The main theme for this year’s »Munich Creative Business Week«, Germany’s biggest design event, was »Metropolitan Ideas«. As a program partner, we invited four designers from four major cities to discuss the issues of design and branding with our audience.

One interesting thing about the event – our design experts from Munich, New York, Beijing and Tokyo considered the same overarching design questions, and used audiovisual examples to illustrate their own unique cultural perspectives in their responses.

They provided unique insights into the design origins of their respective cultures, their developmental histories, regional characteristics as well as trends and influences on design and branding. These revealed individual differences as well as many common elements that impact and enrich the design world at the same time. The main elements of good design and a strong brand are universal. They are used successfully across cultural borders and around the world today.

We’d like to thank our guests and employees for getting so involved in sharing their ideas and making this event a success.

Our key visual was part of the campaign »Creative Spaces / Munich designers for Metropolitan Ideas« and was displayed as a poster in the underground station Munich Harras.

Interviews with our international speakers provided interesting insights into the evening’s theme – »Munich. New York. Beijing. Tokyo.«

Press contact

Annette Koch
T +49 (0)89 490 411-368

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Interview Fabian Furrer

Interview questions on the topic of »Intercultural design« – Fabian Furrer, Dongdao

You’ve lived and worked in China for many years now. What characterizes Chinese design? What elements dominate this look?
Since China started opening up, a younger generation seeks fame, fortune, and self- expression. That generation experiences more freedom to create; and therefore China is undergoing a stark design & innovation evolution. China has been diversely influenced by Mao and Confucius, communism and capitalism, patriotism and cosmopolitanism; and so the design industry is dynamic and constantly evolving. There is such pace, at which design is developing here; and it is fascinating to be part of it. And, the design industry here has huge potential. Many successful Chinese brands inherit traditional wisdom with an international orientation.

You’re originally from Switzerland. You studied and worked in the United States before moving to China. What do you think distinguishes good design in the United States and Europe? What about China?
‘Good design is Good business’, in the United States and Europe. Companies there have focused on design early on. In the U.S., design illustrates boldness, with sleek and modern visuals (portraying a kind of ‘look & feel’ – attitude). It also portrays a sense of imagination, and makes an explicit or implicit statement. In Europe too, we are witnessing modernization of all aspects of brands. Basically, designers were taught they had to understand something, in order to design it.
In China, many award-winning design projects (in media, fashion, graphic, interior, and product design) effectively examine the lifestyle and purchasing trends of the ‘young generation’, and accurately incorporate them into design. Generations in the 80s and 90s have greater access to international trends, social media, global cultures and opinions (which potentially brings change to people’s mind, behaviors, opinions towards design & art), but they nonetheless have difficulties in understanding the implications of authentic ‘innovative creativity’.

When we talk about design in an intercultural context – what impact can a single culture have on creative work and design?
The cultural evolution of design in China needs to be evaluated from the perspectives of history, tradition, culture, socio-economic development and education. There are intricate relations on how lifestyle, living spaces, work-life (balance), and self-expression influence the design development in the context of Chinese cultural and economic progress.
China is making massive investments in design and innovation (endeavor to create a ‘creative culture’). As such, it is increasingly supporting design and creative activities.  Nonetheless, an original creative innovation culture is still lacking and most urgently needed (in order for China to become a global creative power).

During your career in brand strategy, you have worked in a variety of different countries and for a wide range of clients. What do you think are the specific challenges involved in intercultural collaboration?
Intercultural communication poses always a challenge. Verbal communication isn’t everything, most difficulties in intercultural encounters arise due to wrong assumptions and non-verbal signals, such as guānxì (networking, relationships) and miànzi (“face”, i.e. personal dignity, social prestige). Knowledge of these basic concepts in China is a must.
Also important to note is that Chinese business culture is very hierarchical. It is very important to respect seniority (the philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity). When we talk about communication, it does not only involve what we say but also how we say something. Example, people from the West believe in fixed deadlines; we fix a date with our clients and pass it on to colleagues. However, in the Chinese context, there is always ‘more’ behind a message. So, a deadline is not necessarily a deadline and everyone (Chinese) knows. More time and investment is required in building up a trust relationship between Chinese and Western.

