Beijingairport.jpg A taskforce has been set up by the UK government with the aim of helping British design businesses succeed in China's booming £3bn design market.

The 12-member China Design Taskforce, brainchild of the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) department, is made up of British design companies that have already broken into the Chinese market.

It will host seminars in China about the strength of UK design and share intelligence with the British design community through direct training and marketing activities.

Starting in October, these taskforce members will participate in conferences in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuxi and Guangzhau. Andrew Cahn, UK Trade & Investment chief executive, said:

The potential market for UK design will develop rapidly as China's economy moves towards selling more sophisticated products and services into a competitive market place. The growing middle classes in China have made it possible for brands such as Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Zara to establish a retail presence which is opening the eyes of Chinese companies to the importance of branding.”

Unfortunately, none of the brands Cahn quotes are British. But putting petty patriotism aside, the broader point is that the design-based industries are an area where the west has much to offer to China — although EngagingChina's experience of contemporary Chinese art and design suggests that the gap may be closing.

One of the members of the taskforce is Martin Darbyshire, CEO of product design firm Tangerine . He was responsible for British Airways' Club World seat, which makes travelling bearable but Beijing-bound frequent fliers — at least those with deep pockets. The stylishly designed business class seating has been a huge profit engine for BA. Darbyshire said:

It is wrong to think of China's economy to be based on low cost, sub-contract, manufacture. China is evolving quickly into a high tech, high skilled and highly innovative economy. The country's remarkable combination of mass, youth and capital provides an additional opportunity to use it as a test market for new products and technologies. All this creates huge opportunities for British designers.”

EngagingChina recently interviewed Eugene Chang, an adviser to the China-Britain Business Council, which works with the UKTI to promote UK business in China. He also highlighted the design industries as an area where the west — and UK business in particular — has much to offer China. He gave the example of leading British architect Norman Foster, now Lord Foster, whose practice, Foster & Partners, has worked on some of the most innovative buildings during the past 20 years.

One of its latest and most ambitious projects is Beijing Airport's Terminal 3 (pictured) and Lord Foster, like a lot of architects, in the west is clearly captivated by the pace of modernisation in China and its opportunities it creates for the creative industries. The Beijing terminal project was awarded to a joint venture comprising Foster & Associates, Danda, a Dutch firm specialised in airport planning, and Arup, the UK engineering and construction firm. More on the new airport terminal here.

The member companies of the UKTI taskforce include Alloy, CGI (Automotive), Creactive Design, Conran & Partners, Dalziel & Pow, Design Bridge, Geoff Howe Marketing, Industrial Design Consultancy (IDC), Lowey Mann (The Team and Williams Murray Hamm), Quadro, Smallfry and Tangerine.

Next week, EngagingChina plans to run a full interview with Eugene Chang, complete with tips and warnings for western businesses.


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