China Design Now

01 May 2008|Cynthia Chan

Conversations about design in China are popping up in different places and channels more frequently in the recent years. The most recent exposure I had with the topic was at the China Design Now exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The exhibition uses three coastal cities – Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing – to showcase the country’s creative landscape. It shows how design in China has evolved, with specific examples drawn from different disciplines such as graphic design, fashion, architecture, etc.

The exhibition starts from Shenzhen (a city located at the southern border of the country right next to Hong Kong), where graphic designers began to explore new directions in the early 1990s. Shanghai is the next main exhibition block where consumerism and urban culture have combined to produce astonishing fashion and lifestyles. And finally, Beijing, where they feature several monumental architectural examples for the Olympic Games which are transforming the skyline of this ancient capital.

It is interesting to see how various elements play out in recent design in China. Many people talked about how the Chinese embrace modernity and things from the West and how these things show up in various aspects of life. However, they are missing the fact that many local designers draw inspiration from the rich history and culture of their country – Chinese characters and brushstrokes are taken into consideration when graphic designers put together advertising and brochures, traditional motifs are seen on purses and clothing, and the belief in balance and harmony are brought into major buildings seen around the country.

Copying is no longer the key characteristics of Chinese designs. Local designers are consistently fusing ideas from different cultures – modernizing, but at the same time, not forgetting their roots. It is equally interesting to see how local designers balance their work between nationalistic and individual styles.

It is purely fantastic to see how the fast development of the economy impacts and inspires how local designers think about design, and how this collective group of designers is pushing the creative energy of the country to its peak!

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