Stimulo was founded in 2003 by four fellow students at the design department at the University of Gerona. Since then, it has created various promotional items and lighting for Taiwanese companies. With the onset of the financial crisis and an accompanying slump in demand for design services, the studio took various key decisions in 2009 to ensure its survival. These included a commitment to international expansion and a focus on designing in sectors that offer added value and on tailoring its services to the needs of clients and the demands of the market. While undertaking its business dealings, Stimulo has formed an impressive network of contacts in China, culminating in the opening of its first office there, in Guangzhou in September, 2010. Today, Stimulo is a global agency with 11 employees. It has a strong presence in China and also has clients in Australia, Turkey, Dubai and Russia. In 2014, it won a prestigious Red Dot Award for creating the first semi-automatic machine for making Turkish coffee. Two years earlier, the company’s outdoor LED lighting scooped the Chinese Design Award for best industrial design product.
Xavier Majoral and Eddy Roca from Stimulo talked to us about their work methodology, business model, experience of the Chinese market and the main innovative and differentiating characteristics of their agency.
Interiors From Spain: How would you describe yourselves? And your work methodology?
Stimulo: Stimulo is a product design and innovation agency. For over a decade, we’ve been helping companies to grow by conceiving, creating and developing products with a competitive edge. To achieve this, we bring together strategy, creativity, marketing and engineering.
Interiors From Spain: Stimulo had to change its business model in 2009 because of the financial crisis and drop in demand of design goods and services in Spain at the time. What steps did you take in terms of strategy to ensure that the business could continue to be viable?
Stimulo: The first, most important step was to commit ourselves to international expansion. Although Stimulo has had foreign clients from the moment it was founded, in 2009 we took the decision to become a determinedly global agency. Since we were already collaborating with companies in France, Hong Kong — and had clients in Taiwan and China — we began to explore other avenues for securing more projects in these countries. The second decision we made was to design for sectors which offer added value and in which design and engineering are both considered vital. We also wanted to focus on working in sectors with high levels of technical and manufacturing expertise that ensured that we’d face less competition from other design agencies. This was a key decision that allowed us to differentiate ourselves in Barcelona’s fiercely competitive business community.
Interiors From Spain: Your desire for international expansion in 2010 was consolidated when you opened your first office outside Spain — in Guangzhou, China. Why were you keen to do more business in China?
Stimulo: Although we had no office there, Stimulo had been working in China since 2003. We were constantly travelling to and spending a lot of time there. We were beginning to work in the fields of branding and decorative lighting for Taiwanese clients whose goods were manufactured in south China. In fact, we’re still working with one of these. Given the experience we already had in China and the growing demand for industrial design services there, we increasingly orientated our business towards the Chinese market. It’s important to bear in mind that Guangzhou is one of the country’s principal manufacturing centers — if not its foremost one — and the fact that the vast majority of electrical appliances are made her meant we were more likely to get work here. We quickly found clients we could design for. Also, in 2012 we received the Chinese Design Award for a piece of LED-powered outdoor lighting, a prize that we were very pleased about after so many years undertaking projects in China.
Interiors From Spain: What services do you offer international companies which do business in China? And what services do you offer Chinese companies?
Stimulo: Many of our clients subcontract the manufacture of their goods to Chinese companies. This means that our clients greatly value the fact that, once we’ve finished designing a product, we work with their suppliers in the areas of engineering, prototypes and moulds and manufacturing, all in the interests of creating the best possible results. All this speeds up the launch of a product and facilitates communication between all relevant parties.
It’s well known that Chinese companies have excellent manufacturing skills but that they often lack creativity and knowledge of the consumer’s needs. Most of our projects in China involve researching the latter, identifying opportunities to improve products and the subsequent application of these improvements to all new products conceived thereafter. After several years of focusing on product design, we’ve been collaborating in China for almost two years with a Barcelona-based branding and packaging agency called Batllegroup. Since then, we’ve also been helping our clients to create their own brands so that they increasingly need to depend less on selling their products in the West and can take more advantage of the huge opportunities offered by the rise in demand for goods inside China.
Interiors From Spain: What advice would you give a Spanish designer or company that wants to do business in China?
Stimulo: Persevere, relate well with others and be ready to adapt. The way people do business in China is completely different to how it’s conducted in Europe: anyone who wants to find clients in China needs to adapt its services and way of working to the needs of the Chinese.
Interiors From Spain: In which other countries does Stimulo work? In your opinion, which foreign markets offer Spanish design studios the most business opportunities?
Stimulo: At the moment, we have clients in Russia, South Korea, Australia, Dubai, Turkey and obviously in Spain and China. Given their economic growth and increased productivity, the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — have been the biggest customers of industrial design services in the past decade. But other countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey (now collectively known as the MINT countries) are taking advantage of the increasingly high costs of China in order to foster businesses there. Without a doubt, these countries will increasingly need good design to make them more competitive.
Interiors From Spain: Tell us about your projects. Which fields do you work in? What are the main innovative and distinguishing aspects of your agency?
Stimulo: Working with a multidisciplinary team is one of Stimulo’s distinguishing features. Our team comprises designers, engineers and strategy and marketing experts, which allows us to offer a business-orientated design service. In our studio, design and business go hand in hand because, before we start designing, we spend a lot of time analysing the market, our clients’ business models and how design can help them to become more competitive. We’re working in fields as varied as electrical appliances, lighting, medical equipment, kitchen utensils and packaging, among others. The knowledge we’ve acquired in all these different industries allows us to offer innovative, lateral solutions to all the products we design.
Interiors From Spain: What kind of projects are you currently working on? Do you have any new projects outside Spain?
Stimulo: While it’s true that most of our clients are medium-sized or large businesses, we’re increasingly collaborating with small, enterprising start-ups with great ideas which meet the new demands of the market. Stimulo collaborates closely with them to convert their ideas into actual products.
Fortunately, we have many projects on the go outside Spain. We’ve just designed a barbecue for an Australian client which is competing to be market leader in its field. At the end of September, we’ll be launching the first semi-automatic, Turkish coffee-making machine, a project which has taken over two years to develop and which received the Red Dot Award last July. And in China, we’re collaborating on a project called Smart Cities for Chongqing, one of the biggest cities on the planet, with a population of around 28 million.