Around the world in ’97

What does 1997 hold for the design industry in key overseas markets? Clare Dowdy sounds out designers around the globe on issues such as technology, politics, major national events, business realignments and the globalisation of clients’ needs.


SA should see freer trading and ethnic mix

Two issues which will have a major impact on the South African design community are the freer trading opportunities and black empowerment, coaxing ethnic companies into the business mix. Both will necessitate a crash course in design for the client and a sharpening up within the industry if local groups are to benefit.

The republic’s market is opening up, as for the first time its goods can be exported around the world. This will lead to “a huge window of opportunity” for all design disciplines, as products must compete in an international marketplace, says Jeremy Sampson at Sampson Associates.

However, as overseas brands make their appearance in the republic, not all local clients yet appreciate the difference good pack design will make to their products’ ability to compete.

“Currently, I feel South African companies and their products are often at a huge disadvantage, either through little or no design input, or poor quality input from people who have not had exposure to the international scene,” says Sampson.

And unless local groups sharpen up and start delivering effective solutions for a more crowded marketplace, clients will look abroad for their design services, he warns.

The drive for black empowerment is gaining pace and making itself felt in every company as the black community is brought into mainstream business – including design.

But it is not a smooth process, as “training and developing design skills takes time”, says Sampson. Typesetting and desktop publishing is seen as one route.

“In marketing terms there is a lively debate about producing Afrocentric solutions, and some (mainly black-controlled groups) claim that you have to be black to market to blacks, while others (mainly white-controlled groups) claim marketing is marketing,” he adds. The answer, he says, is to act globally but think locally.>



Directly or indirectly, designers will be involved in a host of projects leading up to the Olympic Games in the year 2000. But while local groups can expect the pick of games-related contracts, neighbouring markets are no longer the sole property of Australians.

Australian design groups’ foothold in booming Asian markets is being threatened by the aggressive expansion of European and US rivals, also keen for a piece of the action. “International competitors are already in our backyard,” bemoans Ken Cato at Cato Design.

And groups will also have to get to grips with new media design if they don’t want to be left behind, predicts Andrew Ashton, design director at Nelmes Smith Ashton.

The Sydney consultancy is currently working on Website and interactive products for Telstra and Pfizer Consumer Health Care.

Meanwhile, it’s not only the UK which is suffering from a surplus of design graduates. Cato worries that the vast number of students graduating every year around the world will “foster mediocrity”.


US set to gain from globalisation

US consultancies are well positioned to benefit from the globalisation of products and services, often spearheaded by US-owned multinationals.

Jerome Kathman, vice-president at Cincinnati packaging specialist Libby Perszyk Kathman, expects a caseload of redesign projects to come his way this year: “Globalisation remains an unstoppable force in the packaged goods industry.

“Increasingly, multinational packaged goods companies will be managing their brands on a global basis, with one design identity worldwide,” he says.

However, this doesn’t mean that every market will feature the same generic branding, says Kathman. “We see a distinct growth in niche or ‘small batch’ product offerings,” he says. Beer, coffee and confectionery goods are ripe for repackaging for specific regional markets.

Brand development is the key, agrees James Mansour of New York retail group Mansour Design, and prosperous consultancies will be those which understand consumer lifestyles as well as clients’ needs.

This process needs idea input from designers, who must become more analytical in their approach. Those groups which don’t change their approach will be the ones to suffer, Kathman predicts.

Mansour adds: “Design practices which are inflexible, which offer formulas rather than ideas and which have swollen not grown, will suffer.”


’98 handover breeds doubt and optimism

Next year’s handover and the continued opening up of China is in many ways positive for the Hong Kong design industry, at least in the short term. Through the strengthened mainland contact, product group Design Innovation is already pitching to potential mainland clients, says marketing director Regina Ko.

“There is definitely a need for design input in a lot of the products manufactured in China now as the mainland businesses are looking to expand in the West,” she says.

And identity work will boom “not just for overseas investors but also for the mainland businessmen who are realising the need for good design”, Ko adds.

Packaging work will also increase, as packs will have to appear in Mandarin (principally spoken on the mainland) and

Cantonese, the main language of the Hong Kong Chinese, says Sixth Sense executive creative director Nick Hamilton.

However, a deeper look reveals some serious concerns about the detrimental impact of China on the territory’s business practices, and businesses are finding it difficult to plan ahead into the unknown.

“Currently the working practice in Hong Kong is British law and all above board in comparison to China,” says Hamilton.

“I assume that after a while Hong Kong will become like China – corrupt and money will get you anything,” he adds. And this could make it very difficult for all those expats trying to make a living, let alone the resident Hong Kong Chinese.


Careful confidence as Canada recovers

While the UK has supposedly recovered from the recession, Canada is still suffering from “tremendously shaky consumer confidence. Canadians just aren’t building new homes or indulging in major purchases”, says Keith Rushbrook, co-founder of Toronto interiors group II By IV of the so-called “jobless recovery”.

However, II By IV itself, which claims it has perfected working to tight budgets, foresees another strong year in 1997. The art is to adapt to the climate, says Rushbrook, particularly among retail and hospitality clients who are being forced to rethink their strategy in light of the weak economy.

“In all industries, not just interior design, doing more with less and developing new ways to meet radically changed consumer needs is business as usual now and for the foreseeable future,” he adds.

Strategic planning will be the key for graphics groups, says Peter Francey at Spencer Francey Peters. “Clients want to be advised on a strategic plan for stronger corporate or product branding; and know how to communicate more effectively globally and locally with an increasingly diverse marketplace.”

“This means that larger design consultancies must develop capabilities in the areas of strategic planning and technology which are an integral part of the process of working with clients,” he adds.

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