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October 21, 2009

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Keeping it short and snappy: a design forum that airs new ideas

A fresh event in the design community is Pecha Kucha Night - a fast-growing assembly where anyone can float any idea in rapid-fire slide shows - as long as it's under six minutes and 40 seconds. Nancy Zhang reports. An evening spent listening to 10 presentations back to back may not sound like much fun, but Pecha Kucha Night - now a monthly event in Shanghai - involves exactly that and draws more than 300 spectators on a Friday night.

Originating in Japan, Pecha Kucha invites designers and creative types to share their freshest ideas through rapid-fire slide presentations. There's a strict limit of 20 slides at 20 seconds each, so the short, sharp format combats PowerPoint fatigue while maintaining interest and diversity. Each presentation is no longer than six minutes and 40 seconds.

Pecha Kucha Night comes from the Japanese word for the sound of conversation, chit-chat.

Since their conception in Tokyo in 2003, the events have spread quickly to over 170 cities, including four Chinese cities - Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei.

It started in Shanghai in 2006 and the events were held monthly by FAR Architecture & Design Center, an intercultural organization encouraging worldwide discussions on sustainable design.

After a one-year suspension since late 2008, events resumed last Friday at the newest creative park, 800Show, on Changde Road.

Entry to the nonprofit events is free, though seating is limited, and any creative-type who has an idea to share, or story to tell can apply.

"Pecha Kucha was started as a platform for all kinds of designers to share ideas," says Giel Groothuis, director of FAR.

"But it doesn't always have to be about work. We encourage people to talk about their adventures or other pet projects that reflect on the design scene in the Chinese context."

In fact, Groothuis says the stranger the ideas, the better it is for creativity. Talks have ranged from the fast-growing Chinese blogosphere to one designer's novel methods of massaging his dog.

The latest Pecha Kucha Night focused on public spaces. Highlights included an Italian architect who organized a TV strike in his home country and wanted to campaign in Shanghai for public space to be given back to individuals rather than cars.

There was also the Go West project involving a Dutch journalist and architect who are traveling into 16 cities in western China to investigate if cities nationwide are becoming more similar. They want to persuade six taxi drivers from Western cities to drive their taxis in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, during the Shenzhen Architecture Biennale later this year. Passengers can then ask for themselves what their home cities are like.

"This event is a bit like a talent show - audiences are entertained and presenters can also leave their contact details for potential sponsors or clients. Audiences can learn more about the design in the cities they live in and products they buy. When design becomes more interesting, life becomes more interesting," says Groothuis.

Since its birth as the brainchild of a Western architecture firm based in Tokyo, the Pecha Kucha concept has proved appealing to people all over the world. Its simple and focused formula has created organic growth through word of mouth.

In other parts of the world the format has also grown beyond art and design. For example, scientists in the US state of Minnesota used its rapid-fire slide show format to talk about evolution as part of 2009 Darwin Day. Pecha Kucha is also popular with philosophers in Finland.

In Shanghai the event is still related to design and architecture, which is particularly pertinent as in the next 20 years China will be home to the greatest urbanization the world has seen.

Audience numbers have grown in two years from 150 to 300, according to Groothius, with just an e-mail list, a Facebook group and no particular marketing push.

Since humble beginnings with the audience made up of mainly the organizer's expat friends, they have seen more and more Chinese designers both as presenters and as audience members.

Since the event is nonprofit, the organizers are struggling to keep up with its growth, and are seeking sponsors to help with venue rental.

Organizers plan more audience interaction, stimulating discussions by which people can find jobs in the design industry.

Future shows will be multimedia, involving video and music clips, not just static slides. One event will be based on street culture in China.

FAR is now soliciting ideas for topics via For more information, check


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