This week I had the opportunity to participate in an annual design workshop, organized by the International Design Institute of Zhejiang University, in collaboration with Alibaba Design. The goal of this one week workshop was to come up with innovative ideas that would elevate user experiences in the logistics, retail, entertainment and restaurant sector, through new systems, services and technology.

During the opening ceremony, we were given an introduction of the workshop and the history of each participating university – Zhejiang University, Chiba University, Yonsei University, POLITECNICO de Milano, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and of course SUTD.

After lunch, we proceeded to Alibaba Xixi Campus for a field trip. To my surprise, the campus was only around 6km away from Zhejiang University’s Zijingang Campus! We first visited the Qinchengli mall which boasts a different type of shopping experience for customers. The most memorable store there for me was 盒马 – Freshippo, which is a supermarket challenging the conventional ways of grocery shopping. At the brick-and-mortar stall, Freshippo not only offers a wide variety of fresh food, but also provides an interesting concept in which customers can catch their seafood live and have them cooked at an in-built cookhouse.

Freshippo is also the first in China to offer a mobile-first approach to grocery shopping. In the store, shoppers can use Freshippo’s mobile app to learn more about product information and recipe ideas through scanning barcodes on the packaging of food items. Additionally, the store doubles as a distribution centre where assigned employees go around filling delivery bags with items from online orders. The bags are then placed on conveyor belts located near the ceiling of the store and are sent to the delivery centre.

We also had the opportunity to visit Alibaba headquarters, which personally was a memorable experience! The company has an interesting culture in which staff are entitled to a token of appreciation upon working at the company for 1, 3 and 5 years respectively. At the fifth year, it is said that their direct superior will present to them a ring which is liken to marrying into the company (similar to marrying into a family).

We ended the day with an industry visit to the respective subsidiary under Alibaba with regard to the theme that we were working on. I was involved in the intelligent logistics project and my team visited a warehouse in which the new smart locker that CaiNiao is currently developing, is being engineered. Unlike conventional lockers in which users can collect their packages from different locker compartments, the smart locker has many compartments within the machine to store different packages and only one output compartment where users can collect their packages from. The machine will also automatically retrieve the user’s package!

The next day, the group work officially kick-started with an introduction of the different areas and problems Alibaba currently face in the above-mentioned sectors. After which, we got into our assigned groups and the brainstorming session began!

It was an eye-opening experience to work with members from different countries as everyone had different but valuable views regarding the issue we were working on. Discussions with my group members certainly provided me a fresh new perspective to things. It was also great to learn more about different cultures through small talks and interactions with other participants over lunch and dinner. I’ve learnt quite a bit of new languages too!

After working for 3 days straight (not forgetting the late night which I am glad it’s over HAHA), we finally made it to the final presentation! Some of the ideas presented was really unique and the computer-aided design (CAD) done up by some groups was certainly industry standard! Well, I guess it was really a graduate summer school program with many talented individuals!

Overall, it was a great experience working with others of different nationalities and making new friends! 😊

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