It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when German design was not well-regarded; in the 19th century the Teutonic states just didn't have it together. (The Wiener Werkstatte helped change things.) Similarly, Japanese cars were hardly masterpieces in the '50s, and few desired Korean appliances in the '80s. Nowadays, of course, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan and Korea are countries whose design and manufacturing command global respect.
So what I'm watching for is the emergence of modern Chinese design that can compete on the world stage. That point where it goes from derivative junk to "Whoa, when did this happen?" For the past few decades the country has earned its reputation for knock-offs, unoriginal thinking and poorly-made goods, as that's what their system has rewarded. Their manufacturing techniques have since improved markedly, but the design has not caught up—yet. However, assuming geniuses are a fixed segment of the population that can emerge with the proper facilitation, numerically speaking China should be killing it in the design game. With 1.4 billion people, how many undiscovered Charles & Ray Eameses or Dieter Ramses are walking the streets of Shenzhen? Where are the nascent frogdesigns of China?
Today I came across the website of IU+Design, a Shenzhen-based industrial design consultancy. The company has a deep portfolio, a number of clients and, tellingly, has not bothered providing an English-language version of their website; in other words they can thrive without American custom. And in their portfolio, I do see something that reminds me, in spirit, of the frogdesign of the '90s: Simple geometry, a playfulness, a willingness to experiment. Some examples (and apologies, but the company offers little in the way of descriptive details):
Sorting Trash Can
Baby Bottle with Flip Lid
Solar Rechargeable Pocket Lamp with Compass
Portable Spray Sterilizer
Paper Pattern Punches for Children
Household UV Sterilizers
Remote Pet Feeders with Camera
That's literally a fraction of their book; there's plenty more to see here.
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