Chinese Design: Re Mixing or Copying?

Re mixing is taking samples of published songs, putting them together to build a new song; Eminem knows, he’s always the best according to the website

Kirby Ferguson calls the process of copying and reassembling – Re Mixing. It’s The process with which Bob Dylan was taking melodies from other folk songs, changing the words, adjusting the tones and hitting success with songs like “Masters of War” (originally “Nottamun Town” by Jean Ritchie) and many others.

Picasso used to say that “Good artists borrow but great ones steal”; this quote was massively used by Steve Jobs before saying “I will never forgive Bill Gates for copy our system” or “Android is a stolen product, I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this“. Read: copy is good until it doesn’t affect us.


Steve Jobs on Android


I recall the example of Ford saying that “I didn’t invent anything, I just put together the work of other people“.

Are all the projects that we find in Leonardo’s code fruit of it’s imagination or the result of a process, maybe some sketches taken from the works of other engineers of the time like Taccola or Vignola?

Or we just can say that some “so called inventions” are the result of an hystorical evolution, a process more than the blink of a genius, the product of a fertile environment, prepared by the sacrifice and ideas of other people.

At the very end the iPhone is a phone+camera+touch screen, three technologies that were existing before, actually the first two were also very well developed at that time. And again nobody got scandalized or considered Johnny Ive’s work less valuable when compared to Dieter Rams products for Braun designed decades before.

So assembling old technology is Re Mixing, and has the dignity of innovation.

Recent smaller issues come to my mind, too. In 2001 Ragni and Iacchetti won a Compasso d’Oro with a spoon/fork for Pandora Design that was designed by the giant Lino Sabattini in 1971 in steel and they made a MaterB version.


Moscardino Ragni Sabattini


Is that Re Mixing or Copying? Personally I think it’s Re Mixing, a healthy process that brings progress and innovation, I just think that the award, for its character of novelty, was a big mistake, but this is another problem.

But let’s go back to China. What about Chinese design: is it Re Mixing or Copying?

The process of Re Mixing itself contains the understanding of the character of the product and its functions and brings it to a different (higher) level through the innovation of it’s main values.

Problem is that the reading and understanding of these two characteristics are often mistaken or simply wrong.

The iPhone is a good phone not because it has a fruit printed on the back or because it has a round button with a square; copying these two signs means not understanding the innovation that the product brings.

Producing a product with a red and blue guy dressed like Spiderman who is NOT Spiderman simply means not understanding the process of licensing and it’s market.

Producing a wheelchair with a Prada logo doesn’t make the product less indecent, or selling plastic glasses that look like the Google glasses but don’t have any function is just a funny fraud.

The process of re mixing in China is totally mistaken not because the concept is not clear, but because the analysis of the product focuses on the wrong signs or functions or because the term design doesn’t have anything to do with the concept of good product.

Imagine that the word Design “设计” (Shèjì) has it’s translation in “Plan” and “Creativity” which would be like reductively translating (like in Latin) “Design” with “Drawing“, but the most used word is “款式” (Kuânshì) has to do with “Style” or “Aesthetics“.

This is again due to a diffent iconic culture in which the image is more important than the function and what appears is more valuable than what it is. This is intrinsic in the construction of the language and in the written and verbal communication itself; the relationship between sign and meaning is profundly different.

On the other side there’s an old story; today Chinese companies are able to make development, prototyping, engineering and  production, but they miss the first fundamental part of the process which is the analysis.

They don’t pay attention to this part because the market is huge an forgiving, the possibilities are big, even if you conceive the wrong product. Every pirate will find his target even with a badly copied product and this is today the  strength and weakness of Chinese design.