China's design industry experts are calling for greater government support in order to help the their manufacturers raise the competitiveness with design innovation. Zhu Tao, president of China Industrial Design Association, said the Chinese economy suffered heavily from the global economic crisis, with factory closures and layoffs. "Without our own design, we won't have our own brands. Without our own brands, we won't be independent in the world. Being an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) is no way out," he said. China does have a design policy. Not even the US has one.

I exchanged some views last week with Dori Tunstall about the challenges of getting government to develop an effective design policy. She is the organizer of the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative. Trained as an Anthropologist at Stanford with a doctorate degree, (she is actually a Design Anthropologist and she sees her job is seeking to answer the question, "what does it mean to be human?").

Dori’s idea is that this design policy document of regulations is not something to "force upon" on designers. Rather this document serves as the blueprint for the participating design organizations to coordinate, channel, and prioritize their activities as we more deeply engage with government partners. It's the activities that are important. If the government never signs a "US Design Policy" bill, it is fine as long as the proposals are written into other legislation. The problem with regulations that effect designers today is that designers are not at the table.

I think every country needs one. US and China particularly so, it is about maintaining competitive advantages for industries. China is the world's largest producer of more than 200 product types from bicycles, batteries to shoes and TV sets. Today “Made In China” means cheap and low quality goods. If Chinese companies seriously want to transform crisis into an opportunity, they need to focus more on 1/ learning from world class design firms 2/ develop advanced programs to train higher skilled designers 3/ close the gap of branding capability of Chinese firms from a managerial perspective.

Beijing is hosting the 2009 Icograda World Design Congress and the 1st Beijing Design Week, starting this week. The Chinese mainland will be hosting the Congress for the first time and the five-day event will consist of 12 exhibitions of creative designs, forums, lectures and design events. Attendants include British Design Council chief executive David Kester, Republic of Korea (ROK) Institute of Design Promotion president Kim Hyun-tae, renowned Hong Kong designer Freeman Lau, car designer Olivier Boulay, and Japanese designer Kohei Sugiura. China enjoyed the benefit of a large domestic consumer market; this allows Chinese brands an opportunity to become world-class brands.

It will take more than 10 years for China to develop design capability that are comparable to world standard, so they better start soon. The biggest barrier is still the “short-termism” mindset of Chinese entrepreneurs that needs to change first. While the quality B-schools in Asia are getting very up-to-date with support from top international schools, D-schools in Asia have a long way to go. No schools have successfully evolved from a traditional focus on aesthetics and products to embrace higher level design thinking. The best Asian schools provide students with good technical skills, but their graduates leave without the ability to work across disciplines or to use design strategically. UK and US D-schools are at a significant advantage and will take.

Original Post:

Leave a Comment