The most noticeable thing about the Joystick factory is that it’s situated at the base of a well-known tourist attraction. Feng Huang mountain has a locally celebrated buddhist temple, attracting thousands of people each day, especially during spiritual festivals. It’s surreal to wake up in an industrial site with all the right noises but the wrong smell. There’s something almost too fresh and innocent in the air. My nose is on a resort whilst my ears are in labour.

It’s a few miles from the city of Shenzhen, a suburbia that’s half-an hour away from the nearest underground, the airport. It gives the industrial area a certain advantage in providing an all-inclusive catering that secludes the migrant workers from ‘distractions’. I’ve never met people so content with boredom as I have here. It’s almost ‘tranquil’.

The Internet is an under-appreciated commodity here. All Internet cafe in China require National ID cards in order to enter and are associated with crime and general ‘seediness’. Thus a black market has emerged for the Internet.

I’ve been desperate enough to seek out ‘black internet bars’ that are unlicensed and hidden behind restaurants, hairdressers and domestic housing. I eventually persuaded the only broadband owner in the area, a quality control manager that lived three floors below me, to share his privilege with me. A cable man stretched a 50m-cable diagonally across the building, climbing between window to window like spider man.

Amongst all the day-to-day craziness, people are constantly coming and going as they make life-changing career leaps, run home to visit a sick one or arrive astounded for the first time. The entrance these factories have the unfortunate impression of a cross between a hospital and a Holiday Inn. Possibly why so many people leave upon after arrival.

I stare at the looming factory that haunts my window on a daily basis. Unlike my factory, the workers are all dressed in a grey dystopian uniform, which makes me stand out a little every time I attempt to sneak in.

A village close the factory is either demolished or regenerated in order to cater for the growing families and businesses the migrant populations generate. It’s hard to know what to make of it. A village migrates for migrants?

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma is a Speculative Designer & Researcher whose recent work is a kind of service design with a twist. Through an ethnographic research process she explores fringe groups that are largely ignored by society. Although finding insight in the extremes is a common approach within design, the research typically tends to focus on increasing mainstream utility in some way. Lisa’s projects uniquely emerge as services that look to create functional and mutually beneficial interactions between fringe groups and the mainstream populace. Her design methods become a platform for engagement, creating radical new kinds of relationships, a sort of Community to help us explore alternative futures. Her work has lead to the creation of some surprising services, including parasitic spa therapies by cat ladies, doorstep water filtration sessions from conspiracy theorists, and historical village tours for stranded passengers by Heathrow activists. In her latest field-trip, Lisa lived in a joystick factory in China, where she explored the idea of ‘Situational Fringes’ and the modern slums. Lisa holds a Masters Degree in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art, and a BA in Art, Design & Environment from Central St. Martins. She has worked professionally as a designer at Conran and Pentagram in London and most recently in service design for Deutsche Telekom T-Labs in Berlin. Lisa shares her adventures at, and is currently based in London.

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