I saw Kenya Hara’s book Designing Design in Tokyo a few months ago, but it was in Japanese so I didn’t guy it. I saw the English edition today at the Tate’s book store so I picked it up. I always wanted to read that it, now it is available in English. Kenya Hara is a Japanese graphic designer and curator or the Muji Man, he is art director of Muji since 2001. His design philosophy is putting an emphasis on “emptiness” in both the visual and philosophical traditions of Japan. I am not sure how Japan got into this minimalist thing, it is not in their history.
Lunch at the top floor of Tate Modern is probably the best place to talk about art and design. Usually a good view of London but not today. Yes they are two very different things, are they really? Design in Europe has a much longer history and tradition, and there are huge differences between how design is being used. Ever approach to branding is so different, UK branding and design firms talk of 'brand experience', expressed through retail design and interactions design and the like, their continental counterparts in Europe still focus on traditional elements of branding such as logo, packaging and corporate identity. And in the US, we’re talking about branding as business strategy.
I think British design is undergoing some form of identity crisis as structural changes are happening. A designer who manufacturers his/her designs realized that it is no longer an advantage to make things in the UK. With the emergence of China as the factory of the world, products bearing a 'made in Britain' tag are deemed expensive and of no better quality than Chinese made products, with some exception in the luxury brand goods. UK, I believe, still provides the best design education in the world. They are just a little ahead of the US and tens of years ahead of Asia, except Japan. A lot of businesses believe that if production goes abroad, you can keep R&D in the UK, let me tell you but that’s not always the case. In many case when you lose one, you often lose the other. This is a dangerous assumptions. This debate is worth a separate blog post.
What about Korea? Seoul is the 2010 World Design Capital and has one of the world's most technologically advanced infrastructures. It is ranked first on the Digital Opportunity Index and its Digital Media City is the world's first complex for high-tech technologies, a test-bed for futuristic multimedia applications. They are certainly way ahead of China but has yet to rise above the European standard.
And for China, along with an increasing consciousness of innovation (it means different things there) in Chinese industries, demand for design within Chinese companies is growing fat, as are expectations of the quality of design required. Design is not widely appreciated or understood. In the past 10 years hundred of design programs have emerged with more than 10,000 design graduates stepping into industry each year. There is a lack of opportunities and mentorship as well international exposure means it needs as least a decade before they are ready for prime time. The lag between demand and supply in design management education is becoming a major bottleneck constraining the development of the design management profession in China.
The 21st century has often been referred to as the century of design, where design drives innovation and plays a key role in assuring sustainability and creating growth for organizations, many countries are not ready for this. The west still has an advantage.