A Creative Education?

I started out designing and developing flash websites in London, worked my way up through a media agency until escaping in 2003. Freelancing paid for my travels until curiosity eventually lead me to China. In 2006 I co-founded Thread Design, now one of the best known independent foreign agencies in Shanghai. www.threaddesign.com.cn. I get asked a lot what’s it’s like to create and run a design firm in China, the answer changes every week.

So if you’d like to set up shop in China one of the things you’ll need to do is hire local designers. What is the talent pool like here?

  • Graphically? Pretty good
  • Illustration? Talented
  • English level. Impressive
  • Hard working? Very
  • Producing concepts? Er…
  • Brain storming? …
  • Proactive in the studio? …
  • Independent creative thinking? …

So why do these designers have such a reputation when it comes to creative thinking. It’s a much debated topic here and many dinners sat around a large pot of boiling chicken it’s the subject of discussion. (more likely pie)

There are countless influencing factors, but perhaps the most compelling view is one that has it’s roots in childhood. The Chinese education system is fairly different to the West, it’s very linear. There is generally only one right answer to any question, and negative re-enforcement plays a large part, both in the schools and at home. Traditionally and still now, raising your hand to ask a question in class would be loss of face for your teacher as you’re implying they haven’t taught you. As a result graduates lack confidence in there own decisions and struggle with creative thinking. In my opinion it’s impossible to catch up.

As the schools aren’t changing, I don’t think we’ll see a wave of talented designers coming out of China for some time. This opens up the discussion of design as a whole in China, but i’ll leave that for elsewhere!

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