What’s the future of design in China? Or will China ever have a real design future? Do they ever need one at all? As part of our China strategy I’ve visited half-a-dozen of design firms in China last week and got a pretty good snapshot of the state of the industry while sharing my points of view on how design will evolve in China.
There is a vibrant Chinese design culture (somewhat narrow in scope) within the context of China's industrialization, consumer evolution and technological change. From the entrepreneurial spirit of industrial designers, to society's aspirations for higher quality of life, to the global ambitions of a nation, we’re seeing the emerging of a new design culture in China. But it is not without challenge, majority of businesses in China are on a get-rich-fast mode and their motto is let’s copy and modify what is selling in the west. Their focus is mainly on cost versus functions and that’s it. Product cycles are insanely short and market changes overnight. So planning is not their thing if know what it is at all. Overall the quality of Chinese design is at least 10 years behind from the west although they cost only a fraction (20-30% of design costs in the US).
Chinese design schools are graduating thousands of young and technically proficient designers every year. The problem is lack of mentorship and exposure are limiting the growth of these young talents. Korea did try to export industrial designers to China a few years back but without success. Korea thinks China would want to have a few Samsungs of LGs. But for the moment, most Chinese companies remain ultra short-term and very pragmatic. China’s economy is largely based on a factory mindset. It will be a 10 years journey for designers and companies to make a leap into design thinking in China.
In the meantime, expect to see more “cheap” rip-offs. One company just launched an iPhone clone with a built-in projector. The Epoq EGP-PP01 projector phone is the world’s first commercially available handset which will allow you the ability to project approximately 2 hours worth of footage (30-inch VGA image) onto your wall of choice; whether it be at the office or doing the elevator pitch in the elevator. Will get one next time I am in China.