Asian Design Grows Up

The magazine you hold in your hands marks the 13th year we've sponsored the Industrial Design Excellence Awards, presented by the Industrial Designers Society of America. Although the society is American, the judges are international and the competition is about the best designed products in the world for business, industrial, consumer, medical, and scientific markets. Since 1996, the awards have expanded greatly. The 2003 competition drew entries from 15 countries. Asia's industrial designers were the big surprise this year, with seven awards -- three gold, three silver, and one bronze.

Look at the LCD personal TV from Samsung Electronics of Korea, a gold winner. Or Windsurfing Sails Collection by meyerhoffer for Hong Kong-based Neil Pryde International, an ambitious attempt to capture the spirit of the sport. Then there's the silver-winning paper shredder from Michael Graves & Associates and Memcorp in Hong Kong, combining pencil sharpener and trash can.

BusinessWeek's Bruce Nussbaum, who has produced all of our annual design award special reports, says over the past 20 years there's been nothing less than a global design revolution. "First it was putting a pretty exterior on a product, then incorporating functionality and ease of use," he notes. "Now, we're seeing designers create an experience for the customer, rather than a mere product. That's the leading edge of design in Europe, the U.S., and Japan." Korea has also long used design to move from manufacturer into a producer of well-known branded products. Now China is following.

Take the nascent industrial design work coming out of major Chinese companies, as reported by Hong Kong Correspondent Frederik Balfour and Beijing Bureau Chief Dexter Roberts. China is exporting locally designed and manufactured Haier appliances and Legend computers. Now such international companies as General Motors, LG Electronics, and Electrolux have set up design shops in Shanghai and Beijing. Some 200 schools in China are turning out 8,000 designers a year to work for local and global companies.

When BusinessWeek first lent its support to IDEA, "the hope was that American designers could come to emulate the great European and Japanese designs of the '70s and '80s," says Nussbaum. "It was difficult even to get companies to spend money on design. They've since become converts and made it a central function of their companies, which Europe had done for decades."

We would be remiss if we did not also salute our own BusinessWeek design team, Associate Art Director Don Besom and Assistant Photo Editor Sarah Greenberg Morse, who collaborated on this year's special report.

Whether it's conceptual work or tweaking existing products, good design is increasingly providing the competitive edge for old and new products. Take a look. We think you'll agree.

By Bob Dowling, Managing Editor, International

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