Summer 1995

Business, medicine, the law … or design [extra

Under western influence, South East Asian graphic design is growing fast. In Korean TV soaps, leading characters have jobs as designers

A respected South East Asian design director once said: ‘Why try to create something new when you know that what you need can be found in a book?’

While many are aware of differences between the West’s approach to design and that of countries such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and China, these are often assumed to be simply on the level of cultural connotations of colour, forms of writing, the way in which business is transacted and so on. What is often not realised is that there are more fundamental distinctions, to do with the very aims and purpose of design.

Many people in South East Asian countries think of graphic and product design in the same way they think of engineering: the designer’s job is to produce an efficient solution. ‘Efficient’ means that it must be fast, and at the lowest possible cost. And the easiest way to do this is to copy something that has been done before. So while a few designers strive to create something new, most simply reflect what has already been tried and tested.

Whereas in the West, copying is seen as second-rate - the whole point is to provide the client with something original - in South East Asian the reverse is true. In design as in business, copying is considered a sign of respect, and thus the most cost-effective approach turns out to be the most culturally acceptable one too …

First published in Eye no. 17 vol. 5, 1995

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.