What are the Differences between Chinese and Western Form-giving?

“An introduction to formgiving in Chinese product design” is a research article, written by Vigleik Norheim from the Department of Product Design from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. It gives some interesting insights on the cultural influences that impact the form-giving methodology in Chinese Industrial Design.

The article is a holistic and cultural introduction to formgiving in Chinese product design, both theoretical and practical. Observations were made during a 4-week stay in China in a university and two design offices. Introducing and comparing various Western approaches to form in product design with the Chinese approach proved to a certain degree unfair, as their tradition in the field is yet very young. The aim of this text is thus to explain why form in Chinese product design is where it is today in a cultural and social context. The article concludes that Chinese designers need more freedom and authority, much like the early Western designers at the dawn of our own industrial revolution.

Interesting elements such as their Confucius influenced culture, their very thematic approach to design, and their difficulty in stepping out side the collective are explored. Furthermore it also provides an insight on why there a proliferation of emulating or I dare say “copying” what other more established products and designs have done.
Overall, I do feel the research is a little skewed as the Chinese Designers that I have met really don’t fit the article’s description. Perhaps the sample size is too small, and the researcher did not really get in touch with the top Universities in China such as Tsinghua, to really see how the top schools are doing it. Regardless a lot of observations on culture, and the emphasis and delivery of education content are accurate. This is perhaps a reflection of how the smaller design schools are actually doing it.
At the end of the day, this reminds me of a discussion that I had with my old mentor: In today’s global economy brought closer by air travel and the Internet, cultures easily transcend borders. So, does this mean our traditional western based design education, a reflection of western culture, may not be appropriate or the best way in teaching creativity and design to other cultures (Asian etc.) that are not as open or liberal?
Link to Original PDF.

  • DT

    June 24, 2008 at 11:20 am Reply

    Hi Vigleik,
    Thanks for your feedback, and you brought up some huge points. People should not be afraid of China copying and making it cheap, they should be more concerned in their hunger to learn and be much better than their current selves.
    And I agree, Brand Management might be our only salvation.

  • Vigleik Norheim

    June 24, 2008 at 7:16 am Reply

    Hi DT,
    I am very delighted to see that the article can be a basis for discussion in your blog. It is going to be really interesting to observe how Chinese industry will manage the leap from copying to innovation.
    We did visit Tsinghua at the end, and also met outstanding Chinese designers at S.Point. They had adopted the “western” way to design products, but had a closer connection to Chinese culture. The design department at Tsingua was drawn by a Swedish architect, and they had heard much about Norway Says, a tiny furniture design company in Norway.
    I believe different cultures may use the same design methods with great success. Chinese designers may have a harder time learning it is ok to “let loose”. Japan has fought to become as Western as possible, but Japanese culture still provides one of the most distinctive styles in product design.
    Quick design and production is an extremely important advantage, but I do think China may have something to learn from our way of working with design. I do not mean that we are smarter in any way, we have just been lucky so far.. when they combine in-house, first class industrial design with their insane production capacity, where does that put us? In brand management, maybe?

  • DT

    June 18, 2008 at 9:24 am Reply

    Hi Niels,
    That is very very true. I’ve learnt long ago people are varied and have varied and different ways of doing things. We should respect that.
    I believe there is much to think about especially when there will be more internationally lauded and successful Chinese designs, such as the Olympic Torch, that will bring the Chinese design culture into the fold.

  • Niels

    June 17, 2008 at 11:22 pm Reply

    I think it is a typical western thing to conclude they should work more like we do. Maybe through the way the work they have a competitive advantage because they can produce and design quickly.

  • DT

    June 16, 2008 at 9:25 am Reply

    A warm welcome to visitors from Design Observer. I hope you enjoyed your visit, and do stay awhile.

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