Lawrence Chong, President of Designers Association Singapore and Director for Strategy Development of Consulus, wrote the following article for Asia-Pacific Design No.5, an international design almanac published by Sandu Publishing. It is available in both English and Chinese.

The world came very close to its worst recession this century but thanks to largely vibrant and strong Asian economies, it narrowly averted that fate. What a change from a decade ago when the IMF had to bail out some of the Asian tigers and China and India were still emerging economies then. But unlike before, the Asian governments got their act together and moved as one responsible region. Before the ripples of crisis could reach our shores, governments from China to Singapore unleashed bold stimulus packages. The newly minted wealthy middle-class from Mumbai to Shanghai is also fueling some of the fastest growing demand for high-end luxury goods. No wonder the IMF is now being asked to recognise this reality by admitting China and India into its board. The winds of change have also hit the elite G8 club. President Hu’s sudden departure from the recent summit in Italy nearly paralyzed it. We are now finally witnessing what others have already predicted, the dawn of the Asian Century. But while economic strength or hard power has clearly shifted east, soft power which encompasses ideas, culture and design has remained firmly entrenched in the West. While it’s true that Asians are rising in wealth, they have continued to buy into Western concepts and way of living. Western brands of almost all categories except low-end or value-based continue to be preferred by Asians. And our consumers are not to be blamed because while our region has raced ahead in terms of purchasing power, our attraction power has remained untapped. Graphic design which is a strong visual representation of the presence of soft power is still very much undervalued in this part of the world. So what will it take to shift Asia from being the world’s producer to its centre of creative thinking?

For a long time, Asia’s economic rise has been largely linked to supporting the Western economic model and Western consumption. Therefore graphic design as an industry is not considered high priority in many Asian countries since many major brands still conceptualize their graphical direction in the US or Europe. With the exception of Japan, Korea and perhaps Hong Kong, graphic design is still seen as a commodity and not in terms of value-add. Because of this mindset, many designers take on non-creative work so as to put food on the table. As graphic design is virtually a low-entry barrier discipline, many designers start their own graphic design studios. But as competition increases, given the scarcity of good jobs, many designers resort to lower pricing and free-pitching. The luckier few who manage to serve those who understand the value of design are able to avoid this fate.

If this mindset persists then even if Asia were to race ahead, it will not be served by an equally creative industry that is confident enough to do the work which reflects the vibrant Asian identity. And given the fact that few clients appreciate the purpose of meaningful and good work, many design companies believe that this is almost utopian. So as an industry we are producing a generation of graphic designers who are still conditioned by Western benchmarks and constrained by resources to produce Asian-inspired work.

In another 10 to 15 years time, we will have a rich and large critical mass of affluent middle-class. The world is also increasingly looking towards Asia for ideas. The dazzling Olympic opening in Beijing last year and the fascination with Slumdog Millionaire shows there is a viable market for Asian creativity. But to fill up this vacuum, we need content, creative stars in order to influence the market and see the value of Asian graphic design.

So we need good work to show this and this is why I applaud the efforts of the team who put this book together. Many works featured within this Asia Pacific Design shows what the world can expect from a confident Asia. I am optimistic despite the challenges; pockets of designers are doing their part to inspire the world. The works featured here also show an encouraging trend that clients are beginning to embrace the notion of an Asian identity. But more can be done.

Perhaps it’s time to start a pan Asian graphic design fraternity. Currently design associations are nation-based, maybe it’s time for an Asian body to promote graphic design. Publications like Asia Pacific are extremely important because it helps us discover the richness of ideas that exist among us. If we choose to work together, much more can be achieved. Perhaps this fraternity could be a partnership between design firms and publishers. In this way we have a guaranteed channel to promote good design. We should also have a pan-Asian graphic design index to track the progress of the industry across the continent. If we want others to believe in our work then we have to start now. We need to change mindsets and help shape a more confident Asia. Because that is ultimately the mission of designers, it is a profession in which its work is able to influence societal norms. As many young designers enter the market , hopefully They will find more peers proud of their Asian heritage and 10 years from now, hopefully our vision for graphic design will match up to our economic ambitions. This book is a good start and now it’s up to us to continue its inspiration.

