Spotlight is a regular series where we feature a prominent person in the creative scene.
Day Design Studio is the brainchild of British-born Benny Day, who’s been living in Shenzhen for the past six years. His design company focuses mainly on F&B and commercial interiors, in addition to branding and product design. Day speaks with us about starting a business in China, offers advice for budding designers and discusses one of his more intriguing projects, designing vibrators.
How did you get started in interior design, and how did you end up in Shenzhen?
I went to university in London to study interiors, but with a focus on architecture, and had a cool friend whose older sister had a large interior design company, so I started working in the summers with her. After finishing uni- versity in London, my lecturer recommended that I try out a job in Shenzhen. I thought I’d do six months here, six months in Japan and Korea, then go back as the Asia expert and finish. But nope, got here and realized I didn’t know anything and stayed!
What was the process like when you started your own design company?
I was freelancing for four years, and registered the company two years ago. When I first arrived, I worked for a company and that year we did 41 projects. To put that in perspective, some large UK studios may do 40 projects in their career. Being in China, everything happens very quickly. By the end I realized I understood the process, but was I experienced? Did I have a style? Perhaps not, but I jumped out anyways and flopped quite early. My growth and placement right now is all built on failure. It was definitely a journey. But a year went on with one client and I started to build momentum and have been going since.
Why do you prefer designing for F&B clients in particular?
F&B is quantifiable; it’s data-driven. Say, if you’re designing a restaurant, they need a kitchen, a certain amount of seats, an entrance and fire exits. After that, it follows trends, fashion and the project lifecycle is much shorter. In comparison, hotels take on average three to four years to design and create and you’re not really following trends or fashion. That’s what I find more exciting: the fun, fashionable elements and the quantifiable data.
Pudding Cake Shop in Shenzhen. Image courtesy of Day Design Studio
Is starting a business as a foreigner in China hard?
As one of my clients put it, “It’s like you’re growing up in public.” China has such a different market than anywhere else, and you don’t have time to hide; you’ve got to work it out in public and if you fail, you fail. I’ve learned a few good things: relationships are everything, and don’t rely on one thing. I’ve diversified my company. Instead of just interior design, I’m doing a bit of branding and graphics. It’s about having that balance, and never focusing on just one client. Lastly, you’ve got to be resilient, and you don’t necessarily need a Chinese partner.
Any advice for any designers who are just starting out?
It’s not your project until the money is in the bank. Never guarantee timelines to clients as they may come back and say they don’t have the budget or they’ll delay the timeline. Have other options. If you’re green, try to learn on someone else’s time.
Tell us a bit about designing vibrators?
Yeah, this project is actually for a Singaporean company called Smile Makers and they’re a great company. They’re educating beginners about the vibrator world while also providing education and awareness about sexual health and sexual wellness to a lot of people who may not openly talk about sex.
The Romantic. Image courtesy of Day Design Studio
For them we designed two vibrators, condom packaging (which will be in Watsons) and we’re in talks for their lubricant range too. I think I got into this space because it was more about brand strategy, launching and brand identity – each product has its own name (ie. the Romantic, Explorer, Ballerina) and personality. We did a lot of mood boarding, about the personality, shape and product goals.
Check out more of Day Design Studio’s work on Instagram (@daydesign.studio) or contact him on WeChat: bennyday
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[Cover image via That’s]