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A View of China’s Creative Industries

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Definition of Design in China

In China, graphic, product and industrial design are considered a modern discipline. Their current developments basically have no direct linkage with Chinese traditions in these fields.  The development  of design during the past century has been more influenced by the West. Graphic design stands as an exception; its evolution dates back to the 1920s, when its creative epicentre was Shanghai. During the 1980s Shenzhen became the new  center and restyled it. Modern product design is acknowledged to be a young, fairly new but nonetheless rapidly emerging discipline. Only since the last decade industrial design gained interest and recognition.

The only precedents in Chinese history for contemporary product design are tableware (porcelain), wooden furniture and some Chinese handicrafts. These traditional design practices suffered from a major breakdown during the Cultural Revolution. In recent years, the development of the “cultural and creative industries” made contemporary design evolve rapidly. Equally important is the massive growth of the Chinese consumer market. But there seems to be an insurmountable gap between the quantity and quality of the products created. The key question emerging from several reports and market scans is how this speed of development influences the product's quality and intent for sustainability. They also question the designers' creativity and capability to innovate. Education, policy and quality of design emerge as problematic issues.

The design profession consists of individual design consultancy agencies (studios with less than 10 people),  design departments (R&D) in companies and manufactures, design institutes belonging to the government, academic workshops and incubators. According to surveys, more than 300,000 people are employed in the Chinese products design industry. Most are young and age between 20-30. They account  for 93% of the total designers. In 2006, the design industry produced value reached 30 billion RMB, amounting for 2.2% of China's GDP. First tier Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have seen the bulk of the commercial investment in the past decades. These metropolises drive growth, both financially and symbolically, and a lot of the creative design talent from all of China has been flocking to these cities. Inasmuch as because of the presence of well- known universities, institutes, large national/international companies.

Consumer spending in China is largely internally driven, with a consumer culture constantly seeking out brands, products and ideas that have not only been successful on a foreign markets, but are also in tune with the local and cosmopolitan values of a generation of independent-minded consumers.