iF Award is Not a Catalyst .

The iF awards, known as the "Oscars of Oriental Design", have an unshakable position in not only the history of global design development but also in the history of German economic development. Being recognized by the iF awards indicates that the status and influence of Chinese design is gradually rising on a global scale.

I have led S.POINT to participate in and win the iF awards since 2004. This time, I am honored to be invited to join with 62 other design industry leaders from all over the world to comment on the participating enterprises. Through this review and in-depth exchanges with the iF awards committee, we have a new understanding of the background, role and significance of the iF awards.

The role of iF awards in promoting the industrial development of Germany makes me wonder: what is the significance of iF awards for Chinese design, Chinese products and even the Chinese industry? Here, I would like to share my thoughts. 

iF Awards were born in Germany in 1953. In the development process of more than 60 years, the award plays an indelible role in promoting the integration of design and the German industry. It has greatly improved the German industry and the public's awareness of design, whilst also promoting the German industry in terms of product quality.


As we all know, Germany is a country with a highly developed manufacturing industry. Especially after the World War II, Germany has developed an in-depth expertise in the manufacturing industry segmentation field, resulting in many "champions" in the manufacturing industry segmentation field, such as large-scale industrial equipment brand Siemens and kitchen utensils brand, Fissler.


Under such an industrial background, the German manufacturing industry and the manufacturing-related service industry have a "lip to tooth" relationship. For example, the application of service industry such as industrial Internet in German enterprises is mainly aimed at "cost reduction".


In addition to industrial characteristics, German people's cognition of design is also the key to promoting the integration of design and manufacturing industries. The German people's ability to appreciate design is consistent with the manufacturing industry's ability to understand design. German people evaluate the design of a good product from not only the perspective of a "cool" shape or luxury materials, but also from the perspective of product finesse and quality. To a large extent, this result due to continuous promotion of the iF awards over the past 60 years. Since 1953, the predecessor of iF, which was born in Hanover industrial trade show, has been the "special exhibition of industrial products with excellent design", rather than the excellent design exhibition. Design is only one part of a good product, not everything.


As a judge, the standard of selection is design + manufacturing. One of the most important work on site is to observe the material of products and even carefully evaluate the smell of the product materials to judge whether the design can be implemented, whether it can meet the manufacturing standards, and whether the combination is good.

What is the relationship between design and industry?

-The development of global design function from the perspective of iF Awards

The selection perspective of iF awards reflects the relationship between design and products, between design and industry, and between design and public design cognition. For these three relations, I call them "Design Context". This kind of design context is reflected in different countries, but there will be different patterns in different countries. If the manufacturing system and development path between the two countries are not consistent, and the level of people's cognition of design is not consistent, the final industry's understanding of design will be different.

For example, in the process of manufacturing development of the United States, in order to deal with industrial pollution, it gradually divested the manufacturing industry from its own country. At the same time, it began to invest in high-tech fields, driving the development of high-tech in the country and the development of technology highlands like Silicon Valley. In this process, on the one hand, the industry breaks away from many constraints of manufacturing, on the other hand, with the help of high-tech development, the development direction of "good products" has become innovation, and "innovation" has gradually become the standard of design.

Under the influence of "innovation" standard, the American industry's understanding of design is more to "integrate" many technologies by means of design, and thus form new product categories and even new business models (such as product + service, software + hardware, ecosystem). These new categories and new business models often bring a huge leap of premium space for enterprises. Under the guarantee of high premium, the innovative role of design has now become as leading manufacturing, and also forcing manufacturing to change. Therefore, we can see the emergence of a model similar to Apple, which starts with breakthrough innovative design and relies on high premium space to promote the implementation of design concepts by professional manufacturing enterprises (such as Foxconn).

American people's understanding of product design is also consistent with that of the industry, and people are very receptive to product innovation. In addition to China, the United States has always been the birthplace and early recipient of new products and business models. Although the development and production of new products such as UAVs come from China, the first batch of users are in the United States.

From the results, IDEA, the design award in the United States, also pays great attention to the role of "innovation", focusing on new technology applications, new categories and new business models generated through design. Because design is endowed with the meaning of innovation, its position is also elevated, even abstracted.

