Design factories

Updated: 2012-04-20 08:43

By Todd Balazovic (China Daily)

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Service costs

Design factories

Peter Vec, creator of the Red Dot Design awards, says the consciousness in unique design is increasing in China. Provided to China Daily

With the average cost of having a foreign industrial design firm develop a new product ranging anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, it is only the most committed companies that are investing in originality rather than efficiency.

As a result, companies often opt to use Chinese design firms at a fraction of the cost, regardless of the results.

But as continued profits stream in from the manufacturing sector, Chinese companies are becoming more willing to take a financial gamble - often doing so through foreign industrial design SMEs.

"In China, there are more risk-takers, more people are willing to take a non-conventional route. And this helps small firms," says Lynnette Chan, creative director for Renovate, a Singapore-based industrial design company.

While foreign firms may be temporarily stepping in to satiate the needs for Chinese companies willing to risk more for a better product, China's effort to foster innovation is revealing a slow rise in the number of homegrown creative thinkers.

Domestic stalwarts

Design factories

Clive Roux, executive director and CEO of the Industrial Design Society of America. Provided to China Daily

Leading the pack is Zhou Yi, founder and president of S.point Design. Opened in 1997, the company is one of China's longest serving industrial design outfits.

Born in Wuxi, in East China's Jiangsu province, the product pioneer has been recognized internationally as one of China's top innovators and in March he was recognized by China Business News as one of the China's "most creative minds".

With clients ranging from large multinationals, like Siemens and Panasonic, to local Chinese companies trying to etch out a name globally, Zhou's company has successfully conceived thousands of new products ranging from personal watches for Nike to electronic bus stations in Hangzhou.

Zhou's company has managed to distinguish itself from the hordes of Chinese design companies focusing on how a product looks rather than works, by focusing on the strategy of a product - how will it sell rather than how it will look.

"It is more sustainable for Chinese companies to have more of a strategic approach," says S.point's business strategy manager Lam.

"The labor force is so great here that if you are focusing on the aesthetic portion of a project, there is always going to be someone who is willing to do it better than you or cheaper than you."

And while it may still be a few years before China finds its footing in the land of innovation, at least for now, firms are starting small as they plant the seeds to cultivate the world's next wave of new ideas.

Design factories

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