Huaren design should aspire to functionality, not beauty — Zhang Zhan

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Industrial designer, Zhang Zhan is Founding Director of the Goodbaby Industrial Design Research Institute, the first such organization in its industry. He is also Co-founder of the Deli Stationery Group Industrial Design Research Institute, another industry first. Over thirteen years, he helped Deli’s revenue grow from 280 million Chinese yuan to over 10 billion in 2016, around 1.5 billion USD. He has firsthand experience of the seismic shifts that propel opportunities in the Chinese market.

The Chinese market was once ignorant about design, but awareness has grown quickly over the past two decades. Zhang is confident that huaren design will become world-renowned in the near future. Having witnessed the success of brands featuring huaren design, Zhang realized that the Chinese market is driven by cultural characteristics and preferences.

For example, Zhang designed a “one-second” collapsible baby stroller for Senxia. Due to accessibility issues, common on public transportation in China, it can be extremely difficult to navigate the city with a stroller. Old apartment buildings that lack elevators are also inconvenient for parents with strollers. To solve these problems, Zhang’s team designed a stroller that can be collapsed quickly. It can be opened or collapsed simply, using just one hand, and leaving the other hand free to hold the child. It is also twenty percent lighter than comparable strollers and takes up very little space once collapsed, allowing for efficient storage.

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The Chinese market is extremely dynamic. Compared to the conservative attitude of Western consumers, Chinese consumers welcome new products that could improve their lives. They are very willing to try new designers, as opposed to established brands. The Chinese market is highly diverse, where you can find beautifully integrated Eastern and Western design.

“I would rather do major work for small and medium enterprises in China, than do small work for major companies,” says Zhang.

In his opinion, industrial design has the greatest effect when it is in the service of traditional manufacturing. Design should not just be an art form that impresses people or engages with the metaphysical; it needs to serve industry and facilitate the development of a market economy. China is the world’s biggest manufacturer, so if Chinese designers can become more competitive and improve the quality of “made in China” products, then it will usher in another era of economic growth for China.

China’s manufacturing industry has done so much for the global economy, and a robust huaren design industry will be the Chinese community’s next contribution to the world. Zhan thinks the technology behind design should be less important than what the design itself does.

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For example, Johan Vaaler’s invention of the paper clip is not a technological leap forward, but its innovative shape created the functionality that proved so useful throughout the following century. Huaren design should aspire to this ideal: serving people through functionality. This will free the world from many showy, but ineffective designs.

About Zhang Zhan

Zhang Zhan is currently serving as Dean of the College of Applied Art & Design at Shanghai Second Polytechnic University. He is a board member of the China Industrial Design Association, the Director of Shanghai Design Promotion Center, the Vice President of Shanghai Industrial Design Association, the Deputy General Planner of Shanghai Creative Industry Center, and the Founder of Blue Design in Shanghai. He has been named amongst China’s top ten industrial designers, and he also created Shanghai’s Zhang Zhan Industrial Design Master Workshop. His industrial design work has taken many Chinese companies to the next level of industry success. He founded an industrial design research institute for Goodbaby Group, the first in its industry, and became the institute’s Founding Director. During his tenure, over 200 design patents were successfully commercialized. He also co-founded Deli Stationery Group’s industrial design research institute, another industry first, helping Deli become the leader of China’s stationery business.

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