What reputation does European design have in China and the rest of Asia?
European design enjoys a good reputation and has significant influence on design teaching and design application in China. It is perceived as reaching out to the domestic consumers, while at the same time, having a strong appeal to global markets. This is especially evident in architecture design, with seemingly endless opportunities in China. Consequently, many foreign design firms have sought ways to participate in this exciting market.
Many Chinese design companies are supporting the building of global brands; but they are still ‘playing catch-up’ with European creativity. Many young designers from abroad are flocking to Beijing and Shanghai to contribute and share their expertise in the world's most dynamic consumer market. There is a dramatic change going on now, from manufacturing the world's electronics, shoes, and you name it, for products typically ‘designed in Europe’, to a relentless desire in innovating their own products. Today, just about everyone in China wants to be the next Apple.

What do you think makes design successful and brands strong on a global scale?
Brands face several challenges. Chinese brands, for example, have to overcome preconceived notions about the quality of Chinese goods and innovation, or lack thereof. Chinese companies are losing their cost advantage (a fact); as such, they need to devise a new global strategy from ‘made in China’, to ‘made by China’.
Companies, such as Alibaba, Haier, Lenovo, are already spearheading this new future direction. In order to do something new, they need to move away from the ‘me too’ strategy (competing on price and similar to what everyone else is doing). In other words, they need to offer something that is unique and truly beneficial to consumers worldwide. It is easier to understand what global design means, but difficult to find its counterpart in China.  

What future developments impact the topics of design, branding and brand communication?
The younger generation increasingly has changed priorities, such as pursuing personal interests and a ‘casual’ attitude (more concerned with their own feelings and their happiness, less worried about salary and status). In this ‘spirit’, conversation is at their terms (when I want, what I want). Effective brand communication therefore needs to engage consumers in such a way as to converse with ‘them’, fascinate ‘them’, and engage ‘them’. At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t know if we can design every aspect of our lives, because we have certain fixed aspects. However, our imagination and ultimate desire is for us to ‘design our life’ (and consequently ‘change our life’).
This will become even more evident at a time when experiencing the ‘Internet of Things - IoT’ (the concept that every ‘thing’ is basically connected, such as people-to-people, people-things, things-things).

What are the »hot brands« in China today? And why?
Today’s brands with the ‘hottest’ appeal are market-driven ones. Brands like Tencent, a provider of mass media, entertainment, Internet and mobile phone value-added services and Alibaba, an e-commerce company that provides C2C, B2C, and B2B sales services via web portals, experienced the fastest value (brand) increase in the last few years (i.e. 442% increase by Tencent in the last 5 yrs.).
I believe Tencent, the world’s biggest social media network, will further accelerate due to the immensely effective and ‘exploding’ way of ‘social selling’ (its WeChat "- Weixin" -mobile messaging app has over 400million users in China). As such, social networking provides – especially for the younger generation- with many kinds of services and benefits, helping them to connect with new people, share opinions with likeminded people, etc.

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Interview Jianjun Xie

Interview questions on the topic of »Intercultural design« – Jianjun Xie, Dongdao

You are the president of a Chinese brand consulting firm, member of various design organizations and recipient of many awards for your work. What do you think makes Chinese design distinctively Chinese? Are there unique regional styles within China?
One of the elements that makes design in China is so different is cultural diversity and integration. The 56 ethnics in China all have their own distinctive culture. At the same time, their culture has influenced one another in the past 5,000 years. It eventually results in a diversified culture which makes the design in China distinctive. On the territory of 9.6 million square kilometers, the culture and style vary greatly regionally, from east to west, south to north. Therefore, the design shows unique regional characters.

