They mean business

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2007, 12:00am

A few decades ago the concept of branding as we know it was practised by only the canniest of radicals, and although advertising was big business, its strategies were limited. But a new generation of designers is taking a more comprehensive approach, crafting corporate identities to such a degree that when a fashion or fast-food firm decides to overhaul its image, its customers get nothing less than a full-scale aesthetic assault.

At this year's Business of Design Week the message will be: design is shaping our world - get on board or miss the boat.

The event boasts more than 30 speakers in its main forum, which in past years has hosted luminaries from Frank Gehry to Jimmy Choo. Each will bring advice on brand strategies, insights into new trends and tales of their own experiences.

'Most design events focus only on designers but we bring the two worlds together,' says William To, project director at the Hong Kong Design Centre, which is organising the fair. 'We want businesses to see the value of using good design.'

This year, British-based product designers Marc Newson and Tom Dixon, and Italian architects Mario Bellini and Massimo Iosa Ghini, will lead the international delegation. From closer to home come Tony Suppattranont, creator of Thann, a hip Thai spa-product range, and Taiwanese graphic designer Pao Imin, who heads PPGroup and a string of magazines, including Shop, a fashion and luxury living title.

Pao says: 'This is now more than ever the best time to be in the creative business because it's an essential partner for everything we do. Being a designer in this day and age ... it almost reminds me of the Renaissance, when arts and science were at the top of their game. We're at that level. With the economy booming, everyone's looking for new things and design plays an integral part.'

Pao will advocate the cross-pollination in design that sees designers from one sector extending their work into others. It isn't a new phenomenon elsewhere (Philippe Starck has designed pasta and Marc Newson a plane), but one that is still emerging in Asia as architects turn out kitchenware and interior designers give us books.

Ghini will be introducing the latest book about his work and Suppattranont plans to discuss how oriental culture shaped his spa line.

Asian designers suffer from the region's shady reputation for copying, and IP Asia - a workshop on the sidelines of the event focusing on intellectual property - will probably draw a crowd.

'IP protection and strategy is very important to design and creation,' says To. 'For all those thinking of taking their business to China, it's is always a very hot topic.'

Legal tips and production technique debates will help designers fight manufacturers that steal their designs and then churn out shoddy replicas.

The gala dinner will feature a charity auction of hot designer pieces and an exhibition based on the Design for Asia Award will be open throughout the week.

The auction this year has an added twist. To celebrate a decade since the handover the Hong Kong Design Centre has 'buddied' 10 top local designers with 10 international firms in a project to design limited-edition products. Eric Chan and furniture firm Herman Miller have come up with Ecco 9707, a sturdy, modern bamboo chair, and Gary Chang's Treasure Box for Urban Nomads is a copper travel container designed with homeware firm Alessi. The products will be on display at the exhibition before the auction and also sold through the brands' own channels.

The event's regular outreach exhibition, Detour, has traditionally tried to coax delegates out of the Convention Centre to experience Hong Kong's 'living design' (last year organisers handed out maps that highlighted galleries and shops in Western) and this year there is a list of 30 hot cultural and design-related events around town.

'It will involve student exhibitions or going to nice bars,' says organiser Jonas Chau. 'There will be in-store exhibitions. Ztampz has a local fashion photographer in, and Life of Circle's Dickson Yewn has teamed up with Charlie Young to launch a line for charity.'

There will also be tram tours led by local architects and product design exhibitions at Innocentre in Kowloon Tong and the Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, at which Italian design will be strongly represented. And although the organisers hope the event will challenge those who attend, a key part of that challenge may be how to fit all the aspects of the show into just one week.

Business of Design Week, Convention and Exhibition Centre, Dec 10-15. Go to