Life within the design industry in China, A Questionnaire.

I am using some Shanghai design studios to showcase Chinese talent. One of the studios I am featuring is Thread and I was hoping that I might be able to send one of your team members a small questionnaire to complete. It is only five questions in length and it would go a long way in aiding my understanding of life within the design industry in China.

Question 1

In this new decade, how would you characterise China’s rank in the world of international graphic design? Is it catching up, falling back or setting the bar?

ME: Simply catching up. Everyone is being inspired by each other, but few are creating anything new.
There is also very little understanding of the foundation of traditional graphic design, typography etc, and like in all mediums, without the basics it’s difficult to push boundaries.

Question 2

More and more Western designers are now moving to the East. What would you say is so appealing about Shanghai’s design and advertising world for industry professionals? Is there a sense that China is the next ‘place to be’ for designers?

ME: For many it’s just a great place to be. Fun exciting, always new and a huge amount of opportunity to do something new, be someone, get your work out there. No one is here because it’s the place to be for graphics!
In the short term a little western talent goes a long way, the local designers are eager to learn, but in the long term, once we’ve served out purpose, we won’t be needed anymore. This is the same with product design and engineering in 1970’s Japan and 1980’s Taiwan.

Question 3

On the Thread website, it refers to the design world in Shanghai as a ‘commercial battlefield’. What qualitiesdoes a successful design/ad need to have to make it stand out amidst thousands of other designs in the city, each fighting for the consumer’s attention?

ME: Chinese people are exposed to more new brands each day than any other nation, you can’t stand out so there’s no point trying. It’s a case of targeting the right people in the right places.

Question 4

China has a love of technology and it’s online community is the biggest in the world – this has led to some new and innovative forms of advertising. In terms of the wider picture, would you agree that in the years to come the central focus of Chinese graphic design will be behind the screen rather than on the printed page?

ME: Not really. If digital technology stayed the way it was 2 or 3 years ago then yes. Traditional graphics won’t be as important in the coming digital era. Information flow and user interface design will be. Accessing and sharing information will be the goal, not big graphic heavy flash websites, (nike adidas etc.)

I’d like to think that China’s heritage or printed material will stay with them, though we’d all probably run out of paper.

However, I do think we’re going to see a big shift in attitude towards Chinese film and associated graphics with that.

Question 5

In the future, do you see Chinese cities like Shanghai as having a major influence on design and advertising the world over, as well as being frontiers for the latest trends and technologies? Will it be the city all designers will look to? If so, how many years will we have to wait before it becomes a reality?

ME: Yes. Again, I think it’s interesting to look at Japan and Taiwan. 40 years ago (or so my uncle tells me) everything had a Made in Japan sticker on it. They were mocked in the west as being the factory of the world, making cheap shitty electronics and toys. No morals on copyright and certainly no ideas of their own.

By the 1990’s Tokyo was the coolest city on the planet. Sadly it’s not moved any further forward since then.

We have young designers in our office with so much raw talent. Everyone tells me “my grandfather was an artist”. But they’re slow to get up to speed and find it hard to talk about ideas (in English or Chinese). This generation won’t be creative directors until their late 30’s or more.

My view is that it is the failings in the school system, where by being creative and asking questions of your teacher is frowned upon. Failings in social education, where by 18 year olds are staying home with their parents to study all evening instead of drinking budget cider and smoking weed. If you don’t know yourself, your mind, and have an understanding of people, it’s impossible to create something that talks to people, and more importantly, to sell that idea to your (also) closed minded client.

Thank you for taking the time to complete this questionnaire.
ME: No problem.

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