Museums and text books are full of unique implements and products specific to the regions where they were designed and produced. But today if we go to a store in America or in Europe or in Asia, we could easily look at the same products. There are still unique items in each part of the world, but the trend seems to suggest that weare losing just a bit of our distinct identity. Is this a bad thing? I guess it depends on your point of view…
We question whether products can, or should, be designed as if we are indeed all the same. Obviously thereare some physical differences from an ergonomic standpoint, but there are also complex underlying cultural characteristics which can’t be ignored if one wishes to develop a meaningful product.
For western product designers, there is perhaps another challenge: China is now providing sophisticated design expertise.
Initially many Western companies were tempted by the ability of Chinese suppliers to provide ready, inexpensive product solutions requiring nothing more than a color selection or logo placement. Many radios, televisions, hammers, and other ubiquitous products are the result of this way of doing business. Even today, number crunchers and short-sighted product managers are satisfied by this uncomplicated approach to ‘product development.’
But other companies still understand the need to develop brand consistency and products that meet specific needs. Investing in design remains an integral part of the corporate DNA. But now even these companies are being tempted by what Asia has to offer. And when it comes to design and innovation, China is quickly closing the gap with the Western design industry.
With design capability, incredible manufacturing and distribution expertise, and an enormous and growing domestic market, China is quickly becoming a center for all phases of product development. Does that mean that products on Western shelves will be more and more the result of a Chinese-centered design approach? Will they still ‘fit’ with Western needs? Is this even an issue? For so long the West has dictated product design, because the biggest markets were in the West. Yet as the economic center of the World shifts, so too will design.
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