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Industrial Design Development as a Strategic Priority

Apr 16,2018

By Wei Jigang & Li Yaokun

Research Report Vol.20 No.2, 2018

I. The Importance of Industrial Design

At the heart of industrial design is to introduce social and cultural elements into the industrial production system to form modern industrial products with both functional and cultural attributes geared to the demand for consumer market upgrading. Industrial design underlies the value of an industrial economy as an innovative activity of integrating and optimizing the function, structure, process, appearance, prototype, etc. of industrial products. Its importance consists of the following four aspects. First, industrial design brings about product differentiation by creating differences in the model, function, prototype, quality, experiencing, etc. of products. Second, industrial design drives technology marketization. By translating “technology languages” into “product languages” - i.e. interfaces that consumers can understand and apply, industrial design considerably accelerates the process of commercialization for scientific and technological results, which is why there is growing demand on mature markets for design innovation and which also is a key step towards brand-driven development of industrial design innovation. Third, industrial design increases industrial value added. Industrial design introduces into the industrial production system cultural features which resonates the feelings of consumers, and by integrating and innovating such productive factors as technology, knowledge, and processes, achieves the readjustment, reorganization and re-development of the industrial supply structure, boosts design innovation that focuses on “value creation”, and increases the content of cultural value of an industry. Fourth, industrial design helps optimize and re-engineer the industrial system. Deep-level design innovation consists in building models of emerging ways of production and life and, through supply structure optimization and re-engineering, expedites the standardization of the traditional manufacturing system in respect of the prototype, technological, functional and process structures, achieving the optimization and re-engineering of the traditional manufacturing system.

Since the 1970s, more than 20 countries worldwide have incorporated into their national strategies the promotion of industrial design development on the grounds that industrial design is an important integral part of the soft power of a country; four paths of development have been formed in this regard among these countries, with distinctive driving factors - culture and creativity as in the United Kingdom, commercial market as in the United States, advanced manufacturing as in Germany and Japan, and national policy as in South Korea and Nordic countries, which have helped the said countries occupy the high value added areas up the international division of work chains of manufacturing.

II. Industrial Design Development in China

Since the start of its economic reform, especially over the past years of the 21st century, China has seen rapid development in respect of industrial design, with an industrial system initially formed, as manifested below.

1. A growing size

First, industrial design companies have increased rapidly in number[]. As of the end of 2016, China had more than 12,000 companies of the industrial design category, over 5,000 of which are professional ones above designated size - nearly 60 times the number (90 plus) in the late 20th century. Second, the number of industrial design parks has kept increasing. Including the Guangdong Industrial Design City, the Shenzhen Design Industrial Park, and the Beijing DRC Industrial Design and Creativity Park, there have been more than 50 specialized industrial design parks across the country, and over 1,200 industrial parks of the cultural & creative and manufacturing service categories engaging primarily in industrial design business. Third, both the size of employment and the number of higher education institutions running industrial design courses have increased. There are more than 600,000 industrial design professionals all over the country; more than 600 colleges and universities run industrial design courses and over 1,800 colleges and universities offer interactive design, service design and other industrial design courses, with a total of more than 1.5 million students studying design in school and over 500,000 industrial-design students graduating each year.

2. Growing demand in manufacturing for industrial design

This reflected in three aspects. The first is the pressing demand for industrial design in the process of manufacturing brand upgrading. With growing global commercial competition and an ever-changing consumption structure among residents, the traditional product system centered around technologies and functions have gradually been superseded by branded service and experience models; to increase brand awareness and product competitveness, domestic manufacturing companies like Lenovo, Huawei, Haier, and Midea have in the past several years kept stepping up industrial design research and development and investment, resulting in remarkable increases in product quality and brand value. The second is increasingly close collaboration between professional industrial design companies and manufacturing companies. In the fields of consumer electronics, telecommunications equipment, transportation, and equipment manufacturing, in particular, it is quite common that industrial design companies cater exclusively for manufacturing companies, and some of them are able to produce customized products independently. The third is the rapid increase of industrial design patents. In 2009, for example, China’s amounts of patents granted for designs, utility models and inventions relating to industrial design were 5.7, 3.8 and 7.9 times those in 2001.

3. Geographical distribution of the industrial design sector

Three major hubs have basically been created in the industrial design sector, namely the Bohai Rim (extending from Beijing as the center to Liaoning, Shandong, etc.), the Yangtze River Delta (extending from Shanghai as the center to Zhejiang, Jiangsu, etc.), and the Pearl River Delta (extending from Guangdong as the center to Fujian, Hong Kong, etc.). On the other hand, the sector also has seen a certain degree of development in the central (with Hunan and Hubei as the center) and the western central (with Sichuan and Chongqing as the center) parts of the country. Moving forward, this landscape will further drive industrial design development in the surrounding areas and underdeveloped ones as well.

4. Local efforts towards industrial design commercialization

(1) Beijing’s practices of advancing industrial design development. In view of its strengths in the fields of science and technology, culture, talent, etc., Beijing places emphasis on creating high-end platforms for industrial design development. First, encourage high-tech manufacturing companies to seek industrial design innovation and application. More than 300 high-tech companies, including Lenovo, Hanwang Technology Co., Ltd., Beijing Huaqi Information Digital Technology Co., Ltd., have their independent industrial design R&D units, whose efforts in industrial design innovation have boosted commercialization of their high-tech research results. Second, create industrial design incubation platforms. The Beijing DRC Industrial Design and Creativity Park, China’s first such platform created and put into operation in June 2005, has over the past ten plus years played an important role in factors conglomeration and manufacturing convergence, giving birth to well over a hundred industrial design companies. Third, advance design innovation. Beijing launched in 2007 the “Design Innovation Enhancement Program” targeting manufacturers across the city, with the intention of sharpening the innovation capabilities at those manufacturers through such government-led projects as the “Design Consultation and Diagnosis Project”; the program has until now included more than 200 companies in the fields of consumer electronics, new media, transportation, and equipment manufacturing. Fourth, strengthen talent pooling. Beijing has more than a hundred colleges and universities that run courses in industrial design, interaction design, product design, etc., a number more than twice the average level of the country. The plentiful talent pools have provided great support for developing the city’s industrial design sector.

(2) Shanghai’s practices of advancing industrial design development. As Shanghai has a good industrial design foundation in such fields as automobiles, vessels, aviation and aerospace, communications, home appliances, and household chemicals, its sector of industrial design has shown a growing trend of service diversification and international cooperation. First, the city gave priority to developing specialized industrial design services. There emerged in the past several years a legion of outstanding industrial design companies with comprehensive service capabilities, such as Moma, CBi China Bridge, S.POINT, and LOE Design, which provide a wide variety of design services. Well-known international industrial design companies like IDEO, Frog, and Nova Design also set up their branches or offices in Shanghai. Second, the city created industrial design clusters by fields and types. In 2012, the Shanghai International Automobile City R&D Harbor project was officially named “Shanghai Automobile Design Industrial Park”, which soon afterwards attracted such global famous car design companies as Pininfarina and Global Optima Industrial Design to settle in. There has since followed the creation of a wide variety of industrial design clusters, such as the Shanghai International Industrial Design Center, the Shanghai Fashion Design Valley, and the High Street Loft, aimed to attract businesses in related fields and promote design innovation. Third, Shanghai stepped up publicity and international cooperation. After it was named a “Creative City” by the UNESCO in 2010, Shanghai remarkably stepped up its publicity and international cooperation efforts with respect to design-related industries, including holding design strategic cooperation and exchange forums with the governments of Graz and Milan, as well as signature events “Creative City Week” and “Shanghai Design Biennial”.


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