Asian design has the right IDEA
At least two-thirds of this year’s IDSA student IDEA awards went to Asian designers. This might have something to do with the ethnic mix of submissions to the IDEA student competition but I think it is also emblematic of an overall shift that is happening in the design industry today.
It used to be that American designers (by simple virtue of being American) held exclusive domain over insights into US consumers’ tastes. Japanese brands like Sony, Panasonic, Honda, etc. long ago cracked the US market by designing products specifically for Americans in design studios staffed with American designers (and often located in the US). Korean brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, etc. started off as cheaper lower quality alternatives to the Japanese brands with quirky Asian designed products that did not completely resonate with American consumers. However, in recent years these Korean brands have taken the US market by storm through the use of design.
The main difference is that the Korean brands have achieved their success in large part by using Korean designers working in Korea. What this means is that traditional American brands no longer have exclusive domain over their customers. And, by association, American designers no longer have exclusive insight into American consumer tastes. I think that the efficiency, quality, style, and value of this new wave of Asian designed products resonates well with American consumers in today’s economic climate. Perhaps the Koreans have deciphered American tastes or maybe American tastes have shifted closer to the Korean designs. I’m guessing it’s a little of both.
While consumer electronics and automobiles are the first areas to reflect the success of Asian design in America, I believe that it will only be a matter of time before more traditionally American CPG brands like Clorox, P&G, Newell-Rubbermaid, etc. start to feel competitive pressure from their Asian counterparts. It is already happening to some degree as big box retailer private label brands (often designed and sourced out of Asia) have begun to eclipse traditional CPG brands in retail sales volume.
If the latest IDEA awards are any indicator, there are likely to be many more great product designs coming out of Asia in the coming years. As Chinese design continues to mature the situation is only going to become more pronounced. The most obvious question is what is going to become of the American design industry? In my opinion, the solution lies in focusing on branding. As the playing field further flattens, consumers need to have a compelling reason to buy products beyond simple aesthetics and empty marketing hype. American designers have to find a way to connect the products people buy with the lifestyles they lead in a way that truly resonates on all levels.
This sounds tough but there is a tried and proved model that we can follow. Take a look at Samsung.
PS: While you’re checking out this year’s crop of IDEA award winners, be sure to check out Stanton Burns’ Silver Award wining Slip Grips concept. Stanton is decidedly American. War Eagle!