Is China going too fast?

Does it take a professional designer to create a comfortable living space and intuitive products? I asked this question while vacationing in Shanghai.

Many of the products I used every day are generic and bear no designer’s name. The products are often made following the template drawn from previous generations’ trial and error. For example, in a modern bathroom the light switch is placed either outside the room or on the wall besides the bathroom door, often to the right. Any other placements may cause confusion. A paper thin ceramic cup has round rim to avoid the paper-cut sensation on the lip. Such details, if missed, do not reduce the products’ functionality, but does not make the product enjoyable to use.

Pursuing only the perfect appearance, or the speed of production, manufacturers can forget the user’s experiences of the products is an integral part of a successful product. In a society where waiting for a taxi for more than a minute is considered unacceptable by many, few slows down to notice the cup’s rim is too thin. Even when they do recognize the design defect, they choose to go for mass production rather than rework. The market is full of such products, though not meant to be one-time use, often ended up so because their lack of long-term appeal. Have you seen the tea packed in elaborate boxes?  Popular gifts in China. The package can cost many times more than the product it contains. Walking down the super market, the aisle of plastic products smells toxic. A lot of consumers don’t expect their cheap cell phones last more than a couple of years. The waste from products created hastily is appalling.

Why such a rush? Maybe Chinese are very competitive under our mild manner and philosophy. We are eager to catch up with the more developed world in the shortest possible time and at all cost. The bullet train system, one of the world’s most advanced, was built in merely a few years; and runs on mountains of corruption. During the top railroad official’s corruption trail, argument was made for a more lenient punishment since he made the bullet train “possible”. The same logical thinking dominates many development decisions balancing between short-term economical results and potential long-term environmental impact.


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