one-word-plastics wrote:This is a great thread, for a few reasons:
(Shortened for space. My apologies.)
I appreciate the kind words, one-word-plastics. At the risk of beating a dead horse (always a funny idiom
to me), I want reiterate that I'm not trying to offer this as a perfect solution, because the 'problem' (to Westerners, at least, not yet the Chinese) is multi-faceted.
In response to your comments:
#3. I'm interested by the idea of "growing pains." I don't deny their existence; instead, I'd like to offer my view on why the Chinese have mostly allowed for it. To put it simply, they've gone through far worse. In the last century alone, they've endured their own holocaust, civil war, and a three-year-long famine (where at least 15 million died). When the country is having an unprecedented economic boom that took 500 million people (entire U.S. population: 311 million in 2010) OUT of poverty in 20 years, it would be willing to give up a lot. I think almost any
country would, and--if you look at even the U.S.--many DID.
a. Design education in China IS weak. This is mostly a result of the same mindset that has guided the economic boom: get it while it's going. I'll fall back to the growing pains: when you have a trend (and in this case, it is design education), schools think it's easy to create design classes taught by under-qualified teachers. The logic is, "We'll attract students now. If there's any room for improvement, we can make them down the road. After all, why would anyone want to improve a program with no students?" This is a very different way of thinking from the West. In the West, we like to sort out as much as we can before we put something to use, primarily because we are so consumer-, market-, and time-driven that we often think first failure is the last failure. Don't be surprised or offended by this: it's prevalent in our economic, political, and social behaviors. For example:
- Designers are being increasingly frustrated in our corporate environment. Why? If there's any doubt that a product won't be an immediate success, then it won't be a success for the shareholders and so it won't be released. (e.g. Microsoft Courier)
- If a president cannot fix our economic situation in 18 months that's been 10 years in the making, we want him to step down. (You know who.)
- If we suspect that we are in any way slighted by someone, we sue--even if we never felt any physical or emotional harm.
Of course, you can name exceptions, but they don't make the rule. This is not so in Chinese culture. Again, as a result of the mimicking-the-best mindset, it is perfectly all right in Chinese culture to keep trying until you achieve your goal and then surpass it. Instead of pointing out the failures and giving up, design schools will set up programs without experience (and, of course, profit from it) but at the same time, push themselves to improve because they know they'll have to in order to stay competitive. It is expected
that one will fail, but if you give up before trying, then it's more shameful than failing over and over again. That being said, design education in China will improve eventually. Even if only 10% of the schools improve; only 1% of the students are qualified to do design; and only 1% of THAT group is on par with foreign design students, that's still more than enough for now. And when that number inevitably grows, you'll begin to see why I'm saying without having bigger visions, China will simply become a second U.S. Except 10 times bigger.
c. I am, too, a fan of Muji because of the mindset that they have beyond their products. (If anyone has the opportunity to read this book, I highly recommend it: Designing Design by Kenya Hara.) Muji products are only a sliver of the thinking behind the company. I believe they are one of the very few companies that can put into practice what I mean by design of philosophy. However, I had hesitated to bring up Muji or any other company for two reasons: one, I wanted to avoid people simply saying that I want Chinese design to be just like Muji; two, I didn't want anyone's impression of Muji, good or bad, to distract from the topic. Of course, no harm done, but I wanted to stay on the safe side. I can go on and on about the merits of Muji, but that's for another time.
d. This is a bigger conversation than a online discussion can tackle, but here are my thoughts: Chinese won't stop buying knock-offs and foreign companies won't stop having to fight them UNTIL Chinese design has genuine validity and can show the world that it can lead
design, too. Even then, knock-offs won't end; after all, even Americans in the U.S love to buy knock-offs (best example: private brands). I believe part of this desire to own--genuine or knock-offs--name brands stems from the fact that China's still very much in the developmental stage. The poverty that the Chinese endured relatively recently makes it highly desirable to disassociate from the past and to embrace artifacts of the modern societies. The appeal of Louis Vuitton is not because of its fine leather and that of Nike is not because of its superior performance--that's marketing's creation and the consumers' acceptance of the brand story. The true appeal of those brands is their representation of a comfortable and affluent society--one that the Chinese (quite justifiably) long for and one that is being fed to them as a utopian vision of the future. You can see this in many developing countries with a more or less free market; that's also why these brands can't justify the $1,000 bag or the $100 sneakers. Ironically, it's the Chinese who see these brands for exactly what they are: imagery. It doesn't really matter if the leather bag is genuine or if the soles of the shoes are really all that shock-absorbent. Westerners often see this desire only from one perspective: that of a copycat trying to make a quick buck. But it's also the same desire that drives many Americans to justify three-car garages, 3,000-sq.ft. homes, and heated seats in our cars. The only difference is that we have the privilege of having all of the basics already and we have the means to acquire extra-luxurious goods.
Your last question: I'll simply say I'm a designer by practice, but it's not important to the conversation what I do. I'd like everyone to come into the conversation without prejudices about the topic because of what I do, where I work, or where I come from. My observations come from lots of reading, thinking, and writing. Thank you for your input.