What do you think distinguishes good design in Europe? How is Chinese design different?
In ancient times, influenced by religion, noble families and their lifestyle, the design in Europe demonstrated a strong decorative implication. It is splendid, delicate and classic. The design in modern Europe varies regionally. Generally, the design in France is fashionable and romantic; the design in Italy is artistic and passionate; while the design in Germany emphasizes simplicity, logic and function; and the design in Northern Europe pays attention to environment protection and reason.
Influenced by traditional culture, the design in China pursues the connection to nature. It is natural and plain, yet implying meaning and best wishes, and this can be seen in many aspects in life. On the other hands, the design in China displays distinctive ethnic characters through various colors.

When we talk about design in an intercultural context – what impact can a single culture have on creative work and design?
Designers do design on the basis of mother culture. The national culture influences and limits designers’ mindset somehow, so it is not easy to do overcome cultural difference.

You’ve worked with a variety of international clients for many years now at Dongdao. What do you think are the specific challenges involved in intercultural collaboration?
We did work with a variety of international clients, and we are quite experienced in localizing design. We found that the main challenges come from language, working habits and style, difference of business models and establishing mutual trust.

What reputation does German design have in China and the rest of Asia?
German design has a very good reputation in China and the rest of Asia. It influenced the design in modern China and the designers like me and my teachers. We learn German design and like the way how German people do things. Chinese people have an impression of rigorousness and seriousness on German people, and we think German design is also the most logical and rigorous.

What do you think makes design successful and brands strong on a global scale?
In order to make the design successful, we have to find the core needs of the customers / users, as well as the accurate way to meet these needs. Meanwhile, the successful design and brands on a global scale all have the features of inclusiveness, and showing respect to local culture. They must also be creative and communicated in a way that caters to people’s ideas and preferences.

What future developments impact the topics of design, branding and brand communication?
Network (Internet, mobile internet and telematics), the era (mainly refer to the mainstream group of people in the society) and artificial intelligence will affect the topics of design, branding and brand communication.

What are the »hot brands« in China today? And why?
At the moment, the hottest brands in China are internet related brands such as Alibaba,, Tencent and Baidu etc. They are hot because network becomes the mainstream trend in China and there is a huge number of netizens that is over 600 million.

What inspires you? Who are your role models?
It is my interest and passion for design that inspires me, because I personally think that the only true creation is the one that creates from spiritual perspective. As for my role models, there are many, for instance, the Western masters, excellent design companies, my teachers and even the traditional Eastern spiritual culture for it is an inexhaustible inspiration resource. For example, Dongdao (meaning ....), our company’s name, reflects my philosophy well: create by combining the Eastern philosophy and Western technique.

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Interview Grace Chou & Till Bergs

Interview questions on the topic of »Intercultural design« – Grace Chou & Till Bergs

You’ve both spent many years living and working in the United States. What makes American design distinctively American? What are its origins? What forms does it take?
The origins of graphic design in America started in the 1920’s and it is largely inspired by European Modernism, e.g. , Italian Futurists, Russian Constructivists, Bauhaus and Swiss design. The combination of these influences was largely evident in branding and advertising during the post-war era where there was an industry need. Today, New York is filled with
a lot of designers from all over the world and you see the diversity in design thinking as well as approach.

You live in New York, a multifaceted city full of people from every corner of the world. How does living in this major city influence your work?
New York City is inspiring but it doesn’t necessarily influence my style. One thing for sure is that many styles coexist in the city. In New York, you have more freedom to design in different ways and with different approaches, whereas in Germany or perhaps other European cities, styles are very distinct. As design is often a reflection of culture, design in New York is an outcome of varied cultures coming together.

When we talk about design in an intercultural context – what impact can a single culture have on creative work and design?
Today, in a time when everything is connected and everyone has access to design across the world and different cultures, a single cultural impact is marginal.

