Lin Lin (left) and Sam Jacobs,
co-founders of Jellymon Shanghai
Whether they are creating retro-chic Mao Zedong watches, urban vinyl toys or album covers for British MCs, the cross-design specialists at Shanghai's Jellymon have their fingers firmly on the pulse of China's exploding youth market.
Not that satisfying teenagers - especially the sibling-less variety - has ever been easy, notes Creative Director Sam Jacobs.
"Nowadays young Chinese want it all," said Jacobs of catering to a generation born under the country's one-child policy and into previously unseen economic growth. "They want a nice car, they want good clothes, they don't feel satisfied without these things, and they feel that they deserve them."
Children born in large urban cities such as Shanghai during the last two decades are among the most coveted groups of consumers for today's brands as they hope to make an impact on the Chinese market. But this demographic also represents the most self-aware batch of consumers the country has ever seen, says Jacobs, which makes his job that bit more challenging.
"They are very brand-aware. They know what brands are cool, and what brands represent them. So (they think), 'What I dress is what I listen to and what I think about the world.'"
Collectively they constitute something of an enigma, however, as their desires and aspirations remain submerged in the rigid conformity of the Chinese marketplace, added the 29-year-old Briton.
Jacobs set up a multiple-discipline design studio here in 2006 with his partner Lin Lin to dig into the pockets of China's so-called "lost generation". With its target thus fixed, Jellymon focuses mostly on artwork, toys, fashion, advertising, branding and creative direction.
"Because we're young and we know the market well, we're part of the scene," said Jacobs, adding that market research is usually fun as opposed to being laborious. "But at the same time, we don't need to do so much (research) because we already understand what's going on."
Although young male Chinese are more selective about what they want and less flexible about what they will do without, he said this makes knowing how to satisfy them less complicated.
"It's easier to approach them because now you can start to market the niches, while before you just had to blanket it, by covering everything, as people didn't really have specific tastes.
"Instead of grabbing everyone with one idea, you can just market the very top of the triangle, of the pyramid, of the top few percent that are going to influence and spread your message," he added.
Clients like Nike, Motorola and EMI are among those trying to attract the peak of the pyramid. Jellymon even designed a spring/summer line for local street-wear brand Eno based on six of the country's 56 indigenous minority tribes to express the concept of identity, which has become a popular topic among young Chinese.
Going beyond its role as just a designer, Jellymon strives to take care of as much of the leg-work as possible for its clients.
"We don't like to do just one thing. We'd like to do as much as possible, so we do everything from marketing to interiors, advertising and photography."
The idea of establishing a design studio stemmed from a chance meeting between Lin and Jacobs while they were students at the Chelsea School of Art in London in 2002.
Relocating the base of their operations to Shanghai was not something they ever planned.
"We were quite happy working in London but we came to Shanghai on holiday. During the trip from Pudong airport to central Shanghai I decided to move. It was just something you could feel in the air. It was special," said Jacobs.
"In London, it was all around you: good design, good packaging, good advertising. It was so developed that it started to become overwhelming. There's not much space to breath. But in Shanghai, when we decided to move here in 2006, there were only three to five companies like Jellymon. It was all starting."
One of the company's proudest moments has come in collaboration with the Shanghai Watch Company, which produces timepieces from the 1970s. By infusing modern design elements into the old local brand, Jellymon managed to sell all 600 watches in Paris, New York and Shanghai for 1,088 yuan (US$150) a pop.
"We had this idea that we want to work with an old Chinese brand, preferably a state-owned Chinese brand because it hadn't been done before. It (harks back to) those times when there was less influence from outside and makes people feel nostalgic," said Jacobs.
Jacobs and Lin opened Jellymon Beijing this year as part of their plan to wed art, commerce and fun to capture the hearts and pocketbooks of more young men.