To understand why design is important, take a look at Silicon Valley.
Forty-two design firms in the U.S. technology hub have been bought up since 2004. About half these acquisitions were made this past year alone. The 25 startups that got the most venture capital financing were founded by designers.
Google snapped up the two-person website design company Appetas in 2014 to improve its own product design. The market share of its mobile phone operating system, Android, rose in the first quarter of this year in China, accounting for 79% of sales in smartphones, according to the survey by consumer research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. New users are increasingly drawn to the system's elegant setup.
Indian automobile manufacturer Mahindra bought Pininfarina, the agency that has designed cars like Ferrari, Maserati and Rolls-Royce, for $28 million in 2015. Mahindra hopes that the design company would provide "one-stop" engineering services from the initial concept to prototype development, system implementation and testing.
Designers have increasingly played a pivotal role in developing business empires. Lei Haibo, founder of content provider Visual China, said he believes in the "innovation triangle," a theory that a startup has to create products or services with a technological, business or design innovation if it hopes compete with established giants in its field.
"In this era, where technological and business model innovations are almost all saturated, only a designer can save the world," Lei said.
At a design exhibition in Beijing on May 18 — Photo: Tpg via ZUMA
In the past, when a product no longer met consumers needs, the solution tended to be a hardware upgrade. But today, the existing hardware already satisfies consumer needs. "What we should now pursue is better human to device interaction, better user experience, better graphics as well as industrial design," Lei said.
Although the idea of a short rental lease has been around for a while, only one company made an offering stood out — Airbnb. Two of the company's three founders are designers, and they used their aesthetic viewpoint to carry out their concept, which is that customers would not be renting a place as much as experiencing different destinations.
Compared to technological or business innovation, design breakthroughs are more cost-effective. Hartmut Esslinger, the renowned German-American industrial designer who created the design strategy for tech giant Apple in the early 1980s, once said that one of the main reasons the world's economic center moved from Britain to the U.S. was because global creative design had shifted there.
Although China is the "the world's manufacturer," the majority of products it makes are designed in the West.
Design-oriented enterprises are often willing to trade cost-effectiveness for a more refined product. With rising purchasing power, the Chinese are increasingly demanding better quality. Chinese consumers are moving away from buying gold and moving more toward products like Japanese toilet seats. And most of these consumers are young. Consumers are on average 20 years younger than their counterparts in U.S. and Japan, according to data published in May by Chinese retail giant Alibaba.