Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with Token Hu, a product designer and entrepreneur from Anhui, China. Token’s latest project, The Unbelievable Testing Lab is a technology-driven footwear company which is now tearing it up on Kickstarter.
However, Token came from modest beginnings. He dropped out of high school and moved to Shanghai with only $100 to his name. He started off as a production assistant, and after 18 months, he quit to start a video sharing website. While it became popular in China, he could not figure out how to monetize it and abandoned ship. However, that is when he caught his big break and landed a job as UX design lead with Microsoft Live. He then went on to work with Frog Design, one of the most famous and innovative design firms around, with clients like Apple, Disney, GE, and many other Fortune 500 brands. A little over a year ago, Token left Frog to found The Unbelievable Testing Lab, an idea which was spawned during a work project where he experimented with Dupont’s Tyvek paper. That idea morphed into the LIGHT WING, a durable, waterproof, light weight (150g or 5.3oz.), yet visually appealing sneaker. Today, he tells us all how he did it:
Tell us when you knew you wanted to do what you do.
I was about 23 years old when I read a quote by Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I enjoy taking on challenges that people don’t believe are achievable. For example, the job I got at Microsoft required me to deliver an interview presentation in English and I couldn’t speak a word of English. I figured it out in four days, and I got the job.
Explain to us how you acquired the skills you needed to do your job.
I am the type of person who learns on the fly. I have never had a mentor to teach me product design skills. Well, I guess you could say my dad was a natural tinkerer and I took on his tinkering personality. I tend to do a lot of research on the web and then just experiment in real-time. Sometimes I figure it out, and other times it tends to be a disaster. But, you can only learn by trying.
In your industry, what separates “good” from “great”?
In the design world everyone recognizes good design as good. But, great design creates arguments and debate.
What are you working on right now?
It depends on where I am. If I am in Shanghai, I am spending a lot of time with my team planning new designs and fixes. If I am in Donguan, I am in the lab and the manufacturing floor testing, and working hands on with the materials to get the perfect final product. Right now, we are finalizing some of the last prototype versions of the UT.LAB LIGHT WING for our Kickstarter project. Perfecting the molds for international sizing, final material choice, and most importantly inspecting every design that comes off the prototype line.
What certificates, degrees or credentials do you have that relate to your profession and how important are they?
I went to two days of high school, if that counts for anything. School is definitely an important part of growing up and the education process, but it just wasn’t for me personally.
How much time do you spend building your skills? How do you do it?
I find myself constantly exploring the web and news, and at the same time talking to fellow designers to learn what things they are working on, and what techniques and methods they are applying to their work. It’s hard to say exactly how much time that is, but let’s just say I spend a lot of time studying and learning new skills. Even though I am shoe designer today, a couple years back I decided that I wanted to build a motor scooter, and I did. I am working on V2.0 of the motor scooter which will be rolled out later this fall. It’s not a business thing, just a hobby that allows me to experiment with new materials and forms. It all provides inspiration for UT.LAB.
How do you bring ideas to life?
If I have an idea that I am passionate about, I have a personal policy that it becomes a prototype in less than seven days. If I can’t get it into the physical world in a week, then I drop it as an idea.
What would you say to someone who is 20 years old and wants to be you?
Do something that makes you happy. But why bother doing something that makes you unhappy? It just doesn’t make sense.
Who are two people we should follow on twitter.
Who is your hero?
My Dad. He was the person who always tried to help me even if he couldn’t.
What is your current goal or aspiration?
Having my shoes being worn across the world. We started with Kickstarter to send my shoes to the rest of the world. It has been an amazing first week to see the reception my design has received from the Kickstarter community. We’re excited about what’s to come.
How can people connect with you?
So for all you aspiring product creators out there, get out their and start trying to create your product. Throw the proverbial spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. Learn by trying and one day you too can achieve greatness just like Token and the UT.Lab team! Thank you Token for sharing your story and best of luck reaching your goal of selling 2013 pairs of shoes on Kickstarter!
[Editors Note: Full disclosure - I have backed UT.Lab and come August I will be a proud owner of a pair of LIGHT WING sneakers.]