Thursday, 12 August 2010

Design Education in China

On Sunday I was with a young man all of 25 who was a sales manager at this fixture factory that Suresh from our office had ordered shop fittings from. Curious about his background I asked him what he did in college. Two years of Industrial Design he said.

So I asked him why he was not practicing industrial design. Not the best career option he said. "Sales have more possibility." So why not an MBA?"  “Oh too tough to get in, ID easier."

"I love designing but with my qualifications I can work in the engineering department where I will be far down the pecking order …. No fun"

China has more than 200 universities and colleges that offer courses in Industrial design alone that produce about 30,000 graduates of varying skill levels through 2, 3 and 4 year programmes. Many of them teach drawing and sketching, CAD, ADOBE- Photoshop and AI with a bit of engineering and MT and very little of design research leave alone Design Intelligence.

This is what I find out on Monday from Sheng Wang at VIM DESIGN, a product design office run by him. He is an industrial designer educated in China running a 25 person studio in Shanghai in Building 800 that’s occupied largely by galleries; the contemporary art museum and a number of design and allied firms even those dealing with consulting on intellectual property.

Not surprisingly or should I say surprisingly Sheng does not speak English at all.....
It is a young office with 5 interns just about 19 years old, 2 engineers in MT which I reckon is material technology and the 15 odd designers working there would not be older than 22 years old on average.

The problem Sheng tells me is that there is no quality in the 190 or so colleges that churn out designers. The other issue is that among the students themselves there is not enough general awareness about design hence the students who stumble into design….. Well….. Stumble into design.

Out of the 200 colleges and universities I ask how many deliver quality education, Sheng and his young designers start counting literally on their fingers and come up with ten, which produce at best 1000 graduates a year. The design schools at Beijing and Shanghai are considered the best. The schools however teach more the skills and less of the thinking.

There was a great deal of curiosity about our methodology and design research. They were surprised to hear that we don’t actually go about interviewing customers but rather rely on observation.

They would love to do research for their projects but have not done so, so far as their clients have not offered to pay for it. When they design products for western markets they depend on information gathered by their clients for consumer insights.

Business design drew a complete blank; packaging is also not done at the studio although that is something that they would like to do in the future.

The model making they enjoy is Fabulous !!
I saw a range of CP fittings being developed for an MNC that were absolutely gorgeous.

Multi national companies like Whirlpool, Ariston, A.O. Smith, Samsung etc that operate in the Chinese market have been good pay masters though they have to deal with middle managers and not the very top managers.

There are also a few Chinese companies that are employers of designers like TCL, Haier, Lenovo etc.
They look to hiring VIM Design because of the broader perspective they bring in although all of them do have in-house design studios.
The largest design offices in the country that employ upward of 100 designers are almost entirely in the public sector or have some kind of government stake in them.

Idiom and VIM Design can look at collaborating on product design projects especially those that need manufacturing and production support in China and this is something we would be looking at in the future.

Posted by Jacob