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Accessing Global Markets Via Design Solutions

The power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is increasingly being seen as a critical component of successful economic development.

The importance of trade – both South-South and South-North – as a reducer of poverty in developing countries is now widely acknowledged. Countries that have made the biggest gains in reducing poverty, like China, India and Brazil, have done it through trade.

The power of trade in high quality goods to raise incomes has been proven for more than a decade. South-South trade grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. By 2007, South-South trade made up 20 percent of world trade. And over a third of South-South commerce is in high-skill manufacturing. Making finished goods, rather than just selling raw materials, improves workers’ skill levels and increases the return on trade.

But trying to get other people to desire and buy your products is very tricky. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design (people want to buy it) and is produced efficiently (a well-designed manufacturing process), will generate a good profit.

In India, the Craft Resource Centre or CRC Exports Limited of Kolkata (http://en..wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcutta)has been successfully selling leather travel bags to the Vodafone (>http://www.vodafone.com/hub_page.html) mobile phone company in The Netherlands. It did this by teaming up with Dutch Designers in Development (http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html), an NGO focused on matching European importers and retailers and professional designers with small and medium enterprises in the South.

Founded in 1989, CRC applies the concept of adding value to turn small-scale and poor artisans into successful and sustainable businesses. Many of these traditional handicraft artisans subsist on low incomes. CRC provides artisans across India with marketing, design, finance and exporting help. It also connects them with other artisans and helps to divide projects between them. This has the power of using networks to help in bad times while also sharing opportunities when they come up.

CRC’s director, Irani Sen, has divided the more than 15,000 artisans they work with into 15 different trading groups. CRC has also consulted to over 350 projects across Asia.

“The best thing fair trade gives (artisans) is the continuity of work … and with the continuity comes the basic security,” Sen said on the CRC website. “With that security they can develop, they can plan and then we try to motivate them for education, health (and) education for their children.”

It all began with a need: Dutch company Unseen Products (http://www.unseenproducts.com/home) needed somebody to make high-quality leather travel bags for their client, Vodafone, who in turn wanted the bags as an incentive for their employees. Unseen Products is a business connecting European retailers with small producers in the South to build long-term business relationships. They seek to make “unseen or hard to find products accessible at commercially interesting prices.”

They approached Dutch Designers in Development (DDiD), which in turn recommended CRC.

As a matchmaker, DDiD puts together European clients, Dutch designers and small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries. The designers share their knowledge of European consumer tastes, product development, design and quality standards.

DDiD receives orders from companies, NGOs and government agencies to stimulate the production and sale of sustainable products from developing countries in Europe.

The Dutch group works with producers to develop skills and adapt producers’ products to present and future demands in Europe. By following this approach, Southern producers can reduce the risk of making products nobody wants, or that lack originality in the marketplace and thus won’t sell.

DDiD explains to producers the importance of design and how it improves the product and the business. Good design, the group believes, should reduce production costs and the time taken to get to market, and boost the reputation of the product brand and maker.

Well-known Dutch bag designer Ferry Meewisse (http://www.frrry.com/hiep/Entrance.seam?labelId=1) was brought in to work with CRC’s artisans to craft new bags and a new way of making them.

Meewisse said he was uncertain at first whether the artisans would be able to make the highly complex bags. The solution was to break down the bag into smaller parts. And that is where the knowledge of design process comes into play.

“The button bag for example is a complex bag that has been taken apart: compartments, pockets, handles,” said Meewisse. “This provided us with elements that were each really simple to manufacture. After that the pieces would only have to be clicked together with the buttons. And there it was: a complete bag with all the elements you need in a good bag.”

The bags can be seen here: http://www.frrry.com/hiep/guest/GuestSeries.seam?seriesId=9&conversationId=30930

Stella van Himbergen, a project manager at DDiD, said the concept is about introducing a new way of looking at things through the prism of design.

“Small producers in developing countries are not lacking craftsmanship,” said Himbergen. But, she added, “it is important for producers to receive support in production-led design, and not only in aesthetic design.”

Conceptually, this is the difference between designing and making something because it is aesthetically pleasing, and taking a market-driven design approach – letting market demands lead to the design solution. As a different way of looking at things, it takes in the company’s vision, brand values and positioning in the marketplace, production requirements (costs, sustainability), organization, and client’s needs.

DDiD helps producers learn how to quickly create new products based on market demands. They also raise the level of awareness of design to global standards, and show how to apply this across the production process, from graphic design, to packaging, retail and exhibition space, brand design and design management. Since 2005, the group has completed 46 international projects.

DDiD also stresses sustainability, encouraging the use of environmentally friendly materials such as biological cotton, bamboo and water hyacinth for paper and rope.

Apart from Vodafone, the CRC-made bags are sold in shops and on the web.

The extra attention to design seems to have paid off. CRC’s bags have been such a success that a second order has been placed. And CRC has picked up another project from Dutch importer Global Goodies (http://www.globalgoodies.nl/). 

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: March 2009

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Designed in China to Rival ‘Made in China’

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Harnessing the power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is a critical component of successful economic development. And the high export value of designing and making “computer equipment, office equipment, telecommunication equipment, electric circuit equipment, and valves and transistors” was flagged up as a priority for developing nations back in 2005 at a meeting looking for “New and Dynamic Sectors of World Trade” (UNCTAD).

