Chinese Contemporary Design Education: Situations and Expectations

By Professor Clive Barstow

A conversation between Clive Barstow, and Professor Chen Huagang, Dean of Art & Design at Guandong Baiyun University in China (with thanks to translator Jie He). 

Design, as an independent subject in China, is becoming increasingly cross-disciplinary ... As a result, many young teachers now entering the higher education system are exploring new approaches to the delivery of complex content such as the use of information data, methods of intelligence creation, and societal innovation.

CB. China is making major investments in the creative industries and creative education, with an increasing number of design hubs springing up in its major cities. What are the origins of what we now know as contemporary design in China and how is this playing out in the Universities?

CH. Contemporary art education in its present form has its foundations in 1950s China. It has involved various forms of transformation, from an academic model of arts and crafts in the early years, to creation and application, and nowadays toward problem solving and service providing. This form of design thinking is in effect expanding the arts and crafts for a broader market and for society in general. Sustainable design, service design, information design, traditional design, interactive design, experience design, and health design are all central to contemporary art design education. China is also producing a growing number of design graduates. There are already 1,951 higher education colleges and institutions who offer art design majors, and this is increasing rapidly. China is now building on average one university per week in a concentrated effort to develop a creative economy to match their advances in production and distribution.

 

CB. In the context of a growing market economy in China, how is design education changing in its attempts to drive a new way of thinking that goes beyond the traditional parameters of product design and manufacture?

CH. Contemporary design in China is now a co-dependent model integrating the various doctrines of visual art design, environment design, product design and digital media design as a way of adapting to the changes of time. Design, as an independent subject in China, is becoming increasingly cross-disciplinary and is now incorporating elements of psychology, management, philosophy and sociology. As a result, many young teachers now entering the higher education system are exploring new approaches to the delivery of complex content, such as the use of information data, methods of intelligence creation, and societal innovation. This prompts a different approach to the composition of our staff teams which now include young and energetic thinkers, industry professionals and mentors from experienced academics both from within the design discipline and beyond.

 

CB. Many young students in China seem concerned long held traditions and beliefs will be lost in the move toward modernisation, mechanisation and globalisation. How are you developing your approach to teaching to maintain balance?

CH. After a long period of accomplishment in vocational education, design teaching is now adopting a more global approach to design education and perhaps a more rational approach that utilizes data and scientific logic. This has had the effect of reforming the selection methods for art students, a revaluing of theoretical study, maintaining respect for traditional culture and practice, a re-emphasis of the studio model of practice, and a focus on project based teaching and collaboration. It is through international cooperation in particular that we hope to improve our teaching standards and learn from examples set by leading scholars and creative artists.

 

it will be important to give equal value to the arts and the sciences in our developing education system. The information explosion within an increasingly globalized economy will force a change in Chinese design education

CB. What do you think will be the most important value to uphold in these times of change?

CH. To raise the standards of design education in China during the 21st century, it will be important to give equal value to the arts and the sciences in our developing education system. The information explosion within an increasingly globalised economy will force a change in Chinese design education, spurring new talent in our next generation of artists, designers and educators. In the future Chinese art and design education will hold high aspirations for a human art democracy. This will be a start for a new vision for China and perhaps the dawn of a new thinking.


Clive Barstow’s profile includes forty years of international exhibitions, artist residencies and publications in Europe, America, Asia and Australia. His work is held in a number of international collections, including the Musse National d'Art Paris. Clive is Professor and Dean of Arts & Humanities at Edith Cowan University, Honorary Professor of Art at the University of Shanghai for Science & Technology China and global faculty member of Fairleigh Dickinson University USA. His recent exhibitions include "Giving Yesterday a Tomorrow" at the Hu Jiang Gallery in Shanghai and recent publications include "Encountering the Third Space" at the University of Oxford UK.

Professor Chen Huagang is Dean of Art & Design at Guandong Baiyun University in China.