Designing the Chinese way

Long-term commitment is essential for success in Asian design markets – and remember the local cultural differences, says Sara Fielding

Long-term commitment is essential for success in Asian design markets – and remember the local cultural differences, says Sara Fielding

Asia Pacific is increasingly newsworthy these days. Beijing has won the 2008 Olympics and the region will account for 50 per cent of the world’s advertising spend by 2015. But what are the opportunities for design consultancies? Can British design groups export their domestic success to the other side of the world?

Jonathan Sands, chairman of Elmwood Design, is one person that has successfully moved his business both East and West and sees the breadth of opportunity out there. He says, ‘Since opening Australia and working for Wal-Mart in the US, we see markets back home in a fresh light and, as a result, give our clients fresh solutions. The fresher the insight the better, which is why Asia is a great place to be – it is the fastest growing region in the world.’

In addition to the pure financial opportunities, Asia has much to offer the design industry. The creativity and rich diversity in Asia is inspiring. You only have to scratch the surface of its cultural heritage and contemporary art scene to know that the concept of good visual design is acknowledged and inherently woven into the fabric of everyday life.

There are opportunities for British design groups in Asia Pacific, as long as people see it as a long-term investment rather than a short-term opportunity. A number of consultancies have already reaped success in Asia, including Addison in Singapore and Lloyd Northover Citigate in Hong Kong. Landor Associates, part of WPP, has been established in Asia since the 1980s and now has offices in seven countries in the region.

Michael Ip, managing director of Landor Asia Pacific in Hong Kong, has advice for prospective investors in the region. ‘We have seen many design groups fail, because they take a short term view, or are poorly advised on how ‘easily’ their overseas credentials will translate into new wins in Asia. Building a base in one place gives time to learn about the region and identify growth opportunities.’

Design consultancies with their sights set on an Asian office need to know what to expect. Asian cultures communicate visually and as a result, local designers are very competent at implementing design. However, finding design and brand strategists is a harder task. According to Ip, ‘Nurturing talent and the transfer of knowledge is a key factor when building an Asian operation.’

The opportunity for British design groups is to use their strategic branding skills to add value to good Asian design practitioners in the more sophisticated markets, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea, where the intangible aspects of design are more frequently put to use.

Having a specialist skill in a sector that is developing in the region is also an advantage. Landor’s reputation in Asia was built on the group’s experience in transport design, at a time when many countries were improving their infrastructure.

In Asian markets, levels of sophistication for design vary. Japan is extremely technologically adept, but other markets in Asia are less sophisticated. In less-developed markets design is viewed at the most basic level, as logo development.

That’s not to say that design is not important. In large markets such as China, India and Indonesia, it is sometimes the only consistent means that consumers have to connect with a brand. Caution is needed though, as design solutions that work in one country will not necessarily work in another.

The region cannot be viewed as one homogeneous place. Factors that affect the perception of good design as a necessity include level of education, level of consumerism, advancement of design and packaging technology, to name a few.

Adapting designs to other cultures requires more than a local translation. British and Asian design groups that work together must have a mutual understanding of culturally significant language, colours, design and perception.

Chris Yong, a designer from Singapore with global experience, believes Asia has not escaped the globalisation trend. ‘The East gets less mysterious by the day,’ he says. But it is a gradual process. Understanding regional differences is still critical to success.

Sara Fielding is senior consultant at Results Business Consulting. Results’ 6th global conference – ‘The future for the Asian marcoms industry’ – takes place on 1 November 2005 in Shanghai, China

Looking at the Asian market

• There are different perceptions about what ‘design’ is according to how developed the market is

• UK design groups should see China as a long-term investment rather than a short-term opportunity

• Business credentials from outside the region may not carry as much weight as you expect

• Opportunities exist for UK design groups to apply their branding nous in: Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea

• It can help to become specialised in key sectors of industry

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