Post-COVID Insight: Creatives need a robust middle platform

In this edition of post-COVID insights, we speak to Liu Jialun, Creative Design Director at China-based mobile service provider, DiDi Chuxing, who shares her view of how the creative industry has changed during the pandemic.

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In the post-COVID era, what challenges and opportunities will innovators face? How will they respond to changes and seize opportunities? To find out, we’ve launched the “Post-COVID Insight” series, inviting innovators in different industries to share their insights and views on the post-COVID era.

Customer headshot with text: Liu Jialun, Creative Design Director, DiDi Chuxing, Internet Industry Creative.

For this edition, we spoke to Liu Jialun, Creative Design Director at China-based mobility service provider, DiDi Chuxing, who shared her view of how the creative industry has changed during the pandemic.

Post-COVID Changes: Inside and Out

In addition to catalysing industry-wide changes, COVID-19 has driven more people to think inwardly. When discussing the pandemic’s impact on DiDi and their creative team, Liu says it has been relatively minimal compared to other industries. Like many, however, the initial and ongoing changes to restrictions have brought an array of new challenges and staff management and communication has become increasingly complex in the new, virtual domain.

For those in the creative industry, face-to-face interaction can be more inspiring for brainstorming and cross-departmental communication. During the pandemic, however, teams relied on online communication, which often led to less efficient communication, and, at times, miscommunications. Meanwhile, clocking into a virtual office inevitably prolonged working hours, turning DiDi’s usual 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. shift, six days a week, into a 24/7 always-on operation.

Illustration of two people sharing messages through the cloud via technology

At the same time, Liu notes the pandemic has promoted the rapid development of the online office, altering work models across the creative industry and beyond. With the new work-from-home model, Liu reflects on the necessity of living and working in a big city. In fact, she believes that an increase in new business formats, like small office studios in non-top-tier cities, will emerge in the future. Companies may also look to promote the future of work through networks of small independent groups.

Adjusting to a post-pandemic world: The front and back

Liu notes that shifting professional mindsets have spawned more small studios where enterprises adopt more flexible and small-group work models. These allow creatives to have more freedom in both space and time while demanding higher requirements for their horizontal ability. Today, creatives need to adapt, expand their capabilities and build new skills, including team management, external communication, and a stronger understanding of innovation and growth — on top of their designated roles.

So how can creative leaders adjust to these changes?

Liu puts forward the concept of establishing a “middle platform”. She says, “Build an ammunition depot, so that people at the front end have an arsenal to respond more quickly.”

According to Liu, the middle platform has a vital role in boosting the creative capacity of the front-end, generating output and supporting needs quickly when problems occur. It can provide teams with appropriate technology and premium tools to free up their hands, improve efficiency, and bolster other valuable support, such as improved thinking and creative content.

Illustration with words "We are the creative class"

Creative output covers detailed work and varies drastically in terms of expertise. For example, illustrators may not necessarily create motion graphics, while photographers may not know how to edit. These fragmented “skill packs” need the middle platform’s unified management. This should continuously integrate back-end resources, improve efficiency and save costs. It also enhances inter-group communication, better connecting departments and making today’s small-group work model more efficient. Improving the middle platform is set to becoming key to creative decision-makers.

Persistence after the pandemic: The left and the right

For companies like DiDi, the creative design department typically includes brand creativity, experience design and several other teams. While sharing a common core goal, they also have their own segmented functions and tasks. For example, the brand team may focus more on creative communication while the experience design team is more devoted to user experience. At such times, decision making is about reaching a balance between their creative and rational sensibility. Liu says, “balance the ideas from different teams, and be responsible for both the company and its users.”

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That means it’s necessary to keep the balance carefully while doing a good job of connecting the top and bottom, ensuring that everyone has the same understanding of the shared goal, like which core user problems they are setting out to solve. DiDi, for example, solves mobility problems for users. On this basis, the team can try richer page experiences and information, but ultimately, innovation and adjustments are guided by user demand to make sure the most value is created for their customers.