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Giving Strategic Importance to the Development of Industrial Design

Feb 15,2018

By Wei Jigang & Li Yaokun

Research Report Vol.20 No.1, 2018

I. The Importance of Industrial Design

Industrial design is about injecting social and cultural elements into the industrial production system to produce modern industrial products combining the functional and cultural properties and meet the upgraded demand in the consumer market. Industrial design embodies the core value of the industrial sector and is an innovative activity that integrates and optimizes the function, structure, procedures, exterior and prototype of industrial products. Its importance is reflected in four aspects. The first is creating product differentiation. Industrial design differentiates the products on such dimensions as form, function, prototype, quality and experience. The second is promoting technology commercialization. Industrial design turns “technological language” into “product language”, namely the interface that consumers can understand and use, thus significantly accelerating the translation of scientific research and technological progress into productivity. That’s why medium- and high-level market economy has such a large demand for design innovation, and why industrial design innovation is critical for brand development. The third is increasing industrial value added. Industrial design gives a cultural touch to industrial production system and triggers emotional resonance in the consumers. By integrating and making innovations in production factors such as technology, knowledge and craft, it adjusts, reorganizes and re-develops the industrial supply structure, promotes design innovation with “value creation” at the core, and enhances the cultural value of the industry. The fourth is improving and reshaping the industrial system. Deep-level design innovation aims at the formation of new production and lifestyle models. By improving and reshaping the supply structure, it boosts the improvement of traditional manufacturing system in prototype structure, technological structure, functional structure and procedural structure, thus contributing to the reshaping of the traditional manufacturing system.

Since the 1970s, more than 20 countries in the world have included promoting industrial design as an industry in their national strategy, believing that industrial design is an important part of national soft power. They have pursued four types of development paths: the cultural-creativity-driven path represented by Britain, the commercial-market-driven path represented by the United States, the high-end-manufacturing-driven path represented by Germany and Japan, and the national-policy-driven path represented by South Korea and Northern Europe. These paths helped those countries stay in the high-value-added upstream parts of the international manufacturing chain.

II. Development of Industrial Design in China

Since the beginning of reform and opening up, especially in the ten-plus years of the 21st century, China has made impressive progress in the field of industrial design and an industry system has taken shape, which can been seen mainly in three aspects:

1. Ever-increasing size of the industry

First, the number of enterprises increases rapidly. As of the end of 2016, there were more than 12,000 enterprises related to industrial design[]①, including more than 5,000 professional industrial design companies above the designated size, an increase of nearly 60 times from about 90 ones at the end of the 20th century. Second, the number of industrial design parks keeps increasing. There are more than 50 professional industrial design parks across the country today, including Guangdong Industrial Design City (GIDC), Shenzhen Design Industrial Park (DIP) and Beijing DRC Industrial Design Creativity Base. In addition, there are more than 1,200 cultural creativity parks and manufacturing service parks withindustrial design as the main business. Third, more colleges have the major of industrial design and employment in this area keeps expanding. More than 600,000 people engage in industrial design nationwide, more than 600 institutions of higher learning have the major of industrial design, and over 1,800 colleges have related majors such as interactive design and service design. More than 1.5 million college students major in design, with over 500,000 graduates every year.

2. Manufacturing’s ever-growing demand for industrial design

First, the upgrade of manufacturing brand has an urgent demand for industrial design. As the global commodity competition is getting fiercer and the resident consumption structure is upgraded continuously, the traditional product system centered on technology and function gradually shifts to the brand-name service and experience model. To enhance brand reputation and product competitiveness, domestic manufacturers represented by Lenovo, Huawei, Haier and Midea have raised the ratio of industrial design R&D and input in recent years and notably enhanced their product quality and brand value. Second, professional industrial design companies and manufacturers are working more closely together. With consumer electronics, communication equipment, vehicles and equipment manufacturing as the example, it is very common for professional industrial design companies to provide tailored services for manufacturers, and some are even able to produce customized products independently. Third, the number of registered industrial design patents increases rapidly. In 2009, the number of registered patent for appearance, patent for utility model and patent for invention related with industrial design was 5.7 times, 3.8 times and 7.9 times that in 2001 respectively.

3. Spatial layout of the industry taking shape

Industrial design is mostly concentrated in three areas: the Bohai Economic Rim (with Beijing as the center and reaching Liaoning and Shandong), Yangtze River Delta (with Shanghai as the center and reaching Zhejiang and Jiangsu), and Pearl River Delta (with Guangdong as the center and reaching Fujian and Hong Kong). At the same time, industrial design in the central region (with Hunan and Hubei as the center) and the mid-western region (with Sichuan and Chongqing as the center) has also reached a certain scale. Such a spatial layout will further drive the development of industrial design in the surrounding areas and underdeveloped regions.

4. Local governments’ active efforts in promoting the industry

(1) Beijing’s efforts to promote the development of industrial design. Leveraging its advantages in technology, culture and talent, Beijing focused on high-end and platform development when promoting the industrial design industry. First, high-tech manufacturers are the main users of industrial design innovations. More than 300 high-end manufacturers including Lenovo, Hanvon Technology and Huaqi have independent industrial design R&D department, and industrial design innovations effectively speed up the translation and commercialization of their technological achievements. Second, platforms for industrial design incubation are set up. In June 2005, Beijing DRC Industrial Design Creativity Base was the first to be completed and put into operation among similar platforms in the country. In the past 10-plus years, it has played an important role in industrial factor concentration and manufacturing integration, and incubated about 100 design companies. Third, design innovation is promoted. Beijing launched the “design innovation and upgrade program” for all manufacturers in the city in 2007, and carried out the government-led “design consulting and diagnosis project” to foster their independent innovation capability. More than 200 manufacturers have joined the program so far, which engage in such areas as consumer electronics, new media, vehicles and equipment manufacturing. Fourth, efforts are stepped up to develop a pool of industrial design talents. Over 100 junior colleges in Beijing have majors such as industrial design, interactive design and product design, more than twice the national average level. Such a large talent reserve is a strong guarantee for the development of industrial design in Beijing.

(2) Shanghai’s efforts to promote the development of industrial design. Shanghai has a sound industrial design foundation in areas such as automobile, ship, aerospace, communication, household appliance and daily chemicals, and its industrial design shows the trend of service orientation and international cooperation. First, priority is given to professional industrial design service. In recent years, a group of industrial design service providers with outstanding overall capability have emerged in Shanghai, such as MOMA, Qiaozhong, S.POINT and LOE, whose business scope is constantly expanded. World-renowned industrial design institutions like IDEO, Frog and Nova have also set up branches or offices in Shanghai one after another. Second, industrial design zones for different sectors and of different types are fostered. In 2012, the Shanghai International Automobile City project was officially named “Shanghai Auto Design Base”, which has attracted world-famous auto design companies, including Italy’s Pininfarina and America’s Global Optima, to set up offices here. With the auto industry taking the lead, Shanghai has built a variety of industrial design zones over recent years, such as the Shanghai International Industrial Design Center, Shanghai Fashion Design Valley, and Shangjie Loft, in a bid to attract manufacturers in relevant areas and promote their design innovations. Third, efforts are made for publicity, promotion and international collaboration. After being honored as a “City of Design” by UNESCO in 2010, Shanghai has intensified the publicity, promotion and international collaboration in design-related industries. It has had design cooperation and held forums with the governments of Austria’s Graz and Italy’s Milan, and hosted events like Shanghai Design Week and Shanghai Design Biennial.


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