A Chinese Designer Speaks Out on Chinese Design

I received this wonderful comment on my post on Chinese designers. Her analysis parallels my own—the quick-quick manufacturing culture of China shapes Chinese designers. The market for their talent is for designing inexpensive products, often knock-offs, and they do that very well. My major point is that US and European consultancies working in China say that young Chinese designers are not able to do brand strategy and other more sophisticated design work, including very fine product design. There is a growing market for this kind of design by Chinese companies trying to build up their brands inside China and in the wider global market place.

Here is Lucy’s comment:

“I’m a China born designer, trained in China and then in the US, and have been working in the US for the last 7 years in international teams, closely with Asian manufacturers and sometimes Chinese design firms.

I see the problem of Chinese Design rooted beyond the design profession itself.In a conversation I had with a fellow Chinese designer who started his own firm in Beijing not long ago, we talked about how it is not realistic for a small firm like his to estimate a long design process in order to “get things right”, while the competitors are offering a much shorter and much cheaper package to the client to quickly whip the things out.

The clients, mostly domestic brands and manufacturers, are not seeing the difference between a “right” and “not so right” design yet. The fact that some of them are hiring design firms to design anything original is a big step forward, when copying a cell phone to save the time, money, and trouble (in testing the tools and market, etc. as we all know) is not exactly illegal in China.

And these brands and manufacturers could also argue that if their consumers, like some people mentioned here, in 2nd or 3rd tier cities can not tell the difference between a “right” and a “not so right” design, (or they just don’t mind…)why would they even bother hiring the right team to design it right?

It is really a reality of a country in all aspect during its development. I love my home country deeply and can not wait to see it thriving, especially in the field I work in. But I can not stand by and point fingers to say “Gee! You guys are way behind!”. It’s not any Chinese designers’ fault. It is a painstaking process that the whole country is going through.

Like we, as individuals, all go through life with different circumstances and take our different path to learn and grow, there’s no shame in having to start a bit “behind”, and there’s probably advantages to be able to find goals and models in front of us. After all, we are only trying to “improve” the world, not to perfect it. If the current generation of Chinese designers can help their society by their efforts, even if they are not at the same place as some of the western counterparts, who grew up with financial,educational, and professional privileges, it’s still a great achievement.”

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