Why is it important to understand Chinese Product Design? Because China today is the factory of the world, however they still need ideas from the outside to make their factories work. This is not going to last for long. I remember the first time when I was coming to China, I saw western people having meeting in hotels in which they were presenting product to Chinese suppliers asking them for a price. Five years later the same people were coming to the same hotel and the same supplier was presenting them a group of iPad clones telling them the price and saying “your logo here”. I definitely had the impression that the western company was not doing research and development anymore, but just branding.
So two passages are still missing to have an entire chain: shifting from copied products to original ideas and the branding part. This is the new challenge for the future. China will invest on R&D, design and ideas. Already the biggest concentration of incubators companies are in San Francisco and Shenzhen and the Chinese Companies and Government are literally buying ideas from outside and choosing the best ones.
This is why understanding Chinese product design and Chinese culture is very important, both from the designer’s point of you as well as the consumer’s.
I often think that “if you point at the moon they look at the finger”, but I still don’t understand why they look at the finger, why Chinese consumers find, think and want products in which they see things that we don’t see.
English translations are bad, often objects are simply wrong and useless, sometimes the desperate will to be different takes the product to a ridiculous level, but still Chinese consumers and designers see things that we don’t see. They see shape analogies that are totally outside our culture (usually flowers, lucky numbers, lucky words), they see and they want to see Chinese tradition (symbolism, patterns), often they want to see and not understand (a ridiculously meaningless advertisement that makes you think is considered good). Why should we make a square bottle that doesn’t function properly when everybody makes round bottles and this is so wrong that makes the customer think “Why did they do that?”
Why if the company is called Yellow Banana we should have a logo with a blue Apple? Because it’s so wrong that makes the customer think “Why did they do that?” And remember if you think that the answer to that question is “Because they are crazy”, it’s not in China. There is no answer to that, the process is finished once you catch the attention of the consumer.
So if you want to design for China you have to understand these tips and this logic, no matter how illogical it can seem to us. Remember that when they will make the leap to producing, designing as well as generating ideas but they will impose their logic and this is just round the corner.