Is China’s creative industry failing to keep pace with its thriving technology sector?

JKR Shanghai's Rene Chen believes China's creative industry is ready to mature

China’s creative industry needs to shift from following to innovating if it wants to keep pace with the country’s thriving technology sector, according to Jones Knowles Ritchies' René Chen.

Chen, who is partner and managing director of Jkr Shanghai, and is a leading figure in China’s creative, design and branding industries, told The Drum, while China’s enterprising digital and tech companies like Alibaba and Huawei are leading innovators globally, the creative sector is struggling to harness the same energy.

“There is a lot of creative innovation in China, but it is happening outside our industry," said Chen. "The digital e-commerce platforms are innovating really quickly but within the creative design industry we are not yet as innovative and creative.”

Chen, who has spoken at TEDX and Spikes about China's creative industry, points the finger of blame at clients, who she says lack the bravery to push boundaries and are too risk-averse to commit to ground-breaking work.

“Our industry is always asking for innovative, creative design solutions but we are not yet brave enough to do breakthrough work. In actual fact, many in the industry are still at the stage of copying, following and playing safe, versus actually being eager to break-through and be more innovative with their work.”

“Clients ask us to do really creative work, that is innovative, that stands-out, is unique but when you give them something that is really unique, the feedback is, ‘I’ve never seen this before’, ‘no one in our category has done anything like this’, ‘It is too risky’. I have to always challenge these clients about whether they understand their own brief. I just don’t think many clients actually get that real meaning of innovation or creative yet.”

While the creative industries in China lag, the same cannot be said for other industries, China’s AI and deep learning, autonomous vehicles and 5G technologies are racing ahead of other markets. Chen believes this is because the tech industry has embraced the culture of failure.

“They dare to risk, dare to fail, and dare to innovate better. This not happening for our creative industry. We are still a little risk-averse and conservative, but I believe the next wave of innovation in China will be brand design.”

According to Chen, China's creativity is being stifled by the "short-term-ism" of clients who are reacting to the market's frenetic pace, however, she believes this speed could help create its own design movement.

“Right now, China is leading the world in terms of the fast-paced speed of the market and the impact of this should be reflected in the look and feel of our design. Right now, we don’t have a Chinese design style. There is a distinct Japanese design style and an American style, but it is hard to define Chinese design style."

Chen believes the time is right for China to create its own style that will draw from the country’s rich history and culture and reflect its current position in the world.

"China’s creative journey is much like a person’s journey. In the early stages, you are copying what others do, much like a child copying a parents behaviour. The next stage is to try different styles while you try to define who you are, then the next stage is where we can see truly who you are. If you use this example, we are in our teenage years, still trying to mimic styles and work out who we are," said Chen.

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