Although the results of design context and the expression of design awards are totally different in the United States and Germany, the logic behind the design and product and the design and industry is the same. No matter Germany or the United States, no matter iF or IDEA, what is judged is "the role of design in the product", but the extension and direction of design is inconsistent.

What is the industrial relationship between China and design?

-What is the inspiration of iF awards to Chinese design and Industry


First of all, China's manufacturing industry has been developing in the way of OEM for a long time, and in the stage of developing its own brand, it has been living in the way of homogenization and price competition for a long time. For a long time, China's manufacturing industry only seeks to "do it" rather than "do it well". It has neither formed the in-depth development of manufacturing segmentation fields like Germany, nor formed the innovation ability like the United States that can generate high premium products.


In this process, "design" is more in the way of "imitation", and the integration with manufacturing industry is not high. The industry's cognition of design is still mainly in the stage of "appearance", so it is far from forming the relationship between manufacturing industry and Germany. At the same time, design in the industry has not risen to the level of theory, lack of the ability to use design to integrate new technology and new business model, so it has not formed the ability to drive manufacturing industry as the United States. In addition, people's cognition of design is not mature, and what impresses people is excellent and cost-effective design.


Therefore, the design results selected by iF or IDEA awards cannot fully meet the design context of China. In short, we should learn from the evaluation logic of foreign countries, rather than blindly cater to its unique evaluation system. It is unrealistic to open up the Chinese market by winning the if award.


Secondly, both iF and IDEA awards highlight a logic, which is "the role of design in the product" rather than the design itself. Design is just one hand, not all. iF focuses on the details of design in product manufacturing, IDEA focuses on the role of design as a starting point for product innovation. That is to say, design cannot exist alone if it is separated from products, industries and technologies.


In fact, at present, the integration of design and manufacturing is limited in China, which is more like an outsider to the manufacturing industry. It seems that design can survive independently. For example, many enterprises will only regard design as a function of visualization or appearance, but in fact, the manufacturing department cannot understand the result of design. It's unrealistic to expect industrial design to be unique and promote China's manufacturing transformation.

In addition, the degree of integration of design and product, design and manufacturing industry will also affect the global voice of domestic design. If the combination with manufacturing industry cannot be improved, the designers’ abilities cannot be improved, and it will be difficult to have a voice on the international stage, let alone form an influence of China's own design context.


So, where is the pattern of China's own design context? Obviously, China's industrial development can't copy the ready-made model, so the relationship between design and manufacturing needs to be explored by itself. I don't have an answer here, but over the past 20 years of working with large companies and start-ups, I have gradually seen some possibilities.


● In recent years, the "consumption upgrading" has brought unprecedented innovation opportunities to China's manufacturing industry, as well as new opportunities for design development. At the same time, a large number of foreign brands are gradually leaving China, giving us a lot of opportunities for innovation in the manufacturing industry. So, let our new brands or traditional manufacturing industry have the opportunity to draw closer to the US model, such as the emergence of Huawei model. At the same time, although it is difficult for China's manufacturing industry to have the same high-level manufacturing as Germany's, decades of OEM have made China's manufacturing enterprises accumulate quite strong production technology and even research and development technology. Therefore, in the process of consumption upgrading, design will play a more important role as the catalyst of manufacturing stock technology, and make the best match between manufacturing technology and consumption demand through the power of design.


● With the rapid development of digitalization and capital, many new business models have emerged in China. For example, Xiaomi's ecological model can rely on a proven user community, design and manufacturing capability platform within the enterprise, supplemented by abundant capital leverage, to export the productization capability and build a product ecological chain. In this way, the product wigh cost performance can be put into the market quickly. In this process, the design plays a role of rapid productization. Of course, at present, the endless millet and Netease strict selection mode meet the consumer's demand for quality and price performance in the primary stage of consumption upgrading, but in essence, there is still a lack of self-designed replication.

No matter which of the above modes, design needs to jump out of the current independent situation, need to go deep into the front-end market or even business model status, and the back-end manufacturing integration, only in this way can design fully play its role in the industry and form a special design context in China. Only in this way we can form our own design Oscar in near future.

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