Career Path

Designs on success

by Melinda Earsdon

Product design
Alan Yip
Yip Design Ltd

When you stop to think about it, every single item in your home or office has been created by a product designer. From the pot in which you make your morning coffee to the umbrella you carry to work to the phone you use to make your daily business calls; everything has been designed by somebody somewhere in the world. And with so many products originating in Asia, does that mean product design is a viable career option for university graduates?

Hong Kong has always been a crucial market in the development of certain products such as electronics, electrical appliances, toys and clothes, but the market has shifted slightly with the ongoing development of the Pearl River Delta. More and more companies are moving their production facilities to China which, instead of detracting from Hong Kong's economy as many feared, has actually paved the way for it to become the design capital of Asia.

Alan Yip, director of Yip Design Ltd, says, "The Hong Kong government recognises the potential created by this development and has launched a creative industry movement that aims to follow the example set by Japan and Korea, and has been very successful so far. They are actively encouraging the industry to concentrate less on building hardware and more on the design element. As such, now is an excellent time to embark on a career in product design."

"The role of a product designer carries much more responsibility than just creating a pretty product. It is a mission to improve living standards for people around the world"

In terms of personal characteristics, to be a good designer you must be outspoken and capable of presenting yourself and your ideas with confidence. You need to be sensitive to your surroundings and able to create based on the inspiration you draw from your everyday experiences. You must learn how to see beyond an initial brief or piece of machinery and conceptualise how it will look and feel to the customer.

While the government is aiming to increase the number of designers in the territory, so far little has been done in terms of implementing the training courses necessary to facilitate this. At present, there are only two options for study: a Higher Diploma with the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, or a BA in Industrial Design with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Both are good courses and offer a sound background in the basic skills of colour, drawing, perspective, 3D forms, and 2D and 3D design education, but most of what you learn comes from looking at existing products, and you should probably consider working overseas after college to broaden your horizons.

Alan Yip took this route and now runs his own award-winning design and consultancy company. Having completed his studies at PolyU, he won a scholarship and spent a year working for Frog Design Inc in California and, following this, he moved to the Netherlands to work for Philips. Excited by the prospect of improving design standards in Hong Kong, he returned to the territory and founded Yip Design Ltd in 1990. Since then he has designed over 1,000 products covering a broad range of styles and categories including the hugely successful Sushi Roll calculator, which has sold over 1.5 million items worldwide.

On a daily basis, Mr Yip's job is split into two main streams. Firstly, he acts as a consultant for international companies such as Philips, One for All and Nintendo. He explains, "These clients provide me with a brief and I advise them on all aspects of design. Sometimes they already have a sample of the product and I can help to create a new design."

The second stream of Mr Yip's job is where his passion lies. "I spend a great deal of time working on my own range of products, which now ranges from calculators to watches to radios. It is every designer's dream to produce his or her own products and I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to do so. I like to think of my range as being unique and innovative, incorporating a balance of nature with environmentally sound materials to deliver something new and inspirational."

He continues, "The role of a product designer carries much more responsibility than just creating a pretty product. It is a mission to improve living standards for people around the world. I am fortunate enough to be able to do this on a daily basis."

China Opportunities

As China continues to open its doors to the rest of the world, the number of factories and production facilities it houses is increasing rapidly, but many believe it will take up to five years for the country to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of design knowledge and expertise. This is good news for product designers who want to take advantage of the situation in the meantime. Designers who make the move to the mainland will find salaries are relative to the cost of living. There is, however, an alternative. Many Hong Kong designers work for companies that have production facilities in China, allowing them to remain here for most of their time.


Taken from Career Times 07 November 2003, p. 28
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