The Great Wall (Part II): Design; the Visible & the Invisible
Updated: Jan 25
Say ‘China’ and the first thing that comes to mind is probably manufacturing. Not surprising, since the country has indeed made prolific progress on many fronts, basis its manufacturing prowess. Any price tag or label that says ‘Made in China’ has probably become a blind spot for most of us. As one may argue, is there anything that’s not made in China? What intrigued me on this trip though, was the focus on ‘Designed in China’.
In a second of a series of 2-parts, here is an account of how design is a part of everyday
life in China!
Go to the international airport terminal of any city in the world and you will see multiple manifestations of the local culture or art, presented through the décor or through the overall theme of the space. Take for instance the T3 at Mumbai; the space is almost treated like an exhibition of artefacts from all over India. China was no different, except for one thoughtful detail; the exhibit showcased internationally acclaimed Chinese-designed products! Most of these products were simple everyday use objects that had won either the Red Dot or an Index Award or the coveted G-Mark.
Seeing the display, I thought back a little in time, when my partners and I were attending the Red Dot Award ceremony in Essen, Germany. I distinctly remember at least every third award being presented to design cells of international brands that were based out of China. Little wonder why the third Red Dot Museum opened its doors last November in Xiamen! The museum houses an entire section of contemporary Chinese designs, apart from the annual Red Dot winners and design classics. Although, I missed visiting the museum, I managed to catch a glimpse of a small display at Xiamen Airport. As the trip unfolded, there were even more surprises in store!
I was in China to attend the Canton Fair, one of the ‘go to places’ for every kind of sourcing in Guangzhou, one could possibly imagine. As I passed the registration office and moved towards the exhibition halls, I noticed the beautiful displays at one of the exhibits. This happened to be the Canton Fair Product Design and Trade Promotion Centre. The space outside was converted into a walk-in presentation area where talks and panel discussions on design were being conducted.
The exhibition space itself had a variety of sections, from award winning products on display, to live demos of products that were being pitched as ‘superior by design’. A little walk across the grounds of the fair led me to a hall that housed the winners of the Canton Fair Design Awards. By this time, I was pretty convinced that design was the new flavour of the season in China. As a designer I was delighted that the people in power were looking at design as a differentiator and making efforts to make it visible; not just to designers, but to an international audience and lay people alike.
Dieter Rams’ design principles state, ‘Good Design is often invisible’! This could not hold truer at the Canton Fair, as I soon learnt. Design was everywhere at the fair; visible and invisible, the latter being what one may call design thinking or systems design. Like at any international fair, the signages and way finding was top class and the information kiosks and visitor facilities in abundance too.