The future of Chinese design system
The woman with countless titles and awards, an outstanding industrial design promoter in China, Shirley Feng currently acts as the Executive Vice-president and Secretary-General of non-profit organization Shenzhen Industrial Design Profession Association (SIDA). Being the leader for 6 years, Shirley has made SIDA the largest industrial design profession organization in China. She is also Secretary-General of the National Industrial Design Innovation Alliance, a member of Shenzhen-Hong Kong Design Cooperation Advisory Committee and she takes part in many other organizations.
Shirley Feng is committed to spread the Chinese industrial design and bring it to the whole world. Due to that she has organized design festivals, creative forums and other design related activities. But her most important turn was to organize the largest industrial design fair in Asia – China (Shenzhen) International Industrial Design Fair in 2013. Shirley Feng has become the most influential Chinese woman in the international industrial design industry.
How would you as the Executive Vice-president and Secretary-General of SIDA describe the Chinese industrial design? Are there any specific differences between the Asian and European design taste/styles?
It is just my ten years as a design driver, I have witnessed the fastest developing and best ten years of Chinese industrial design. In general, industrial design in China is still in an early stage of development, and still has a long way to go, although SIDA has spared no efforts to promote Chinese industrial design in nearly 8 years, and did improve a lot especially in the aspect of integrating with the world, for example, Chinese companies got more and more top international awards such as iF, Red Dot, IDEA, Good Design Award; the compliments that we got from the participation of 100% Design in London; holding the world’s largest international industrial design fair, attracting the world famous design masters such as Stefano Giovannoni, Karim Rashid and agencies to join in the fair, etc., our fair was highly praised and got wide attention whether from the scale or the professional level around the world.
The most obvious feature of Chinese industrial design probably is the close combination with manufacturing industry, and having more advantages especially in consumer electronics, medical equipments, etc., which is also the typical feature of Shenzhen industrial design. In recent two years, we are also developing maker industry and focusing on the intelligent wearable products. Excellent products can be made under our powerful technology, innovation ability, plus industrial design. So I think Chinese industrial design pays more attention on technological implementation, application and function, whereas in the areas of user research and strategic design, Chinese design are not as good as the well known developed design cities.
The Asian design was put extra weight on elaboration and exquisite workmanship, which is led by Japan and South Korea. They are also experienced in user research, and we should learn from them. I love Nordic design very much, not because in recent years we have a good relationship with the design industry and local government of Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, but because the idea of simple design in Northern Europe has led and driven the development of the world’s industrial design, which I think is quite extraordinary. Design integrates with people’s lives and the city environment. The service design makes life easier and provides a more thoughtful platform for the daily life. What impressed me most is the World Design Capital – Helsinki, and experienced their quite convenient traffic design. The mayor of Helsinki also proposed Open Helsinki – Embedding Design in Life. As to the design style in Western Europe, I think German Design is of high quality and long history, so two top design awards: iF and Red Dot came from Germany. The French design is more romantic and fashionable. The Italian design focuses more on the art of craftsmanship. The American industrial design pays more attention to the integration of user experience and internet.
You have received many awards as a design promoter and outstanding woman in the Chinese design industry. Does it motivate you to work even harder when you feel that your work is highly appreciated?
For me, the awards are not important, what’s important is to promote Chinese design to a larger stage, let the world see Chinese design, which is also my dream and goal. Of course, the not easy awards also mean encouragement and responsibility to me; I cannot disappoint the expectation from the industry, the government and the international organizations, so I really appreciate these awards. In the recent ten years, I almost do not have festivals and holidays, and am working on weekends as well; I firmly believe that hard work is rewarded. I’m also particularly grateful to the design industry home and abroad for their support and help, as well as the recognition from Shenzhen municipal government; my special thanks also go to the concern and news coverage from the media, including Design42Day.
What is the biggest challenge for you in business matters when you face people who are from different fields of industries (not from design industries)?
This is a very good question. As a design driver, there are different problems while facing people from different fields of industries. I paid lots of efforts in this aspect. The biggest challenge is they do not have a further understanding on design as well as the value of design. For example, to some manufacturers, industrial design can promote their brand, but they simply think that design is simply exterior design; they even hope it can be offered for free. I told them industrial design is not just appearance design, but also structure, function, user experience and brand strategy, etc., they cannot fully understand. We put into lots of energy to get their recognition on design value. Practical cases need to be explained and demonstrated, that is also one of the important reasons for us to host the SZIDF. It is also the same to communicate with government officials. The value of design and creation cannot be measured only by design service fees, which is low in output value, the service fees of industrial design in Shenzhen a year is only 4.2 billion China Yuan (CNY), compared to production value that exceed tens or hundreds of billions in other related industries, the amount of this service fee is very small, whereas the added value is quite big. Therefore, it took me three years to state the design value to the officials, luckily I’m a Shenzhen CPPCC member, every year, the proposal is about the importance of industrial design and suggestions of what we should do, fortunately, the mayor of Shenzhen, Mr. Xu Qin has the background of science and engineering, he knows well the role and value of industrial design in manufacturing industry, so Shenzhen Municipal Government takes the lead and issued the New Policy on Promoting Industrial Design Industry, offering special funds of 100 million RMB per year to support and promote the development of industrial design, SZIDF is one of the projects that hosted and funded by the government. At first, the media agencies are not willing to report the industrial design, now they are active to cover our development news, which are also the results of our constant promotion and influence. It is really hard to do a thing successfully; my experience is just one word: perseverance.
From your personal experience, what has significantly changed in Chinese design in the last 10 years? Nowadays we don’t associate China only with cheap and low quality products but also with high-end design.
In the last 10 years, Chinese design significantly changed the product quality in China, changed people’s impression about made in China. For example, the sales quantity of Huawei mate 7 exceeds that of iPhone 6; the world-leading Unmanned Aerial Vehicles from Shenzhen DJI have occupied 50% of the international market share. I believe in the next 10 years, products that influence the world will be designed in China, which is also my goal before retirement, hope at that time I can be interviewed by you again.
Can you name one industrial design company/brand which would represent Chinese design or one which has attracted your attention already for a long time?
I pay close attention to lots of brands, such as over 600 SIDA member companies, their achievements can represent the level of Chinese design. Whereas at the moment, some cutting-edge teams that represent the future of Chinese design caught my attention, such as the studios established by the makers, the design agencies like Xivo Design, AZ Industrial Design, SpeedTime, etc..
What are the main goals that SIDA would like to achieve in the next years?
I will lead SIDA with an open innovation mind, to realize the following medium to short term goals:
Within 10 years, I will lead SIDA to promote Chinese design which not only attracts worldwide attention, but also influence the world;
Within 5 years, I will lead Shenzhen makers to a worldwide platform, making Shenzhen the real Silicon Valley of hardware and makers’ paradise in the world;
Within 3 years, SIDA will make SZIDF an exhibition that guide the world design, attracting more international design masters to enter Shenzhen, and settle in Sino-Finnish Design Park, and inviting them to jointly build the experimental business zone – Shenzhen’s Qianhai area; create a world-wide makers’ event –Shenzhen International Maker Week; and also looking forward to the emerging of machine that produce machine.
Hope Shenzhen design can lead the development of Chinese design, and making Chinese design outstanding in the world.