An impressive 1750 delegates from forty-eight countries attended the event, and 120 internationally renowned designers, scholars and design educators presented in over eighty forums. Over forty exhibitions and activities attracted an audience of over 200 000.

Guo Jinlong, mayor of Beijing, opened the Congress with a glamorous ribbon cutting ceremony. “China has undertaken a significant change in science, creativity and the knowledge economy, and these industries are growing rapidly.”

Design plays a very important role in this. Beijing, as a centre of culture in China, has great resources for design. “It is important that we use design to combine Chinese culture with manufacturing,” says Jinlong, “so design is necessary for the development of cultural products and can convert culture into products.”

In Beijing, says the mayor, they are working towards sustainable industries and clusters for creative industries, and to continue information exchange and attract international designers. “We are experiencing our first Beijing Design Week, which will grow to become a big event each year.”

Seen as a visionary and an architect of growth in the design education sector, at the Icograda World Design Congress in Beijing in October, Pan Gongkai was presented with the Icograda President’s Award for his services to design.

Gongkai is a renowned Chinese artist and design theorist and compiler of Modern Design: A Sourcebook. Gongkai has been dedicated to the promotion of design education in China. He is currently the president of China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing and is vice president of the Chinese Artists’ Association.

“Design is productivity and is the engine of China’s industrialisation,” said Gongkai in his keynote speech at the Congress. “China has missed out on much in terms of developing a design industry – over the last fifty years (referred to as the ‘golden age’) of design in the world. Up until the 1970s China had a planned economy and there were no conditions for the development of design.”

The world market economy became better developed in the mid 90s, resulting in a higher level of expansion of design in the higher education sector. At this time, many overseas design graduates came back to China and by 1996 CAFA had four design departments – industrial, visual, textile and fashion, and environmental art.

“This development of design education has happened very fast and has been driven by market demand,” said Gongkai.

Yet design students still only represent a small percentage of this figure; design in China is an emerging, young industry. As such, the Chinese government is promoting ‘industrial transformation’, which needs a higher end and creative industry focus.

“China still needs to learn the lessons of modern design,” said Gongkai. While the country has impressive manufacturing capabilities on a global scale, these are mainly in labour-intensive industries. “I hope that manufacturing can integrate with design. We need to move to original design and marketing.

"So I have been lobbying the central government to talk to them about the importance of design and the transition of the design industry in China to an industry of greater importance to the economy and sustainable development and have proposed a National Designers Association for China.”

The Beijing event encompassed exhibitions, presentations and networking events. Two notable exhibitions were hosted at the CAFA Art Museum – one featuring Chinese Graphic Design in the 20th Century with an impressive collection of Chinese posters, magazines and newspapers; and the other, an exhibition of outstanding graduating student works across all design disciplines.

“The Beijing 2009 World Design Congress and the First Beijing Design Week will change the landscape of Chinese design industry,” said Min Wang, Dean of School of Design CAFA. “There is an undeniable force in China right now that will take ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed and Made in China’ in the next ten years.” 

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