Our colleague and Design Impact founder Ramsey Ford recently visited China to lead a workshop for third-year students at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in Hangzhou. With China such a hot topic right now, it’s easy to be skeptical about some of the things we see and hear. To help paint a better picture of the culture, we challenged Ramsey to confirm some claims about Chinese design and refute some others.

We did a pretty classic rapid design development with a focus on extreme users, scenarios, and tangental product spaces as inspiration points. This included designing for President Obama and designing from how you felt about Chinese food or American cars. I used Kaleidoscope’s Wanderlust documents as entry points to some of these topics. Before leaving, I was told that the students would be more comfortable working in CAD versus developing ideas on paper. This almost uniformly proved to be true.

I was also told that most students prefer to copy ideas rather than develop their own new forms and concepts. However, I found that there were several students that were really able to generate novel ideas and forms. The comfort levels with creativity were very similar to US design students.

I came away impressed with the astounding amount growth occurring in China. To match this, the students, professionals, and professors involved in the workshop all exhibited consumer attitudes similar to middle-class Americans. The workshop was aimed at developing the ability of the students to think strategically and develop brands aimed at the East Asian markets. It was really a fascinating experience to be involved in what could be a major transition in the design profession.