“China is a dream scenario for a designer”
- Michael Young


“China is a dream scenario for a designer” – Michael Young

News: China will produce as many world-class designers as Japan within 20 years, according to Hong Kong-based industrial designer Michael Young.

“In 20 years time, Shanghai is going to be like Tokyo,” the British-born designer said. “When I [first] went to Tokyo 20 years ago, Japan was still classified as a country that was copying design and doing poor-quality products. Now it’s got some of the greatest designers in the world. I think it will be the same for China.”

Speaking to Dezeen in Shanghai last week, Young said the country’s combination of world-class engineering capabilities and a new generation of home-grown, style-conscious industrialists meant that it was rapidly shaking off its reputation for poor quality manufacturing and copying.

“There’s more investment opportunity than anywhere else in the universe,” Young said. “Then you’ve got Shenzhen and Guangzhou just over the border [from Hong Kong], so you’ve got the biggest manufacturing base. So you put those two together and you’re in a dream scenario for a designer.”

Young relocated to Hong Kong seven years ago to take advantage of the booming Chinese economy and its mass-production facilities. He said foreign-educated Chinese were returning to the country to take over family engineering firms and pushing design up the agenda.

“A lot of families who’ve got large manufacturing bases want to do something cool,” he said. “I’m working with a lot of younger generation families; people who’ve been to New York and studied and come back here to open a factory. They don’t want to make screw-tips for aerials in their factories; they want to make things like Bluetooth wireless technology products.”

Young made the comments in an interview with Dezeen at the opening of Design Republic Design Commune, a new design gallery, store and event space located in a converted former colonial police station in Shanghai’s Jingan district. The building is designed and owned by Shanghai architects Neri&Hu Design and Research Office.  The architects invited a group of leading international designers, brands and media, including Young and Dezeen, to take part in a series of discussions about architecture and design in China.

Born in 1966, Young graduated from Kingston University in 1992 and ran studios in London, Reykjavík and Brussels before moving to Hong Kong in 2006. Recent products designed by Young include a revamp of the classic Mini Moke and the best-selling Hacker watch.

Young also praised China for having “some of the best engineering facilities in the world” and said fears about copying in China were overstated. “What I find really annoying is the misconception about copying in China,” he said. “Of course everywhere in the world has copying as much as China. If you consider the number of factories here, the volume of output here, it’s a very small percentage of what’s actually going on. I find the investment in innovation higher than anywhere else in the world.”

Chinese factories were willing to tackle complex design problems that European brands would find too difficult, Young said. “For me the level of engineering here allows me to exploit the kinds of ideas that I can’t do in other countries. If I take some of the ideas I’ve got to Europe, people will just look at me and say its too complicated and the door will close immediately. Nothing surpasses the equipment in the factories in China; the level of engineering skills and the quality of production is so high – we all know that from the various computer brands how high the engineering skills can be here.”

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  • Ewen_

    “There’s more investment opportunity than anywhere else in the universe.” Gotta love these Earthlings – always blowing things out of proportion.

    • Dan

      Wake up.

    • another foreigner

      That’s because foreigners are often so ignorant about what it’s really like in China. It’s really annoying, hence the “blowing out of proportion” statement to make his point.

    • ___

      Maybe “another foreigner” didn’t get the irony of the comment – something lost in translation? He he, it’s having a go at the use of the word “universe”.

  • JayCee

    Quite a condescending piece. Another designer up himself without a clue.

  • buuuuuf

    You mean for a bad designer?

    “In 20 years time, Shanghai is going to be like Tokyo.”

    Shangai will be Shangai and Tokyo will be Tokyo. This guy is so arrogant. Everybody can go to Shangai and be somebody. Try that with Tokyo – there is a big filter. And why compare always?

  • Blake

    There are plenty of bad designers in Tokyo, so the Chinese can aspire to that.

  • gudrun gundula

    Shanghai will be like Tokyo?! How can you expect English guys to understand the cultural differences between China and Japan? English think Asians are all the same because they all look the same.

  • Jim

    Who is Michael Young?

  • readme

    “When I [first] went to Tokyo 20 years ago, Japan was still classified as a country that was copying design and doing poor-quality products.”

    Really? U must be confusing 1992 with 1962…

    • leon

      My thoughts exactly.

  • pocton

    Michael Young has developed and brought attention on a global level to many new Asian companies all owned by Chinese families and equally has opened the gates on several levels for the design industry in Asia.

    I met him at the event and he knows what he is doing. I reckon what he is thinking is quite ground-breaking. This man is not a fool and I think the small words above are not really worthy.

    • MJJ

      Hear hear! Why all the sneering condescension from the comments above? For nearly a decade Michael Young has been championing Chinese manufacturing, people and potential – some of the the positive elements of China’s modernisation – rather than the usual Western-centric idea of the country as a wasteland of ideas, intelligence and creativity. Why shouldn’t China produce great designs and great designers? To assume otherwise is naive at best, and something far more sinister at worst.

      Though whether they’ll be the greatest thing in the entire Universe, I couldn’t really say… ;-)