Inside Isobar China's Nowlab, an Innovation Studio

A space for making, experimenting and prototyping

Nowlab is Isobar's studio and working space for innovation in central Shanghai. We are a creative R&D initiative designed to help our teams embrace new technologies and concepts that can be quickly transformed into feasible solutions that help our clients achieve their business goals. Our lab is a dedicated space to make, experiment and prototype, and we have more locations across America, Europe and Asia, as well as a virtual community that connects our global teams. 

I was brought up and educated in Hong Kong, and after my studies in computer science and graphic design, I moved to Boston and received my master's degree in media arts and sciences from the MIT Media Lab. I'm interested in the social aspects of interactive media and new interfaces for computer-mediated communications, and I'm proud that some of my new media arts and installations have been exhibited and awarded worldwide. 

I still make artwork in the lab. For example, we created a winter zoetrope as a Christmas gift this year. It was made from 3-D printed sculptures and drew from old and new technologies to tell our story.

Below is a picture of our desks during a typical soldering day. Nowlab is a collective of different skills and capabilities—we code, we solder, we shape and craft. It's one of the best parts of my job, putting ideas into practice and building prototypes. 

Innovation sometimes gets a bad rap. People assume we're here just to create "gimmicks," but in Isobar Nowlab we create useful prototypes that help our clients create new and different products and services. For example, we created a special interactive packaging for Lipton Tea Bags on Tmall, the largest e-commerce platform in China. 

In 2008, I moved to Shanghai and joined an ad agency as interactive creative director and head of interactive. It was my first time using technology within the brand and creative industries. I learned that an important part of an innovator's role within an agency is to stress test how new technologies can be adapted for storytelling. For example, here are some 3-D printed rice dumplings made to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. 

China is innovating faster than any country in the world. The government supports startups, especially in the fields of science and technology, and that makes the rest of our industry very competitive. I particularly love the view from the lab—it's a reminder that what we are building will go out into the world one day, to be used by people to solve real problems. Innovation without empathy, or a true understanding of humanity, is just technology. 

As chief innovation and technology officer at Isobar China, I lead the lab, the in-house R&D unit, with the ambition of helping to transform the business with creative uses of technology. Over the years, my team and I have created digital and interactive work for clients such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, KFC, Nippon Paint and Tencent that drew the attention of millions of consumers in China. 

The Bvrain work was particularly successful, it was a VR experience for Coca-Cola fans visiting the cinema, and I'm proud that the lab was instrumental in putting the idea into reality.

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Francis Lam
Francis Lam is chief innovation and technology officer at Isobar China.

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