Nussbaum on China’s Design Crisis

Nussbaum LogoBruce Nussbaum’s reporting, on his Business Week design blog today, seems to indicate an interesting issue with Chinese designers. He claims that,

“I’ve been talking to European and US innovation and design consultancies working in Shanghai and the rest of China and most are hiring Western and Korean designers because Chinese designers are not up to global standards  .  .  .  Reflecting Chinese manufacturing culture, the young designers want to get things done quickly, without much regard for getting it just right.”


I would tend to agree with him that, if true for much longer, this is a big problem for China. Western designers can’t possibly be expected to share the cultural background of the average Chinese consumer, so how can they possibly develop brand strategy and design new products and services for them.

But imagine if this were reversed and you had major Chinese design firms staffing their offices in New York, or Milan, or London with home grown Chinese talent, because the complaint was that these silly western designers just took too much darn time and were overly cautious and careful. My suspicion is that the Chinese firms would be accused of cultural chauvinism or worse.

I understand Bruce’s point, but not sure I completely buy it. I have had conversations with people who are familiar with the Chinese design education system, including Ric Grefé, the Executive Director of the AIGA. They come back nothing short of amazed at what is taking place. With tens of thousands of design graduates a year.

Nussbaum ends his piece by saying,

“To its credit, China has made design a national priority and is pouring billions of yuan into design education. What is surprising to me is how much further Chinese designers, even the graduates from the best universities, have to go to rise to global par.”

Did you watch the olympics? What did you think of the opening and closing ceremonies, awesome right? Is that a country that understands how to do things carefully and precisely or what! And those Chinese divers  .  .  .  focused, precise, and impeccable timing.

My suspicion is that the quality of the designers in China will track the overall quality of product and industrial development throughout the country. As China begins to develop higher quality products for both the world and domestic markets that go beyond the Walmart shopping cart, we will see an increasingly competitive Chinese design community.

This evolution from the lowest cost producer to a global partner, respected for the highest quality, is what happened in Japan in the last half of the 20th century and my guess is it won’t take that long for China. Just watch.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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One Response to Nussbaum on China’s Design Crisis

  1. lloyd robert says:

    I quite agree with leaving indigenous design to the culture within which it works. But there is a solution to reaching out. In India, for instance, where each State has a language and culture of its own, we designers have a hectic time trying to make generic TV commercials or print campaigns! So without being too ‘careful’, we choose go ahead and use humour and tales of adventure to work around these hurdles.
    Most people want to be entertained!

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