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Better by Design in China

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In recent decades, China has been known more for its inexpensive manufactured goods than as a producer of high quality products. But this is changing as the country seeks to move up the economic chain.

China’s long-established design traditions were largely overlooked as the country made its breakneck push to become the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. But now Chinese manufacturers want to be known for high-quality designs and products rather than just for cheap-and-cheerful merchandise.

China is a critical lesson for the rest of the global South, and offers much inspiration to any country trying to develop, modernize and eradicate poverty.

The country is the main reason for the dramatic reductions in global extreme poverty rates, and it can be proud of using its average yearly economic growth rate of 10 per cent to lift 440 million Chinese out of poverty – the biggest reduction of poverty in history (The Economist). The strategy of exporting manufactured goods into Western markets at competitive prices has dominated the past 20 years.

But China faces a dilemma as other nations in the global South are moving into this niche. It needs to quickly become a high-value nation, with unique products and designs generated in the country.

Luckily, a renaissance in Chinese design in the last five years has been gradually grabbing the attention of the world’s creative community.

Innovative Chinese designers are creating home furnishings and interiors that are being snapped up by European companies.

The Italian kitchen utensil design company Alessi turned to eight Chinese architects – including Ma Yansong and Yung Ho Chang – to design a range of trays called (Un) Forbidden City. The architects’ designs were manufactured in Italy – a reversal of the pattern that has dominated for the past 20 years.

The architects drew on Chinese traditions and 21st century technologies to design the trays. One was made using a 3D scanner which captured images used to make a mould.

The drive to change and transform China’s global economic role was promoted in 2011’s Beijing International Design Week (http://www.bjdw.org/en/), with its theme of transforming “Made in China to Designed in China.”

“When you have so much of a manufacturing base in one place, it’s natural that people start thinking about how to climb the value chain,” Philip Tinari, director of Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA) (http://ucca.org.cn/) – a champion of new artists and designers – told howtospendit.com.

“Chinese design has become something to rally around and, unlike art, enjoys great official support because it’s a way of improving China’s long-term economic position, as opposed to expressing thoughts about what’s been going on.”

Other Chinese designers grabbing attention include Chen Xuan, who makes tables; chair-maker Gui Yang; Li Bowen, a maker of wicker chairs; and Ge Wei, a maker of jewellery boxes.

Designer Huo Yijin makes contemporary tea trays, using heat-reactive lacquer coating to create dazzling effects.

“Users can see the wonderful effect of water and temperature reacting on the tea trays when they drink Kungfu tea in the traditional way,” Huo explained.

Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province – a city that has been making ceramics since the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) – is now attracting craftspeople from around the world looking to tap into its expertise and skill. One attraction is Mr Yu’s Big Ware Factory. Its unparalleled ability to create giant-size pottery is a design niche with much potential.

Many foreign creatives are being drawn to China for its can-do attitude and the ability to break with conventions stifling creativity in the West. The next five years could see the world’s design centre of gravity shift eastwards again.

Resources

1) Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA): The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) is a comprehensive, not-for-profit art center serving a global Beijing public. Website: http://ucca.org.cn/

2) ChinaShijitanContemporaryArtCenter: A mixed-use art venue with experimental theatre, exhibition space, art gallery and production spaces. Website: http://www.ar-chiasmus.cn/project_6.html

3) Pearl Lam Galleries: Pearl Lam Galleries lead a stable of International and Chinese artists who are multidisciplinary, refuting the hierarchy of art forms. The galleries do not follow the model of Western galleries; rather, they have evolved from the philosophy of Chinese Literati, which does not segregate between the different art disciplines. Website: http://pearllamgalleries.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html

4) School of Design of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA): The Central Academy of Fine Arts, located in Beijing, the capital of China, is an academy where culture, history and art are flourishing, which enjoys the best art resources of the world. Website: http://www.cafa.edu.cn/aboutcafa/lan/?c=1101

5) Beijing’s legendary 798 art district: “798” is located in the Dashanzi area, to the northeast of central Beijing. It is the site of state-owned factories including Factory 798, which originally produced electronics. Beginning in 2002, artists and cultural organizations began to divide, rent out, and re-make the factory spaces, gradually developing them into galleries, art centers, artists’ studios, design companies, restaurants, and bars. Website: http://www.798space.com/subpage_en.asp?classid=17

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Southern Innovator And The GSSD Expo | 2011 – 2014

Beginning in 2011 and ending in 2014, each issue of Southern Innovator was launched at the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) run by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). The issues (there were five) would connect with that year’s Expo theme and were intended to reinforce the solutions presented at the Expo, as well as those solutions discovered through research for the influential United Nations e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions. An Expo was not run in 2015 for the following reason: U.S. Finds Macau Billionaire Guilty in U.N. Bribery Case

