Hong Kong wants to become the design center for all of Asia, and its leading design education body has tapped an American, Lorraine Justice from the Georgia Institute of Technology, to help achieve that goal.
The 3-year-old, nonprofit Hong Kong Design Centre aims to raise overall design standards, boost innovation and promote design as a value-added component in business, according to Victor Lo, chairman of HKDC's board of governors.
``We want to build a stronger bridge between the design community and the business community,'' he said in a July 8 interview in Hong Kong.
``In time, China will become its own worst enemy,'' he said. ``After [Chinese companies] assume so much of manufacturing, they will start to compete with each other, and prices will fall. We need to add value.''
Lo, a prominent industrialist who heads Hong Kong's publicly listed conglomerate Gold Peak Industries (Holdings) Ltd., noted that China already is a leading global maker of such items as toys, watches and small appliances, but that profit margins on such items are too slim.
``There's a limit to how many microwave ovens the world wants,'' he said.
A few months ago the government of the Hong Kong Strategic Administrative Region, as the region officially is known in China, designated a grant of HK$250 million (US$32 million) to advance the cause of design. Lo said such a move ``sends a strong message, when the government is cutting back elsewhere.'' He is hopeful that HKDC will get a slice of that pie. The government's vetting of applications for that money will begin in September.
But, regardless, the design center plans to expand. The small center currently covers two floors and a total of 7,000 square feet in a colonial-style, historical building. It employs fewer than 10 people.
Lo said the center is in discussions with Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corp., an incubator company of which he also is chairman, about subletting 20 percent of that group's 200,000-square-foot technology center, soon to be renamed the InnoCentre. Such a move, noted Lo, not only would greatly expand HKDC's space but also give it a branch across Victoria Harbour, on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong.
HKDC, which encompasses interior and fashion designers as well as industrial designers, was established in 2001. Lo said his group has discussed collaborating with such bodies as the U.S.-based Industrial Designers Society of America and the International Council of the Societies of Industrial Design.
``In the next couple of years, we expect to do more with them,'' he said.
Lo - himself a nonpracticing product-design graduate from the Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Design - said the past five years have seen explosive growth in design activity on the Chinese mainland. He said design education there has developed rapidly, but has a long way to go.
As for China's design educators, he said, ``You need to put them in the right environment - they need a cluster of activity around,'' including sophisticated manufacturing and service industries. ``That's not something you can rush.''
China's design universities have a huge universe of student talent from which to choose and they can afford to take only the very best. Chinese students, he said, are ``eager to learn; they travel like mad,'' and cross-cultural exchanges are happening at a quick pace now.
Hong Kong will play a key role in advancing design expertise and education skills on the mainland. That makes Hong Kong Polytechnic University's choice of Justice to head its design school a significant one. In mid-August, Justice leaves Atlanta to assume her new post in Hong Kong.
Lo, whose many roles include serving as the university's council chairman, said the school ``did a global search, looking for the best - and Lorraine came out very high.''
Prior to her Georgia Tech post, Justice was acting chair and associate professor in the Industrial, Interior & Visual Communication Department at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Before that, she worked for 10 years as a professional designer for Battelle Memorial Institute, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Metatec Inc. She also organized the first China-USA Industrial Design Conference in Beijing.
While Polytechnic's program includes four design disciplines - product, communication, interior and multimedia - Lo said Justice's hiring indicates a desire for a greater emphasis on industrial design.
Justice, widely credited with breathing new life into Georgia Tech's industrial design program, said by e-mail July 14 that ``Asian design has not always been represented well in the world in its pure form, although it has influenced many products throughout history. The world can now look forward to the strength, beauty and intelligence behind the Asian culture through product design.''
She added: ``The rise of Asian design will be good for the world, as it will have everyone striving to maker a better product. The competition will have us working smarter and with focus. Better products will mean a better quality of life for the people of the world.''