Understanding Design Utilizations in China: Investigating Design Award-Winning Products Based on Innovation Pyramid Framework
Peiyao Cheng, Cees de Bont


Learning from developments in other countries, Chinese firms heavily invest in design to develop products with differentiated advantages to upgrade their value chains. This research investigates Chinese firms’ design utilization performance by analyzing award-winning products in the past decade. Specifically, we first investigate on what level leading Chinese companies utilized design. Through a content analysis based on the jury’s comments on each award-winning product, results show that Chinese companies mainly utilized the functional and styling roles of design. Next, we further investigate the competitiveness of Chinese firms’ utilization of design in Chinese markets and non-Chinese markets. The comparison of consumers’ evaluations of selected award-winning products was conducted between products from leading Chinese brands and international brands. Results showed that in Chinese markets, consumers evaluated products from Chinese brands more positively than the international ones on all four dimensions (i.e., aesthetics, usage, meaning, and typological). In non-Chinese markets, represented by Dutch markets, western consumers evaluated international brands more positively than Chinese brands overall as well as on the dimension of meaning. Taken together, this research indicates that leading Chinese firms mainly utilize the styling and function roles of design. In terms of competitiveness of design utilization, Chinese firms are competitive on products’ aesthetics and usage, both at the national and international levels. They, however, lack the ability to leverage design at the international level through generating new meanings.

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