Studies have shown the importance of reading to real change. Not just online, but in paper form. The retention of information and knowledge is greater when a person reads something in a book or a magazine. Another factor is quality design (which makes the published material both attractive and effective). Trashy, gaudy or slap-dash design, while it has its place and context, is not suitable for well-funded, transparent, public organizations seeking to communicate across borders in a professional manner. Southern Innovator was designed following the UN and UNDP design guidelines at the time, while also adhering to the UN Global Compact and the UN Consultants Remuneration Guidelines. The content was also written to follow those guidelines as well as the Plain English Campaign, which seeks to reduce the presence of “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information”. On top of this, the magazine benefited from experience: the experience of one of Iceland’s top graphic designers and illustrators, the team based at the UNOSSC in New York who oversaw the editing and proof reading, and the researcher, editor and writer who has led many successful and award-winning publishing ventures, including during “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever”.   

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.

Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology was published in 2011 and launched at the Expo in Rome, Italy.

https://davidsouthconsulting.org/about/press-releases/

Southern Innovator Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship was published in 2012 and launched at the Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security was published in 2012 and launched at the Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization was published in 2013 and launched at the Expo in Nairobi, Kenya (the first time in Africa).

https://davidsouthconsulting.org/about/press-release-2/

Issue 6 of Southern Innovator was to be on the theme of science, technology and innovation.
Southern Innovator Issue 5: Waste and Recycling was published in 2014 and launched at the Expo in Washington, D.C.

https://davidsouthconsulting.org/about/press-release-3/

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

Southern Innovator Editor and Writer David South.

Disrupted! Whatever happened to Southern Innovator Issue 6?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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Southern Innovator As A Knowledge And Learning Tool | November 2017

Why even bother printing (on paper) Southern Innovator as a magazine? “What about the trees and we live in the digital age!”, some might say.

There is evidence and science supporting the need to always publish Southern Innovator in print as well as online. First, a study of the World Bank’s online publications came to a shocking conclusion: A survey in 2014 found a third of World Bank publications are never downloaded, 40 per cent were downloaded just 100 times, and only 13 per cent were downloaded more than 250 times in their lifetime (The Washington Post). As The Washington Post pointed out, these are publicly funded publications with the intention of contributing to policy debates and providing solutions to the world’s problems. So, if nobody is reading them, or just a handful are, that actually does matter if you care about positive change in the world.

Secondly, a Norwegian study in 2014 from the Stavanger University (part of Europe-wide research into the impact of digitisation on the reading experience), found “… that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,” according to lead researcher Anne Mangen (The Guardian).

An earlier study the researchers did also found “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally” and that “Studies with students, for instance, have shown that they often prefer to read on paper”, continued Mangen in The Guardian.   

Another issue is Internet shutdowns, outages and censorship. All of these have been on the increase, especially in Africa (africanews.com). To put it simply, you cannot electronically shutdown a piece of paper. 

Design to show and teach.
Innovations Summary.
Innovations Summary.
A fast-changing world.
Knowledge Summary.
Knowledge Summary.
Being a Southern Innovator: An Urban Guide.
Turning Waste into Wealth: A Southern Innovator’s Guide.
Managing the workflow: Getting things done.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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10 Years Ago

It was 10 years ago this month that Southern Innovator‘s first issue launched in New York during the UN’s General Assembly week (UNGA). It focused on mobile phones and information technology for a reason: these connectivity transformations were re-shaping how people lived their lives, even in the poorest and remotest places on earth.

The content was based on global research, beginning in 2007, funded by the United Nations.

Southern Innovator Editor and Writer David South.

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.

While Southern Innovator’s digital presence has been key to its success and global reach, the hard copy of the magazine was designed with special features. The magazine needed to be robust and able to stand a fair bit of abuse and hard wear. It needed to be easy to read in low light conditions. And it needed to look sharp and eye-catching to reach as wide an audience as possible.

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

New Branding and Website

In 2010, as we prepared to launch Southern Innovator, the branding and website for David South Consulting was re-visioned by Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Sólveig Rolfsdóttir. David South Consulting has been working with clients around the world since 1991.

Graphic Designer and Illustrator: Sólveig Rolfsdóttir.

20 Years Ago

Over 20 Years Ago

Mongolia’s first web magazine, Ger, launched in September 1998. It was also the first web magazine for the United Nations.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding. The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

Logo and graphic design: P. Davaa-Ochir.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021