The Pet Shop Boys may have implored us all to Go West! but get this – the Pet Shop Boys were wrong. In fact it’s all about the east, and China in particular, but design-wise it remains a world we are still largely grappling to get to grips with. Step forward globetrotting Goldsmiths graduate Zara Arshad whose new China Design blog is sure to be an invaluable resource for anyone seriously interested in the future of design. We caught up with her to find out more.
Born and raised in the UK, Zara also lived in Syria and Indonesia before arriving in China, where she works as a freelance designer, as well as sitting on the organising committee for the Beijing Design Week, held last month. She is a big believer in internationalism and the power of design as a means to achieving socio-polictical ends.
Hi Zara, you seem to have travelled quite a bit. What drew you to China?
I’ve always had a fascination with China – her history, culture and food, and a special admiration for Chinese characters. Paired with whispers of opportunity, China seemed the place to go.
What do you remember best about your time at Goldsmiths? What were the best things you took from your studies there?
Conceptual thinking. Our course (BA Design) didn’t promote one particular field or teach us how to make things look pretty – it was more about the idea behind the design. This has been invaluable – you can always teach yourself new skills – i.e. how to make – but maybe not so much how to think.
Why did you decide to start Design China? What are your hopes for it?
After working on the organising committees for Xin: Icograda World Design Congress Beijing and Beijing Design Week in 2009 and 2011 respectively, and reporting on designers, creatives and social businesses in China for Notes on Design since early 2010, it has become increasingly apparent that so much is happening in the field of design here, yet there is no one place to access the information for it.
Design China aims to fill that gap, ultimately documenting the rapid shift from “Made in China” to “Designed in China”. My initial focus will be to get all the information that I already know up on the website – as everything in China develops at such a rapid pace, this means re-visiting places that I know and meeting other creatives to catch up on their latest work.
At the same time, I hope to meet new designers and provide them with an online platform for communication (of their most recent works). I’ve tried not to overthink the format, intention etc too much, and to just do – I’ve been discussing the idea for more than two years now, but didn’t actually do anything about it until now.
Are there any dominant themes in modern Chinese design?
I’ve seen a lot of instances more recently where designers are using their culture and identity to inform their working process; not in the predictable way of, for example, utilising the colour red because “it is very Chinese to do so,” but looking at old traditions, techniques and even philosophy to shape a design outcome – to create something that is obviously quite contemporary, whilst still managing to infuse or inject an aspect of Chinese culture.