Where Is Asian Design today?

Asian countries are now moving on and establishing their own voice in design, after having been successful manufacturing centers for decades. Merging the best of Western philosophy with their own unique style, they could potentially redefine how we look at progress though design. To gauge the advancement in Asian Design we invited design professionals from around the world to share their perspective. More than a hundred professionals offered their insights concerning:

"What is Asian Design? Every culture has its own beliefs, value and attitudes, reflected in the design of its products, and services. What adjectives would you assign to Asian (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, etc.) design?"

Asia is the largest of the seven continents, with nearly four billion people in forty-eight countries representing thousands of distinct cultures. The designers who responded naturally focused on the countries they perceived as the most influential within design and these were thought to be: Japan, Korea and China.

Those countries have strong commonalities in their beliefs, value and attitudes. Their religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto promote ancestral worship, oneness with nature, collectivism and strive towards stability, harmony and enlightenment. The group is perceived as more important than the individual and heritage, tradition, family, respect and honor are highly valued. Gender and social roles are clearly defined and ingrained while learning is often via a master - student relationship, advocating uncontested imitation. This has led to a heretical command and control bureaucracy, with a centralized power structure. In such a context, design is all about risk avoidance, precision and perfecting rather than invention.

High, density, a relatively young population and scarce resources have led to small living quarters with multi-purpose space. Design is very marketing driven and, as a result, caters to Asian preferences for fewer, smaller and multifunctional products. There is a strong contrast between modest residential space and progressive public buildings and spaces promoting national values and unity.

The relatively late engagement with the Western World has caused accelerated changes, transforming the societies though adaptation of Western technology and style. An adaptation of Western technology has happened at different times and speeds for each Asian country.

Japan, was the first nation to adapt Western culture after WWII. They are now considered the design leaders of Asia, applying modern geometric and minimalistic design to their traditional controlled aesthetics. Surface details, textures and assembly are of very high quality and consistent in the expression of their brands. Color schemes are sophisticated and constrained and functionally purposeful. Although traditionally recognized for their ability to miniaturize, for the past few decades, Japanese design has explored more youthful, whimsical and joyful products.

Korea adapted to Western culture about a decade after Japan and followed a similar though more sculptural pattern, resulting in their products gaining recognition for contemporary high-tech and value oriented design.

During the past two decades, China has opened itself to influence from the Western world. The aesthetics resemble that of Western design however are softer, brighter and more feature-heavy using culturally symbolic and complimentary colors.

Though Asia continues to be quite conservative and risk averse, design from the various regions is blending. The new generation has a hunger for that which is trendy and shows an increasing interest in eye-catching designs. Status and imported exotic luxury goods have become important and revolve around a collective image of success that is reflected by their media choices. Perhaps they are now poised to blend Eastern culture with Western style creating something truly new, yet uniquely their own.