I don't like Chinese industrial design

As I was looking at some Chinese industrial design recently, it occurred to me that I was looking down upon it. This may sound horrible to some, I am sorry. To others however it may strike a chord. After a bit of self relflection I found the deeper cause for my bias.

I am the proud owner of a Chinese vacum cleaner that I bought at a very competitive price. It looked like a vacum cleaner and on the website, after reading the description it even sounded like a vacum cleaner. When I opened the box, I encountered something that astounded me. It had all the beautiful injection molded curves that one would expect from a modern appliance. The kind of surface that would challenge a mid priced cad package, perhaps even push it to its limits. The plastic had some metallic flake to it to seduce the user with the promise of competent manufacturing.


To assemble the vacum cleaner body to the handle was a small electrical wiring project. To assemble the powered vacum head to the handle was another project. It was one the thing that all the wires to connect the various parts together were exposed and clumsy. The solution was to me the pinnacle of bad design. Everyone was focused on his or her part, nobody was thinking of the whole product experience. There were a total of eight wonderfully designed elastomer straps to hold the exposed power wires close to the vacum tube to prevent them from catching on any corners of furniture.

This would be the equivalent of wiring your house on the outside of the sheetrock. All of the wires would be mounted with over designed titanium brackets that had ceramic bolts. A Designer’s energy applied to an isolated problem that should have been fixed in the first place.

The reason this bothered me so much, is the fact that we as a profession have progressed so much more than this! We are not about solving small uninformed problems.

Low price points and ease of manufacturing will lead some companies to push out products quickly while loosing sight of the reason for doing so. Ikea is a good example of a company trying to find harmony between cheap prices with clever design.

China cannot compete with the global design community without learning from the many deeper lessons in the user experience. It almost reminds me of the shallow design solutions of the early U.S. industrial period.

Rant over.

so from one product you have came to the conclusion that the chinese cannot compete with the global design community…

So, how do you know it was “designed” in China? It might have been designed in the US, Europe, or anywhere. Was there a “designed in China” decal? Be carefull how fast you jump…

Vacuum spells with double U. I wanted to correct this because it’s a repeated mistake in your post so I thought you really didn’t know the correct spelling.

I guess there is a reason why that vacuum cleaner was competitive in price. I’ve looked at one of the dysons 2 years ago. It had all those parting curves as well, especially the one that ran down through the middle of the handle. I guess it must be a part of the design since it costed over $300.

I complained just like you did, but a designer told me to suck it up because that’s just what we are dealing with. I should say at that “competitive price”, as long as it’s safe to use, you shold be glad.

Yes, yes, whatever, get used to it, after some years they will design everything, and produce it, so we will have to look for new jobs.
( I already started to do graphic design)

Yes, but my children will know Chinese, and they will be poised to get the cheap assembly jobs here in the States when it all swings around it becomes too expensive for the Chinese to manufacture it themselves.


I appreciate you to select the Chinese products and regret the BAD design you complained. As a chinese, I feel that the chinese encountered too much bias from others. There are also many good designers here. But most of them are working in foreign companies or transfered to another kind of job for higher pay.

I am ashamed for that. And I hope my motherland could be accept by the whole world for her hardworking people.

PS. We do not want to be hired cheaply, but we have to.

I appreciate you to select the Chinese products and regret the BAD design you complained. As a chinese, I feel that the chinese encountered too much bias from others. There are also many good designers here. But most of them are working in foreign companies or transfered to another kind of job for higher pay.

I am ashamed for that. And I hope my motherland could be accept by the whole world for her hardworking people.

PS. We do not want to be hired cheaply, but we have to.

Now that’s good irony!

BTW, just to clarify my point. I don’t mean I disagree with you. I was trying to say that it is not Chinese Industrial Design that makes lousy products. How often do you see Chinese branded products imported into the US? Almost never. It’s the local brands, or whoever the importer is who chose to make lousy cheap products. Chinese are not the decision makers, they just carry out the job.

It’s just like how people hate Chris Bangle(spell?) for making those decisions on BMW designs.

You should look up the customer service number and rant there.

First of all, lousy products are everywhere, not just in China or U.S.
I felt like you wanted to pin point the level of Chinese ID at this point with just few products that you’d purchased, and I believe this is very dangerous assumption that could lead others into your prejudice and the stereotype.

Even during IDSA this year in NYC, there was speech about “Beyond China”, I thought this was about learn to understand ID in China much deeper. But it ended up as slide show that showed Chinese street markets that sells turtle soups or other exotic animals for the delicacies. I was stunned how prejudice lots of people are here. In order to understand China, you must try not to generalize the country. China is moving very fast and people are trying to capture the whole movement with just one snap shot these days.
Another speech at IDSA, NY with a famouse futurist, I was also disappointed that during his slide show, he showed some of screen capture shots and described that these were from Japan. Hahaha… actually the pics were from Korean TV shows (with Korean subtitle under), not Japanese. The futurist then added he doesn’t know why Japan is broadcasting such shows on air. Well…this I felt like the prejudice. Because through out time, I have witnessed U.S finally showing the same shows here as well- Fear Factor, cooking shows, reality shows, Japanimations and dating game shows that were every channels in Japan few years ago.
Sorry that my rant is off the topic somehow. What I wanted to tell was that there are too much ignorance and stereotype about Asians in this country. You might not notice because perhaps you are not an Asian. How many Asians are on movies and TV shows?- I mean without the typical stereotypes such as person who is Kungfu fighter, Ninja, in Vietnam war, street girls or strong accented immigrants?

Thanks for the spelling correction. I just wanted to comment on my experience with what I thought was a sub-par design solution. I don’t mean to generalize among the entire active Chinese design community, I am sure that there are talented designers.

My concern is where the priorities of design are being applied. Slap together a quick plastic housing to compete with well thought out designed products will not be a successful long-term business model. I look forward to seeing more compelling designs that rival the other players in the market place. I guess I am a little turned off by some of the knock off electronics that are sprouting up from China (recent ipod shuffle look alike) and it is leaving a bad impression on me.



i thought chinese design involved white-out and a xerox machine.

I read a analysis of the Chinese design scene about a month ago, I think I found it on the Core board. The designers there were complaining that most companies in China do not understand the competitive advantage they can gain through design. Much like how this worked in the US before, it has led in a race to the bottom where cheaper always means better. Sometime, probably soon, this will change. Remember, a few decades ago “Made in Japan” meant an unreliable, poorly designed, cheap product.

Nowadays, everybody wants things cheap, cheap cheap. And more, more, more. Then product quality does down. Then your industry goes down. Then your economy goes down. You go down.

The problem is the Cheapos, not the Chinese. Look for quality, and pay the price. You get what you pay for - heck, it’s so easy. The other problem is, where do we get quality products, now that we succeeded in putting the producers of quality out of business…

BTW white out was designed/invented by Mike Nesmith’s mother. For those of you too young to remember (I know I was in the single digits back then) Mike Nesmith was a member of the TV show about a band name the Monkees.

Nesmith is the one in the hat. I hear he’s living nicely in Texas off of his inheritence

Yup, everyone wants things cheap and fast… a majority of these (mass reproduced) products that are made in China or Taiwan are sold in places like Wall Mart.

The quality is just okay with cheap prices, but don’t really expect them to last over a year.

Well then the Chinese sound like they have it down for the U.S. We are such a through away culture. Makes sense the stuff only last a year.