You have worked for a number of prominent international clients over the past several years. What do you think are the specific challenges involved in intercultural collaboration?
The main difficulty in intercultural collaboration is that you can never fully understand another culture. With any assignment, designers usually project a certain expectation of the client but because there’s a cultural difference, your projection is often wrong no matter how much research you do. This is also evident in the way you interact. For example, Germans have a very direct approach to criticize work compared to Americans. In Germany, it’s appropriate to tell a client what you think is wrong with a project, whereas in America, you’re feedback focuses on things that can be improved.

You also worked as designers in Germany. What do you think distinguishes good design in Germany? What reputation does German design have in the United States?
Good design in Germany can be characterized by a strong systematic approach, inherent structure and a holistic execution. The average American may not recognize German design other than car brands but in the design world, it is valued for the qualities we mentioned earlier.

What do you think makes design successful and brands strong on a global scale?
We believe a brand can only be successful if it has a great product. It is critical that the culture of a company aligns with the values of the brand. Good design can highlight the strengths of a brand and sometimes also change the culture of the company. In a perfect scenario, design triggers the transformation of the company culture so the values of the brand are inherent in the product.

What future developments impact the topics of design, branding and brand communication?
Value consciousness, sustainability and technology.

What are the »hot brands« in the United States today? And why?
In the U.S. there are a lot of popular brands. Since the advent of the Internet, media has been fragmented for so long that it’s too simplistic to claim one or several brands have dominance.

What inspires you? Who are your role models?
It’s really inspiring to live and work in New York City. It’s a city filled with ambitious and resourceful personalities. We feed off of that energy daily.

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Interview Keisuke Futakuchi

Interview questions on the topic of »Intercultural design« – Keisuke Futakuchi, nanilani

You are the chief strategist at Nanilani, one of Tokyo’s main branding agencies. What makes Japanese design distinctively Japanese? What are the essential characteristics?
1. Emptiness
Due to its geographical feature as an island nation located in the Far East, Japan always had been greatly influenced by those western nations and had accepted various cultures throughout the history.  After spending many years of functioning somewhat like a receptacle of those foreign cultures, the general in Kyoto, the ancient capitol of Japan, started to pursue its original beauty within its culture in the mid 15th century. The concept was rather considered as “Emptiness” not “Simplicity”. Emptiness represents the potential to be fulfilled with it object, with something new. Even Ise Jingu, the most important shrine in Japan, is planned to be rebuild every 20 years in order to inherit its traditions.

2. Concept of WA
“WA” explains many of the key characteristics of the Japanese design.  The direct translation of this term “WA” would be the soul of reconciliation or harmony.  In Japan, people are highly interested in the unification of two opposing values such as craft and industrial, city and countryside, nature and science, and many others that are observed in the society.
Actually, “WA” is the only symbolic character to convey “Japanese” in a single letter.  For instance, “WA-Shoku” literally means “Japanese cuisine” and “WA-fu” is the term for “Japanese-style” when we talk about design, architecture, etc.  It represents how deeply this concept is rooted inside within our culture.

You live in Tokyo. It’s an incredibly cool and vibrant metropolis, but is also in a country with thousands of years of tradition. How does living in a major city with this kind of cultural contrast influence your work?
Dual nature of Tokyo is what makes this city really exciting. Though many of them were destroyed during the World War Ⅱ, there are still some old towns, buildings, temples and shrines where you can feel the traditional aspects of this city. At the same time, Tokyo never stops its evolution in terms of entertainments, technologies, foods, fashion and many others. For instance, Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest radio tower in the world, is located only a mile away from one of the most famous temple Sensoji in Asakusa, which was originally built about 1,400 yrs ago. People enjoy watching a Kabuki play while many of the foreigners these days are attracted by the crazy experience offered at the “Robot Restaurant” where a bunch of robots start dancing right in front of the audience.
Working in this kind of environments, you should be flexible enough to accept new things, while showing a great respect to old heritages in our society.

