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Design Force Equals Economic Power?
Before we get straight to the business “China Design Now”, I would love to share an interesting article which caught my eyes recently. It is entitled The Second Largest GDP, What about Design?, wrote by a Chinese designer Ke Li. In his critique, Mr. Ke questioned in what relationship does design share with a country’s economy. He listed a thorough GDP report indicating that since 2010, China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy – what a thrilled news it is – however, when he got down to the latest GDP ranking, he was confused. The US, China, Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy are the top seven. Leaving China alone, the rest of the countries are doubtlessly renowned for their design achievements. So if most of the countries’ design forces ranking the same with that of GDP, can we say that China design is claiming the second in the world?
We both know I am just kidding. The truth is, comparing to China’s rocket-speed of economic growth, our design is still staying in the age of steam. It shall be owed its slow development to the imbalances in the deep root of culture and society. China design is facing with a terrible regional disequilibrium just like the economy does. Excellent designers mainly hold their feet in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu, while the huge rest part of China is still suffering the ignorance of design and poor appreciation of aesthetics. Besides, the designers who commit to making breakthroughs seems intend to polarize themselves either in commerce or art. Those who are capable of presenting marvelous self-initiated or experimental design may not be equally doing well in commercial projects. But we also witness that the designers now are aware of their unique cultural identity, trying to combine the oriental concept with the western way of expression.
Those countries of high ranking in GDP all enjoy a hundred years of design history, so it seems that there are more time and effort China design needs to consume to catch up with its economy as well as the peer countries. The good thing is we know we are left behind. Hence, the designers of all generations know how to join hands and embrace more and more creative communication and discussion from domestic and abroad, in order to seize the mass and authorities’ attention on the importance of design. In the coming December, the first national design competition authorized by China’s Ministry of Culture, China Design Exhibition 2012, will be held in Shenzhen. It is believed to be a win-win cooperation between the government and the design professionals who usually come off the edge of mainstream, as only for design’s own good. It seems the struggles will always be paid off some day.
The Vanishing 4th Generation
Comparing to the enthusiasm and pursuit of the Chinese designers, I regret to say that I don’t feel the same passion and energy from the designers, especially the young ones in Hong Kong. I attended the AGI Open Hong Kong 2012 in late September. As a ground-breaking moment for the city to host such a big event, the 600-seat conference room is hardly two thirds full. Then when I took a quick glance, it dawned to me that most of the audience were designers and students who came a long way from Mainland China. We enjoyed great speeches for two days without much interactions with each other, which ceaselessly reminds me of the GDC11 (Design for China’s Future) I joined last year in Shenzhen. I remembered how we talked with the judges and designers, exchanging ideas, making friends and having fun. I couldn’t help but thinking why does it start to play dull here in Hong Kong and where the h* have the young and vibrant Hong Kong designers gone?
The design industry in Hong Kong, along with its leading role of financial centre, is much more mature than that of Mainland China. From the precursor Uncle Kan (Dr. Kan Tai-Keung) who become the Design Father from the 70s, Stanly Wong, Tommy Li, Alan Chan who swept Asia from the 90s, to a lot more being the hard core of the industry since the year 2000, Hong Kong design is never fail to mark with heroes in every stage of development. And that is how great works completed, by passing on the traditions and seeking innovation.
But it seems that the good times is ending. A lot of promising young designers who will be the future of Hong Kong design are now considering running away from home. More and more of them seek opportunities in big cities in Mainland China even foreign countries, rather than staying where encounter excessive competition and economic recession. These designers who are born in the 1980s are facing with difficulties to be promoted in small studios, while they may not have enough quality, fund and social network to kick off their own business. Hence, the great challenges provided from the outside world become the pain killer and they could realize their value by making use of their unique cultural perspective. I guess in the future, the fame of Hong Kong Design will be still maintained by the next generations, though who are just more gypsy and they are the Hong Kong designers who are never ever living in Hong Kong.