years or more, generating huge returns .

▲ Herman Miller ergonomic chair

It is the basic logic of LEAPX to use the talent and ability of an elite team, spend enough time and cost to do the highest quality industrial design and then have a far-reaching influence. It is also a beginning for Deng Yumian to change the status quo of domestic industrial design.

In his vision, high-end talents, high investment, excellent products and high returns are an excellent industrial design model and a virtuous circle of the industry.

In fact, the top foreign design studios Frog and IDEO are such a model, but there are few similar studios in China. LEAPX wants to become a local industry template.

▲ LEAPX team

As mentioned above, Deng Yumian and LEAPX are still in the process of climbing from a low point. Although they are still in the early stage of a "virtuous circle", Deng Yumian is still quite optimistic for two reasons. First, the domestic market and demand are large enough, even if a small proportion of companies have a demand for top industrial design, it is enough to support a studio like LEAPX; second, the domestic market increasingly pays attention to the power of design and products, and the overall design level is in improve.

In Ai Fan'er's view, the uniqueness of LEAPX lies in its understanding of "Design is how it works" and its ability to unify works and looks. However, it is easier said than done. Diter Rams designed the Ten Commandments, Steve Jobs taught, and many people are familiar with the quotations of Hara Kenzai, but few can practice it with results.

The ideal design environment should make these few become more.

In the plastic greenhouse of fate, every cabbage that has been sprayed with too much pesticide once had a dream of becoming a pollution-free organic vegetable.

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