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Food for thought in innovation competition

By Liu Jie (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-23 08:02

Food for thought in innovation competition

The winning "food printer" displayed in Beijing. The design won the "most-fun" award of the sixth Sony Student Design Workshop. Provided to China Daily

Student creates device to capture aroma of meal on a postcard

Zhu Jingxuan, a junior in the Fashion & Art Design Institute of Donghua University, loves gourmet food and travel, which inspired her to invent a curious device she calls a food printer.

It's a combination of camera, smell extractor and printer. During a trip, when people enjoy delicious and distinctive local food, they can use the device to take pictures and collect the aroma simultaneously and then print them postcard-style. Posting the cards to family and friends enables them to share a good eating experience visually and aromatically.

"I spent several months designing it," said the 20-year-old student majoring in industry design. "What I completed was just an idea and draft sketch. Without the help of Sony's designers, I could not have made the model."

Zhu's food printer concept design won the "most-fun" award of the sixth Sony Student Design Workshop. The annual design contest was launched by international electronics company Sony Corp in 2006 and aims to erect a platform for Chinese university students to undertake industry design, inspire their creative potential and support China's innovations and inventions industry.

Zhu was among the six students to win awards this year. Under the theme fun and travel, the six winners' designs include a camera that can fly to take pictures under remote control, a navigating device to help tourists, especially hikers, find interesting sites and a watch with several screens that offer various information and local guidance for tourists who can save their itinerary in it in advance.

According to Han Jia, assistant manager of Sony China Creative Center, this year's work started last September. Han's team visited nine universities and colleges around China to promote the design workshop and received a total of 413 ideas from 133 of them.

"What the students are required to provide are their ideas and sketches done by hand or computer. We chose the winners based on the principles of 'reasonable, easy to understand and interesting'," she said. "The winners then worked with our designers in Sony China Creative Center in Shanghai to turn the ideas into reality, which really needs experience and a professional background in deciding what materials to use, how to set the surface and what kinds of components are needed."

"We worked with 10 Sony designers for nine days and nights. We discussed everything about our designs in a very detailed way. They were hard days but happy days," said Zhu, adding that she learned much from the designers and received more practical knowledge about how to industrialize a concept.

The junior has taken part in many industry design contests and won several awards. "It's so different this time. For the previous contests, there was no industrialization procedure, only design plans," Zhu said.

Han from Sony said the Sony Student Design Workshop, in addition to being creative and fun, highlights the process of how to make an idea into a practical product with real functions. "This procedure is the toughest part of industry design," she said.

During the last five sessions, the themes were as varied as econnect (the ecological connection among nature, people and subjects), edutainment (a combination of education and entertainment) and friendship. The organizer select five to six winners every year.

"None of the designs have been commercialized so far because they are concept designs and very avant garde," said Cai Leilei, senior manager with the corporate public relations department of Sony (China) Ltd. "But we are considering taking some of the designs to the market."

He cited this year's "most warm" award design as an example. The design combines a 360-degree camera and projector. During a trip, people can use the device to take 360-degree videos and send them back home. The video will be played on four walls with sound, enabling families to feel like they are also on the trip.

"The idea of sharing is a good selling point and the product is very practical and applicable, given our current technological level and expertise. Meanwhile, the configuration of its appearance can be revised to make it very cool," Cai said.

"We have hosted six sessions of the contest. We have found the designing capability of Chinese students is continuing to rise. The new-generation designers are catching up with international standards very quickly," said Takayuki Kobayashi, general manager of Sony China Creative Center.

He added that Sony also benefits from the process. The company's designers have carried out excellent work to not only make locally tailored products but also to contribute to the international designing network.

So far, a series of products, such as the Sony J20 camera and FX8 recording pen, have been designed in the creative center in Shanghai and promoted to the market both home and abroad.

However, no winner of the workshops has joined as an employee of Sony. "The students usually have many choices because they are top among the industry designers of their age. Some of them continue their education in China and some go abroad for overseas study," said Cai.

Zhu has not yet decided to work for Sony. "I am at the first stage. I need study and practice. Sony is a very big and nice company. I am now an intern in a local studio," she said.

Contact the writer at liujie@chinadaily.com.cn.

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