Its hard to think now that ‘Made in Germany‘ did not stand for excellence, especially when we think about brands like Zeiss, Leica, Miele, Siemens and Daimler-Benz. But at the beginning of the 20th century ‘Made in Germany‘ stood for cheap and tasteless products.
China is in a similar situation, despite being the workshop of the world for all intends and purposes and coming out with some of the world’s most iconic and innovative devices ‘Made in China‘ is still perceived as poor-quality and cheap. All of Apple’s products are made in China but proclaim ‘Designed by Apple in California‘. So maybe China could learn something from early-20th century Germany?
Germany got out of its low quality reputation over a few decades (about the length of the Chinese economic miracle) by forming an organisation with a mix of members drawn from artists, designers and big industry called Deutscher Werkbund. The Deutscher Werkbund was a combination of a lobby group, standards body and catalyst for good design across all disciplines: product design, factories, typography and industrial standards. Their members did landmark work for industrial titans like AEG, Bosch and Volkswagen.
Quality was at the centre of everything that they did. Products became sophisticated in their design. They put a lot of thought into how an identity was instilled through design into the most boring of objects.
An unintended side-effect of the effort of the Deutsche Werkbund was that Germany had a sound industrial infrastructure that the national socialist government took advantage of. The German government closed down the Werkbund in 1938. But it also laid the foundation of the German post-war miracle, the government reinstated the Werkbund in 1949.
China has a government that can make things happen, the companies, the engineering talent, legions of artists and many great designers – it is just a matter of putting these groups together and giving them the permission to do something really great.