When we talk about design in an intercultural context – what impact can a single culture have on creative work and design?
As mentioned in the 1st question, we’ve been always curious and have made tremendous efforts to learn from other cultures abroad and adopting into their own market. Just to mention one of the latest trends, lifestyle and culture from the west coast region of the United States, mostly around San Francisco and Portland, have had a great influence on our design and creative culture in Japan.
This tendency has even increased dramatically due to the globalization in the past 10 yrs. I am quite sure that there’ll be a lot more exciting intercultural collaborations toward the Tokyo Olympic in 2020.

You have worked for a number of prominent international clients over the past several years. What do you think are the specific challenges involved in intercultural collaboration?
There are only two, but tough, challenges for us Japanese. First of all, we have work harder with our English skills, especially the debate and presentation skills.
Second, we have to behave more open-minded and get more used to working with people around the world.  That is the only way to understand the true meaning of respecting each other and building the intercultural relationship.

What reputation does German design have in Japan and the rest of Asia?
To be honest, I’m not very sure how they are accepted in the rest of Asia, but I’m quite confident that German design in Japan is generally highly respected especially when it comes to product design and that of the automobile industry. Just like many other markets on this planets, global brands like adidas, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, and BMW always have long been the benchmarks for the product design, quality, marketing communication, and so on.

What do you think makes design successful and brands strong on a global scale?
Brands that can create strong emotional connection with their customers, regardless of the nationality, utilizing the sustainable, consistent, structured system underneath always have a good chance to be successful everywhere on the planet.

What future developments impact the topics of design, branding and brand communication?
Fast-moving trends of technologies definitely has a huge impact on those industries.  Without knowing how the way of communication is transformed within the society, there’s no way we can think of the most effective way of how the brand should behave, talk to their customers in the proper manner.

1. New communication platform
2. Seamless purchase experience
3. Wearable computing devices

What are the »hot brands« in Japan today? And why?
1. JINS (eyewear)
Led by Hitoshi Tanaka, a visionary founder of this brand, JINS has become a best selling eyewear brand in just 10 years in this competitive market.  JINS offer fine quality glasses with wide variations of style for incredible prices so that people can enjoy changing their glasses just like they change their outfits.  JINS is trying to change the relationship of eyewear and people who wear them.
If they continue to grown in a right direction by building the strong fundamental of the brand and further convey their essential values to help their customers’ better lives, it has a good chance to achieve their goal to become the No.1 global eyewear brand in the next 10 years, just like H&M has “democratized” the fashion industry.

If I were to mention some more, I’d say the following two:
2. Softbank (IT)
Well known as the 3rd largest and the fastest growing mobile phone carrier as well as the owner of the popular baseball team in Japan.  Actually, they are the 3rd largest in the world in terms of the total sale volume which is consist of their numerous IT related subsidiary companies.  Softbank was founded 35 years ago by a genius entrepreneur Masayoshi Son and its momentum has never been faded.  Last year, people were shocked when they started selling a human-like robot called “Pepper”.

3. Seven Eleven (Convenience Store)
It used to be an American company, but now merged by Seven & I Holding in Japan.
Ever since it started its business in 1973 with its first store in Tokyo, Seven Eleven Japan has continuously increased the number of franchise stores nationwide and their sales figure and profits have never decreased vs previous years for over 40 years.  The quality of their store operation is far ahead of its competitors and its management system has proved to function well almost everywhere on the planet.

What inspires you? Who are your role models?
My 4-year-old daughter has always been my biggest inspiration. She always reminds me how important it is to stay foolish no matter how old you are to keep the fresh eyes to see the world. I try not to be too professional when I have to see what’s going on in the actual living environment.
As a marketer, I was strongly influenced by Steve Jobs by the way he perceived peoples desire and continuously created the powerful solution to fulfill their needs.

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