I have just returned after working in China for more than three years. I saw an awakening appreciation of design, and I can assure you the Chinese do appreciate British design (Comment, DW 22 March).
What they do not appreciate, however, is our inability to understand that design is still, for them, in its infancy.
Most Chinese companies know they need design and a few have worked with British designers, but the success rate is low, mainly due to a lack of understanding. Products were designed that could not be manufactured, or designed with a British aesthetic in mind.
South Korean design does better, simply because Koreans and Chinese share a cultural understanding, aesthetic appreciation and working practices. German design is also favoured because it provides Western levels of quality. The Germans have also long provided a key requirement for the Chinese – technology transfer – and have been there a long time.
How many British firms have been investing in China for more than 20 years? German, South Korean and Japanese design success in China is built upon a foundation of manufacturing co-operation and joint-venture activity.
Where British design can help is in the area of branding. Chinese corporations are looking outward and they know that brand development is a necessity. The British are admired for their creativity, the South Koreans for their understanding, the Germans for their quality and the Japanese for simple efficiency.
China is still experimenting with design but they hate it as much as we do when an experiment goes wrong. What Chinese companies value most is measurable success.
And don’t forget China’s home-grown design potential. Never mind the Germans, Japanese or South Koreans (actually, we should worry about the Koreans – they really are very good). Indigenous designers will be our biggest competitor in China within five years. What happens over the next ten years very much depends upon us.
Joseph O’Connor, by e-mail