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To explore copying as an innovation strategy, designers look to China

Posting in Design

Imagine tweaking the old saying "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" to "imitation is a sincere form of innovation."

This is the attitude behind a set of 26 new objects created by the witty Dutch design collective Droog. Each of the objects, you see, are copies of traditional Chinese designs, such as teapots and vases. Only they're slightly tweaked: the pot has a chic, sleek new handle; the vase is decorated with hip, minimalist stripes. These "fakes" will be on view in a cheeky new exhibition that opens on March 9 in a Chinese shopping mall in Guangzhou. And all of the objects were made in Shenzhen, an area known for its copycat goods.

The show, called "The New Original," is part of a larger initiative, "The New Originality," by Droog Lab, a research arm of Droog. It consisted of visiting China and doing field observations of design practices and hosting workshops there to discuss findings in the context of global design. While the show in China might seem almost stunt-like, the issues that it raises have business relevance.

As stated on Droog Lab's site,

...if we are for or against open design and co-creation, we have to admit that a rigid system of copyright laws can block creative thinking. Since copying is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and is not seen as something negative, we believe China can be a model country for new understandings of originality. “The New Originality” will look to the hub of copycat culture in search of new incentives, new business models, and new ways of developing original thought. The New Originality links copying to innovation.

After all, imitation is obviously a hotly debated topic -- and arguably a hot practice to deploy, depending on your point of view. Just ask fans, employees, and of course attorneys for Apple, Samsung, and other leading global companies who claim they are either copied or are accused of copying. It might be timely (and fun) to follow Droog's lead and explore how Chinese-style imitation can serve as a useful design exercise when done freely and deliberately.

via Dezeen, Drooglab.com

Image: Caveman Chuck Coker/Flickr

— By on March 8, 2013, 3:05 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure