Design in China (continued)

As written in my previous posting Zollverein School hosts an open evening about Design in China as well as about the future development of a self-sufficient design scene tonight.

Unfortunately I can’t attend the event in person, but I did some quick research in order to update my own knowledge about China. While there seems to be an infinite number of information resources available I’ve stumbled across a BusinessWeek article titled: “China Needs Design That Sells” edited by Patrick Whitney. (Patrick Whitney is the Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor and the director of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology)

Here are some snippets of the article which I’ve found most interesting and which I would like to share and discuss with you:

“China, as we all know, is shifting from the “factory of the world” to a major “market of the world.” As a result, almost every consumer-oriented company has a China strategy — and should also have a China design strategy.”

As said in my intro above the design scene is developing fast and if you don’t get a foot into the Chinese market these days the more than 10.000 industrial designers which annually leave one of the 400 schools offering design classes (according to another BusinessWeek article) will clearly develop their own strategies of entering “their” domain.

“Today, companies designing products for the China market typically create either cheaper versions of Western designs or slightly modified versions of local products. Design is generally not used at the front end of the development process to help discover what its citizens need — instead it is used at the end of the process to make minor changes in appearance.”

As Asian design industry expert David Griffiths explained to Zollverein School students recently the outsourcing of the product design process including rapid prototyping etc. is a real world scenario these days already. The western design industry can only survive if it stays ahead by strategic conceptual thinking in terms of developing customized and socio-geographic related strategies.

“So how will smart companies respond? First, they will adjust their design process to reflect the fact that there is no “China market.” Rather, the country has 30 markets, each one influenced by its own climate, economy, language, history, geography, and culture. China’s consumer needs are as complex as Europe’s. To attain success, both design firms and product manufacturers must employ sophisticated processes to understand people’s desires and needs.”

While I somehow dislike to jump on buzzword bandwagons it seems that an understanding of consumers, cultures and geographic regions needs to go far beyond the traditional focus group. A comprehensive understanding of “Ethnographic Research” seems to be far more appropriate. From my perspective “Ethnographic Research Methodologies” should be included in any curriculum of both parties “Business Education” as well as “Design Education”.

If you’re interested in a closer and more importantly “aside-the-hype” discussion of this domain you should visit the blog as well as the tag cloud on ethnography edited by a highly respected “blogosphere colleague” of mine Steve Portigal.

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