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亚洲能成为新一代平面设计中心吗?这由我们来决定。

二十一世纪初,世界经济近乎走入谷底,幸而活跃强劲的亚洲经济扭转了命数。世界日新月,回想十年前,亚洲四小虎还要靠国际货币基金组织 (IMF) 的救济,中国和印度也还处于崛起时期。如今,亚洲各国齐心协力,组成了一个负责任的大区。在经济危机还未波及亚洲时,中国和新加坡等政府已经开始施行一揽子计划。从孟买到上海各地区新崛起的中产阶级带动高端奢侈品市场的快速发展。难怪今天IMF不得不承认亚洲的发展势头,准许中国和印度加入其董事会。变革的春风同样吹到了八国集团峰会上。胡锦涛主席最近临时退出在意大利举行的峰会,这几乎让整个会议陷入瘫痪状态。我们共同见证着别人的预言——亚洲世纪即将来临。然而,当经济发展势头和硬实力明显东移之时,包括创意、文化和设计在内的软实力却还原封不动地留在西方。亚洲确实是富起来了,然而亚洲人还只是处在买进西方观念和生活方式的阶段。西方品牌中除了低端和价值导向的产品外,几乎所有的品牌在亚洲均有广阔市场。这不能怪我们的消费者,因为当本地区的购买力不断上升时,我们的吸引力却还有待开发。平面设计——这个最能体现软实力的行业在亚洲仍然得不到足够的重视。那么,亚洲该如何从制造工厂转变为创意中心呢?

长久以来,亚洲经济的崛起离不开西方经济模式及消费方式的支持。因此,在许多亚洲国家里,平面设计行业并未受到特别重视,因为很多大品牌都只是将美国或欧洲的设计指导概念化而已。除了日本、韩国,或许包括香港之外,平面设计在其他地区都被视为商品而非附加值。在这种观念的驱使之下,许多设计师为了挣钱而去做非创
意性的设计。由于设计行业遵循宽进原则,所以一时间涌现了许多新的设计工作室。然而激烈的竞争加上有限的设计项目,许多设计师被迫降低收费,甚至接受无偿比稿。只有少数幸运儿可以找到真正懂设计的客户,避免沦为廉价劳力。

倘若长此以往,即使亚洲经济发展劲头不减,亚洲的创意行业亦无法承担起足以体现“活力亚洲”的设计项目。尽管部分客户确实懂得欣赏优秀设计作品的意义和目的,很多设计公司仍然觉得这几乎是乌托邦。设计行业正培养着新一代的平面设计师,他们受西方标尺的量度却又受到资源限制而难以创造出亚洲特色的作品。

在未来十到十五年内,一支庞大的富裕中产阶级队伍将崛起,世界将会把目光投向亚洲,寻求创意。去年蔚为壮观的北京奥运会开幕式和电影《百万富翁》的风潮昭示了亚洲创意市场的巨大潜力。但是要填补这个空缺,我们需要实质性的东西,需要创意新星,只有这样才能影响市场、体现亚洲平面设计的价值。

因此,亚洲急需看到能够体现这一点的优秀作品。我对此书的编辑队伍特别表示赞赏,因为《APD亚太设计年鉴》收录的许多作品都向世界发出了“相信亚洲”的呐喊。面对挑战,我依然满怀信心,因为设计师们正努力打动世界的心。透过这里的作品,我们可以感受到客户开始认同亚洲的观念。但是,未来还是任重而道远!

或许,成立泛亚平面设计联盟的时机已经成熟。目前,各种设计机构往往局限于本国内,或许我们应该成立亚洲性质的团体来推广平面设计。因此,《APD亚太设计年鉴》及同类的出版物意义重大,它让我们发现原来身边创意无限。只要我们携手合作,必定能创造更多辉煌。联合会的形式或许可以是设计公司与出版社之间的结盟,这
样我们就能保证优秀设计作品的推广发行。同时,我们可以建立泛亚平面设计指数来评估整个设计行业的发展。要别人对我们的作品有信心,我们必须马上行动;要塑造一个自信的亚洲,我们必须转变观念。这是设计师的根本任务,因为设计是一个能够影响社会准则的职业。随着年轻人进入设计行业,我希望他们将发现更多的同行为亚洲文化感到自豪。希望在未来十年里,我们的平面设计能够赶上经济的发展。本书就是一个好的开始,而能否让这份灵感开花结果,则由我们来决定。