Recently Shenzhen is visited by many journalists coming to give a picture of the city that is usually distorted and, being tourists for a few days, they probably spend more time in fake markets to buy bags for their partners rather than visiting design centres and tech poles.
What come out is generally a city of joyful copiers, that are happy to be and make money out of someone else’s ideas without any ethics or values.
Writing about “Hacker culture”, “Open Design” or sometimes about some makers that are just reproducing (and not actually making anything) is amoral and unfair.
Those “Untraceable Designers” that are copied are people that lost their saves in a system that swallowed up their ideas in days.
Lohu market is not an exotic social case, it’s the shame of Shenzhen and far from being a “complete gathering of fashion and luxury design”.
Huaqianbei market is the way wester companies keep China a step behind, letting them copying the lowest level products that today just the internal market consumes. It’s annoying going there to see your latest design on an anonymous counter thinking about all the amount of nights that workers spent developing it.
In every country these activities are considered “crimes” by law and a honest and reputable part of the production world (which is the biggest part) fought and fights against that since immemorable time.
In my personal opinion promoting this culture goes way beyond the right to report becoming immoral and unprofessional. Promoting the culture of infringing the copyright law, publishing articles on “Open Market” or “Sharing Ideas” or worst assuming that the fake culture is existing because there’s a market need is just wrong.
There’s no excuse for stealing ideas to some kickstarters who invested all their saves in a dream. There’s no excuse for saying that “Open Market Design” is a new culture and we have to adapt to it.
Open Market Design means that there was a designer and a company that invested on a product, they payed for R&D, moldings, tooling and marketing. Then a supplier (usually a group) takes that product, reproduces it and launches it on the market making money out of that, it’s shanzhai (imitation).
In the third of the Wired documentaries on Shenzhen called “A New Breed of Intellectual Property” an enthusiastic expert was claiming that “What is considered theft in other countries, in China is considered sharing”. Then an example of a crowdfunded product that was copied before the original actually hit the market. These modern Robin Hood companies make “White” or unbranded products because they stole some components from the original one and find a way to make it for a cheaper price (easy when you don’t pay for R&D and for design). Today this is by someone considered innovation?
When a product is copied the project is spread to an entire compartment of suppliers and you find it in the market from one day to the other, out of the blu it is everywhere. This is a tested system to avoid problems with the laws, which are existing, even in China; if everyone copies nobody is guilty.
Believe me, I love Open Source and I’m an enthusiast of sharing the source of ideas because it’s cooperative, but I’m extremely critic of copying the final result of the process, which is the final product itself. This hasn’t anything to do with sharing or cooperation.
The hunt for “Unidentified Acts of Design” is supposed to be a picture of the present situation in China, but those acts are, on the other side, very identifiable: they are the electronic fakes of Huaqianbei that all come from famous patented products, with the holographic stickers always ready to be affixed to the packaging to mark it as “original copy“. And by the way it’s not design at all.
After all the debate on anonymous design and ‘object trouvé’ culture that Europe has solved in the seventies, is promoting this way of doing things really supposed to build a the new culture of design in China?
Luckily for the pollution of the planet, for good design and for innovation, China is not just copies, hakers, makers and open design. This is just the image of an old China represented by the old.
Shenzhen is a vibing positive city full of good designers that are not willing to copy anybody, of factories and editors that care about patents and copyright laws and of design critics that are promoting a healthy and honest culture of the field.
Design reporters, come here for more than two days and you will find it out!