The implication here is that Asian designers are more tapped into doing designs which elegantly combine functionality and style. (Actually, it's not an implication; this is the premise of Stephen Moore's interesting post.) I'm not saying that's not true. I'm wondering, though, if Asian designers are better at this than, say, American or European designers. (I think this is the implication of Moore's post.) The canonical example of well-blended (form plus function) U.S. design is Apple. In Europe, there are many to pick from, but let's start with BMW. I don't believe the evidence shows that Asian designers are either more or less adept at the form plus function thing than anyone else. Thoughts?
Having been to China several times on business (Plastic product business), I'd say Asia's got a ways to go in the design department. I think an explosion of original design will erupt from the Asia-Pacific rim in my lifetime, but it will take 20-30 years (yea, I'll be getting ready to check out by then). The Chinese will be introducing automobiles to the US soon, (http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/industry/chinese-car-companies-2010), and we're over run by Chinese made goods, but most of the technology comes from the West and Europe. I've been to the markets, both legit and down the back alleys; The legit stores carry goods well known in the US and Europe. The night markets carry A,B, & C copies along with the standard fare of trinkets. Even my Chinese acquaintances prefer purchasing foreign made goods because of their perception that Chinese goods are low quality & cheap. Having grown up in a very close tolorance plastics industry, I've found that, while Asians are quickly improving their form/function designs, they've yet to zero in on the details as a whole. They want what they are presenting to be "good enough", or "close". Why did I say we'll see an explosion of design in the next 20-50 years? Because they're extremely bright and hard working people. I think its more a culture and standards issue rather than one of adeptness. I think American and European designers have had a longer run at world-class design than our Asian counterparts, but the gap is closing.
If you walk through an electronics store in Tokyo, it's easy to see that Asian designers have a clever way of combining form and function. For Americans, though, their clever designs often make us scratch our heads. Products that grab the fancy of the Japanese market (maybe like this $90 toothbrush) often seem baffling to us.
While not fortunate enough to experience Japanese design, I have witnessed design enhancements in China. There for the first time, I saw an I-Phone that was obviously couterfeit, but it did contain two receivers which would allow it to answer two seperate phone numbers. For original designs, the architecture in China is impressive and definitely original.
These are interesting observations, but I don't think Stephen is saying that Asian design is better. He's saying that it is often excellent, and we need to be paying attention. I sense some defensiveness in these posts, and that's the kind of attitude that is helping to hold us back. Asia is now the location of most electronics manufacturing. Take LCD manufacturing. It's all in Asia. Where is the design coming from? Asian companies.
A lot of the innovation in Japan is for its market, but the point is to be aware of what they're doing so we may even be able to learn from it. Better? Sometimes, once in a while, I'm sure. And the developments in South Korea, even in automotive, are growing, and increasingly excellent. Yes, China is rife with counterfeiters. But there is also some great innovation there too. General Motors impressed the world when it established a design center in China to develop a Chinese version of the Buick. The design (by mostly native design engineers) was outstanding and became a big hit.
Disclaimer: Ive worked with Stephen off-and-on since the 1990s when we were both employed at McGraw-Hill, and I have tremendous respect for his insights into Asia. It's great that he's contributing in this cool new Web world at Design News.
Apologies to all for this tardy reply but I would like to expand on some of my comments in my debut posting. By no means do I think Asian design is in any way superior to what's coming out of the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. Just take a look in my apartment: 4 Macs, an iPad, and a Bang & Olufsen stereo/docking station that can mate with any Apple music player from the Nano through to the iPad. And the sound is something out of this world.
One thing that I would also like to stress is that people often tend to lump Asia together as a single entity whereas it is a diverse patchwork of countries and cultures. This diversity even extends to within countries like China and India. The same can be said for Asian design. Asia is home to innovators, followers, imitators, copiers and counterfeiters. I will be the first to admit that not all is good in this neck of the woods.
And I'd also like to expand on the sonic toothbrush. Besides being a pretty nifty item of which incidentally 1.5 million have been sold since debut in April, it's an example of how Japanese designers have created a new market segment.
Finally, I look forward to posting further developments from Asia and look forward to your comments and critiques.
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