Design Management and China #1

Sustainability / Business Design / China / Management

There are many prejudices towards China, especially when we think of creativity and innovation. China is known for its lack of intellectual property right (IPR) protection, as briefly touched upon in my recent blog post, paired with their weak spot for copying products and even services. Hence, most would conclude China’s rapid growth and economic importance is rather a threat to our Western design values, than a source for inspiration or an opportunity.

I would challenge this assumption with an often-cited illustration of Chinese thinking. In Chinese the word “crisis” (危机, wēi jī) in Chinese is composed of two characters which represent “danger” (危, wēi) as well as “opportunity” (机, jī or 机会 jīhuì). I go with this optimistic approach of facing the cultural crisis between the West and the East and predict that China will play an important role towards innovation, creativity, the design of products and services as well as having a big cultural influence on the design process itself. I see this increased importance as an opportunity.

Design management and China will influence each other. A Chinese generation of creatives and designers. What does it mean for global design management? (Source: Author's own).

A Chinese generation of creatives and designers. What does it mean for global design management? (Source: Author’s own).

Arguments why China will have huge impact on design and the design process:

  • There are 1.3 billion prospective consumers of products and services.
  • There are 1.3 billion prospective inventors and creative minds.
  • Due to outsourcing, the production of goods was relocated to China. Today most human-designed objects are produced by Chinese workers.
  • With the outsourcing of production, the West has not only relocated plants and facilities but also the social issues of production alike (e.g. Foxconn). Furthermore pollution and emission of greenhouse gases has largely disappeared from European cities and now take place in the Middle Kingdom. Thus, a redesign of our economies and its production facilities towards a more sustainable pattern will not happen without China.
  • According to Reuters, China already became the world’s top patent filer in 2011. Be prepared for a world in which the Chinese are leading in innovation again – and boy did they patent it! (Lee, 2011, p.1)
  • Some of these inventions and changes to the design process might break with our most essential notions of ethics, mindsets and values. We might need to find a way to deal with this.

I recently discovered an interesting short paper called ‘Design Management in the Light of China: Challenges and Opportunities for Design Management and Design Education‘. The author, Hans Kaspar Hugentobler, founder and CEO of a swiss consultancy dedicated to people-centric innovation and strategic design planning and research services, also predicts a growing importance of China and with this, two changes to design management and design education: Western companies will innovate for Chinese markets and rely on domestic (China) service providers for design research, design planning and design management.

On the other hand, Chinese multinationals will increasingly set up headquarters and design departments in Europe and the United States. Hence, no matter in which part of the world we might pursue a professional career in the design industry, due to increased globalisation from both Chinese and Western companies, design managers will face mixed sino-western-cultured work environments, which might challenge our ways of how work is being done in the future.

Maybe a big share of my interest in this development is owed to my background of obtaining a BA in International Business Management and Chinese language and culture. Still, I believe that the future of design and design management is inevitably influenced by China’s development. Designers need awareness and respect for such influences in order to develop a skill set to deal with it.


Hugentobler, Hans Kaspar. (2008). ‘Design Management in the Light of China: Challenges and Opportunities for Design Management and Design Education’. 2 March.[online] Available at

_associates_neuigkeiten_files/CHA_text_china_081120HH.pdf (Accessed 20.10.12)

Lee, Chyen Yee. (2011). ‘China tops U.S., Japan to become top patent filer’. Dec.[online] Available at (Accessed 20.10.12)