One country taking up this challenge is China. It now boasts twice as many Internet users as the United States, and is the main global maker of computers and consumer electronics, from toys to games consoles to digital everything.

China is also on course to become the world’s largest market for Internet commerce and computing.

The centre of gravity is very much moving China’s way: One study of 769 firms investing in 2,203 Chinese companies by Stanford University in California, found “the same firms that were successful in Silicon Valley … have transplanted their expertise to China,” according to Marguerite Gong Hancock in The New York Times.

But the country wants to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China’. This is critical because the majority of the profits to be made are actually in the designing, patenting and marketing of products. Manufacturing, as has been shown in the recent media controversy over the products made by Apple (apple.com), is not the main profit centre.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas. But through its network of sub-contractors,the number employed overseas in Asia, Europe and elsewhere is around 700,000 (The New York Times). This includes around 200,000 assembly jobs in China. These workers can make US $17 a day or less.

Apple makes hundreds of dollars in profit for each of its iPhones. Apple can do this because it is the designer of the phones and holds the copyright, and it is the branded company that has built up its reputation and developed a highly sophisticated marketing and distribution network around the world. Through clever use of design, Apple created products that look distinctive in the marketplace. And those are the factors that determine the ability to make this profit. As has been noted, it isn’t just cheap wages that keep Apple’s profits high.

Getting consumers to desire and buy your products is a challenge for any company. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design and is produced efficiently will generate a good profit.

The classic example from the past is Japan. Devastated during World War II, Japan set about re-building its manufacturing prowess from scratch. It brought in American innovators to introduce new concepts in manufacturing.

Japan’s openness to the new ways enabled it to re-fashion its manufacturing industries to exporting to the developed Western nations, in particular the United States. At first, quality control was an issue and Japan was mocked for making cheap quality trinkets, toys, automobiles and motorcycles. But it quickly changed from this to a reputation for making quality, affordable products and moving quickly into the burgeoning micro-electronics and consumer products markets. It also was a pioneer in computer gaming and entertainment.

The recent achievements in supercomputing in China are pointing to where things can go. China has developed the Sunway Bluelight MPP supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShenWei). It is able to do a quadrillion calculations per second: making the Sunway Bluelight one of the 20 fastest supercomputers in the world. It was built with a Chinese-made microprocessor, and importantly, uses lower amounts of power than other supercomputers.

The clever bit is the ratio of computing power to wattage used. Energy-efficient computing is critical if computers are to make the jump to the next level in processing power.

All these trends coming together hint at big changes in the coming years.

In the past two decades, the electronics sector has enabled a number of developing countries to improve trade performance, in particular East and Southeast Asian nations.

Improving education is critical to the growth strategy. Improving education, like encouraging the pursuit of engineering as a profession, as China has done – it now has more than half a million estimated graduates, the most in the world – means new skills and ideas are coming to the industry (engineeringinchina.net).

But this is not enough. New ideas are essentially a creative process and this needs connections to business and the ability to experiment and play with ideas. Start-up incubators have proven a successful way to do this.

Thailand is a good example: Around US $4.5 billion was invested in the country’s electronics industry between 1986 and 2001. This created 300,000 jobs. The sector became so important it made up a third of the country’s exports.

Realizing that much of the work was assembly manufacturing, the government set up the Thailand IC Design Incubator (http://www.nectec.or.th/rd/electronics/be204-45/be204-45.php) to work on hard disk drive development and move up the value chain.

“In 1978, I saw workers stringing together computer memories with sewing needles,” Patrick J. McGovern explained to The New York Times. McGovern is the founder of the International Data Group, which invests in Chinese enterprises.

“Now innovation is accelerating, and in the future, patents on smartphones and tablets will be originated by the Chinese people.”

In the past, China was not able to make significant progress on this development for two main reasons. The first is copyright piracy and theft of intellectual property rights. During China’s economic rise, this theft was rampant and the country developed a reputation for being home to a vast marketplace of knock-offs of major Western brands. And the second reason was the heavy hand of the government, which scared off many entrepreneurs.

But China is re-structuring its industries to focus on innovation. In 2011, China surpassed South Korea and Europe in total patents and was in a neck and neck race with Japan and the United States. As fuel for the innovation rocket,venture capital is critical. And China is now the world’s second largest venture capital market, with the total jumping from US $2.2 billion in 2005 to US $7.6 billion in 2011.

It is this journey up the manufacturing ‘value chain’ that many countries look to with admiration and jealousy. And the secret to being able to move up this value chain is design – savvy product design combined with savvy design of manufacturing methods to continually drive down costs and drive up quality. How long until China has its own Apple and not just an Apple knock-off (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14503724)?

Resources 

1) Red Dot: The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognised quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design.Website: http://www.red-dot.de

2) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. They work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html

3) C3: C3 offers product design and product engineering services in Shanghai, China. Their strong point is managing innovative design processes from scratch (market research) until production: a one shop service: Website: chinacreativecompany.com

4) Dahua: Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. is a partially state-owned publicly traded company based in Hangzhou which sells video surveillance products and services.  Leading video surveillance product and solution provider in IP camera, NVR, HD cctv camera, Analog, PTZ and other vertical solutions. Website: https://www.dahuasecurity.com/uk

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The NEEMIC brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China. 

Read more here: Creating Green Fashion in China

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

© David South Consulting 2021