Attending the World Design Congress in Dalian, China.

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‘World Congress’ sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Particularly when it combines topics in the fields of: Visual Art and Smart Designs, Tech Innovators in Modern Designs, Genius of Industrial and Engineering Designs, Costume and Fashion Designs and Colourful Multi-Dimensional Design.

Held at the Dalian World Expo Center and the Dalian International Convention Center*, the ‘World Design Congress’ opening ceremony had well over 1,000 attendees including the Dalian mayor and keynote speaker Dr. Finn E. Kydland (Nobel Prize in Economics in 2004). This would explain the Guinness Book of World Records’ longest single file queue to get through the metal detector.

I was there to talk about how good design is great for online business –  and why more businesses don’t realise it.

Beautiful Dalian Bay

Beautiful Dalian Bay and first class hotels and restaurants set the scene for an exciting week. Dalian is a major city and seaport and plays host to many conferences and ‘World Congresses’. Indeed the bay is very beautiful and rich, boasting Asia’s largest [green] square – Xinghai Square. Seven million people live and work there amongst an amazing amount of new developments and infrastructure. It looked like a city made up of entirely new buildings built on top of a 5-storey underground labyrinth of shopping malls.  However, in hindsight I must agree with several compadres who also attended, that this marked the end of their amazement and beginning of a bit of chaos as I will soon allude to.

For me, there were many positives for attending including; meeting world-class educators in the design discipline; visiting China for the first time; stepping up to present at a global event in front of world-class associates and practicing the new presentation model that I had just learned with Blair Singer in Sydney the week before.

The objective

The objective of the Design Congress was to bring designers together to discuss the design challenges of today, and it achieved this, just not in the capacity that we all hoped for.  Where did the 1000+ attendees from the opening ceremony go? And what of the 500 that attended the opening banquet? What’s the relationship to Overseas Chinese Students (OCS)?

The 1st Annual World Congress of Designers was themed “To live for creating beauty” and was one of the crucial satellite meetings of CHINAOCS–2014 (OCS – Overseas Chinese Students). Seven parallel conferences were programmed at the same venue including; the Annual Global Innovation Economic Congress; an Industry Forum; an Annual World Congress for 3D Printing; the Translational Medicine Partnership Summit; the World Congress for Outsourcing; the International VC & Angel Investment Forum and the Annual World Convention for the Biomed Industry. An odd mix indeed, and then I discovered the 2014 Cyber Games Elite International Competition and the ‘Haze’ themed Poster Design Competition focused on pollution in China – reminding me I must pack a smog mask next time. Hang in there….

And now to understand why a conference like this was organised… China has over 1,000,000 students currently studying art and design, comparing to a ‘meagre’ 40,000 in the UK. It’s no secret that China is growing incredibly fast and presents many opportunities for business worldwide (on the flip side, growth and fast change are partnered with more challenges).

Designing Opportunity

In particular, there appears to be a lot of opportunity for design, marketing and branding to flourish in China. Looking at the branding and web development of some of the organisations I dealt with while I was there, they lacked application of advanced design principles we use here – this made information difficult to digest or even identify in the sea of visual noise.

There is always the challenge of language and culture [and the fact that there is no Google or social media allowed in China – a lot of websites in fact are blocked] this doesn’t allow the population to broaden their knowledge and find Best Practice methods unless they travel abroad.

Most of the people I met and dealt with in the city of Dalian could not speak English. Not in the hotel, not at the Conference Center and not in the huge department stores. A bit strange given Dalian is a hub for commerce and conferences. Boy, did my Chinese language app come in handy. Equally my attempts to communicate with The App entertained the locals. I remember standing in a department store with Chinese phrases playing out loud on my phone while attempting to negotiate price on travel luggage. Now, by no means am I saying that this is anybody’s fault or the local’s unfamiliarity with English is wrong. In fact, I’m the first to admit I should have learned more than six phrases and stepped off of my English-language-high-horse. I’m simply pointing out that there is an obvious barrier. I am told that the next generation are learning English in schools. And I expect international business people targeting China are either fluent or use translators but if you’re a SME in China and want to trade with tourists or international businesses then you would want to learn some English (and we should learn some Chinese).

Interestingly, one of the presentations I attended was on matching Chinese character styles to English typefaces.  This is becoming more of a requirement now as international brands and their marks increasingly trade in China and need to do so in dual languages, such as the international Swish Hotel – where I stayed in Dalian. One of the beauties of the Chinese language is its ability to make the same statement with less characters or words. Just reading the dual language menu on the plane made the point clear. With around 4,000 characters in their functional language armoury, the Chinese do have an unfair space-saving advantage!

The low down

On the whole it was an awesome, eye opening experience where I enjoyed being out of my comfort zone; I was exposed to beautiful international design and invention, learned about the state of design education worldwide and was surrounded by peers far more accomplished than myself.

So, why did The Organisers combine all these related and unrelated disciplines into one huge event under one roof? One theory is to fill the convention center – it was so big you could fit the new Adelaide Oval inside. Another theory was to make an impression on a global scale to international delegates while boosting the local economy and tourism in the area. More seriously, I’d say it was to bring experience, feedback and leadership to the table from parts of the world more practiced. Serving on the Advisory Board for next year, I hope to add value and contribute to a better event. Or maybe it was just so I could get lost in the 5-storey deep maze of markets and stores under the city while in pursuit of Minions [Despicable Me] for the kids. Perhaps I‘ll never know.

Dan.

*I couldn’t find an official website for the Center.

PS. Bird in Hand, an Adelaide Wine brand, have like many other brands predicted the growth opportunities in China and set up distribution and a shop front in Dalian, hence the photo. It was a little taste of home in a country that has caught [overpriced] Bordeaux fever.

 

Dan Kuss

About Dan Kuss

Twenty years in the design industry can do one of two things – drive your love affair with all things design, or drive you nuts. We’re pretty sure Dan hasn’t gone nuts. What does drive him nuts is agency-centric solutions.

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