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Ed. note: AIGA China advances design education and professional practice in China. Established in 2006 in Beijing, AIGA China shares curriculum developments from U.S. design programs, standards of professional practice prevalent in the global design economy, and inspiration from examples of U.S. design successes. AIGA China publishes translated and original design resources in Chinese on its website, aigachina.org, and in print, provides insights into educational practices and current issues at educational conferences, and represents the interests of AIGA members at international conferences and events. AIGA China consists of Amy Gendler, our Mandarin-speaking director, and several staff members who assist in web content, event planning and outreach. Learn more.
In the story Alice in Wonderland, the heroine, Alice,
falls down a hole in the garden and is transported to a land of fascination and
fantasy. She meets many strange characters and joins in initially unfamiliar
activities such as tea parties and games. In the course of her dream, she
becomes accustomed to the interesting personalities she meets and adapts to
their environment by variously shrinking and growing. She eventually returns to
her world a stronger person.
One of the most
famous lines in this tale is, “Curiouser and curiouser!” It is an apt
exclamation—albeit grammatically incorrect—as it mimics the confusing situation
in which she finds herself. As director of AIGA China, I often find myself
mumbling the same exclamation.
China, AIGA needs to take part in conversations and situations that might make
us cringe. The alternative—shunning the conversation, the involvement, the
connection or the partnership—would be to become outcasts in the very
community we seek to influence. In order to make AIGA China successful, we need
to become part of the system, urging change, nudging change—and also changing
In one situation over
the past year, we discovered that a designer contracted by the publisher of the
Chinese edition of one of our books had plagiarized the cover. We were appalled
and embarrassed. We confronted the publisher—who, for the record, also seemed
appalled and embarrassed—and developed several strategies for dealing with the
situation. We wrote a lengthy letter of explanation and apology to the designer
of the original work, anticipating a sharply critical response. Instead, the
designer gave the situation a virtual shrug. (Curiouser and curiouser.)
Here in China, we are
frequently asked to advise on design competitions. For example, recently we partnered with PoloArts to support the first annual China International Design Competition (CIDC), which aims to promote communication, exchange and interaction between China and the rest of the world by encouraging designers to create innovative work based around the theme of the Chinese dragon. (The deadline for the competition is September 27; more information is available here). Our relationship with CIDC became tense over concerns
about the intellectual property ownership of entered and selected works. In the
competition materials, we noted limits to the rights of the entrants, with
regard to publishing their work elsewhere and to future commercial potential
for the submitted works.
A review of the organizer’s process of developing legal language for the competition revealed that the
English translation was inaccurate, which had caused significant confusion. AIGA
China initiated a review by a legal team, and we arranged for a revised
translation of the terms, which are compliant under Chinese law. After some
very challenging discussions with our Chinese partners, and in consultation
with the AIGA team in New York, we decided to issue a corrected English
translation of the IPR terms and to continue our engagement with CIDC. Just as Alice
shrinks and grows (intentionally, after a while), we too need to accommodate
to the culture in which we operate. We need to be part of the system in order
to change it.
AIGA China (or AIGA anywhere) is trying to bring diverse
communities of designers into the global economy. We have standards not because
we are legal conservatives, but because we believe that design and designers
should be valued, and we choose to set the bar high. In the five years that
AIGA has been in China, our presence has become increasingly important to local
designers, in both tangible and intangible ways. The world around us
has changed dramatically during that time, and many aspects of Chinese society
are struggling to catch up.
We have already
translated materials documenting AIGA’s position on spec work, and we’ve
distributed 30,000 copies of the Chinese edition of AIGA Design Business and Ethics. Over the coming months, we will be
developing a Chinese language outline to serve as the basis of rules for
Sometimes we’re like the frustrated, powerless
Alice jumping to reach the keyhole, and at other times we are the
unintentionally domineering outsider trying to make the local populace play by
our rules. Though the optimal position is somewhere in the middle, the extremes
play to the center as part of the process of moving forward. And we too can
learn from the perspective of a culture that is in many ways so different from
our own. It is in AIGA China’s interest to find the common ground, and in being
here we are already becoming a stronger organization in a better world.
Earlier this year, several board committees were formed to ensure that AIGA is launching its second century as a “sound, accountable, focused and relevant organization.” Read the update from two committees that examined the way AIGA is governed and organized, and whether financial practices are adequate for oversight and accountability.
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