16 October 2011
“A couple of years back China signalled its intention of moving up the industrial value chain, with the aim of taking an additional 20% of value from the products that Chinese companies produce for their western customers. China’s capacity to be a global leader in new products, rather than the production center of world trade, hinges on its emerging design sector. Beijing Design Week “Infinite Creativity” (which actually lasted quite a bit longer than a week) was held in conjunction with the First Beijing International Design Triennial.
London was the festival’s guest city and the chair person of design festivals in Milan, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Seoul were all present. The Beijing Design Forum brought those festival cities together to help form a new network of cities using design to make urban agglomerations more livable. It was difficult to spot American involvement from my virtual visit.
Among the announcements at Beijing Design Week, however, US based Material Connexions, the leading materials library and consultancy, announced a new Beijing office, its first in China. Material Connexion was recently acquired by Sandow, the growing design and brand “conglomerate”.
But the most interesting development that I could find was the hybrid design exhibition held in conjunction with the Academy of Media Arts, Cologne.
The “Hybrid Design” project, initiated by Prof. Frans Vogelaar, Academy of Media Arts Cologne, approaches technological developments from the perspective of the designer, by “inhabiting technology”, by transforming these technological developments to meet the way we want to live. It introduces the design fields that are emerging through the combination and fusion of environments, objects and services in the information-communication age.
The language sounds complicated but the principal is simple. We already inhabit a world profoundly influenced by hybrid design – your car’s anti-lock brakes would be an example. They are not just a piece of industrial design, they also incorporate substantial software intelligence. And while the actual mechanics of the brakes a limited in design potential, the software is not. It can continue to create new functionality and capability.
The field is sometimes called mechatronics, an area that combines electronic, mechanics and control software. Mechatronics looks to be a wide open field – as yet there is no Silicon Valley of mechatronics. Though German firms have a head start, what’s the odds on a substantial Chinese mechatronics sector in the next ten years?”