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Speech by SCED at gala dinner of Business of Design Week (English only)

     Following is a speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mrs Rita Lau, at the gala dinner of the Business of Design Week today (December 12):

Victor (Lo), Ambassador Berkink (Rudolf), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It is a great pleasure for me to join you for dinner tonight.

     From small beginnings in 2002 the Business of Design Week has grown to become the largest annual design event in Asia and one of the leading design events in the world. We are proud of the fact that BODW serves as a platform for design in Asia.

     BODW provides opportunities for learning and sharing, for business matching, for discussions on design education, branding, intellectual property management, product design and technology. The dinner this evening is an opportunity for you all to catch your breath and pat yourselves on the back for all the hard work over the last week. More important it is a chance to have an informal final chat about that business idea or follow up with that new contact in a more social, less serious environment. Just because the BODW is drawing to a close does not mean that the benefits and opportunities it provides must end tonight!

     Without wishing to keep you from your dinner for too long, allow me to say a few words about design in Hong Kong.

     Here in Hong Kong we recognise that good design can provide a competitive advantage for our industries. But good design is not an easy thing to achieve. Success requires a thorough understanding of the product and users¡¦ needs. It is not a matter of adding trifling details ¡V the ¡¥lipstick on the gorilla¡¦ to use the arresting image of the renowned German designer Dieter Rams. It requires a root and branch look at the product and its use. I am convinced that our Hong Kong designers are well poised to rise to this challenge. To support them, we have taken a number of initiatives in recent years.

     Since 1997, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has adopted a policy that promotes innovation, technology and design, which add value to our products and services and help us stay competitive.  The Hong Kong Design Centre was established in 2001 and the DesignSmart Initiative began in 2004.

     Under this initiative there is a programme called the Design Business Collaboration Scheme. This is designed to encourage SMEs ¡V the backbone of our economy ¡V to make better use of design and branding. SMEs are able to access matching funds to retain the services of a design firm to develop product design or to begin the process of branding. Recent examples include designing a set of ultraviolet sterilising appliances for home use; developing a design concept across a range of kitchen appliances for the European market; and re-branding a fashion house to update its image.

     We intend to build on this to do more. The 2008-09 Policy Address has proposed the establishment of a dedicated Creative Industry Office to offer better support services and improve the use of resources for the creative industries. This will help provide a better focus for our work in future.

     I was really pleased to see that a piece of Hong Kong design research won the 2008 Best in Show Prize at the IDEA awards (International Design Excellence Awards). This was a joint prize: the other winner being the Apple iPhone. Of course, I am sure that the iPhone needs no introduction. On the other hand, I feel it is pretty remarkable for a Hong Kong initiative to be given an equivalent level of recognition.

     I want to try a little experiment. May I ask those of you who are Asian to put up your hand if you have ever had a problem with the fit and comfort of your sunglasses? Do they keep slipping? Or seem to be the wrong size?  How about those of you who have children: Have you been able to find a bike helmet for them that is a good fit? Have you ever wondered why? Well, the reason is interesting and not something I would have expected. Apparently, for the last 50 years almost all products designed in the West have been developed using size data derived from a very specific population ¡VUS military recruits who were measured in the 1950s. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University with funding support from the DesignSmart Initiative saw this and undertook to do something about it. The result is their award winning project, called SizeChina.

     The SizeChina project was undertaken with a very simple yet enormously far reaching objective: to collect data from a sample of Chinese people, to provide a tool for designers targeting the vast Chinese consumer market. This started with the head and further work is now planned to ensure better fitting products for other parts of the body, such as the hands and feet. I congratulate all those involved and thank them for provide fitting evidence of Hong Kong¡¦s all round strength in design.

     The dinner this evening is taking place against the background of the worst economic situation in generations. But I believe that now more than ever innovation, design and technology will be crucial to our continued economic success. There is a large untapped market in the region for consumer products. Producers that have previously been exporting mostly to the United States of America and Europe need to look for new markets and the one on their doorstep is potentially the biggest. As the SizeChina project clearly shows, what works for the consumer in a large US ranch house or European villa may not work for the new consumers in this region.

     Hong Kong designers with their knowledge of products and the regional and world markets are in a good position to help our manufacturers explore new markets with well-designed, affordable goods. Goods, which, I hope, will not only be stylish and practical but also more energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable.

     The Government has been working hard to lay the appropriate foundations for the growth of design and creative industries in Hong Kong. We have done this through strengthening the legal protection for intellectual property; by ensuring that we have efficient logistics, communications and talent to serve the industry; by supporting actively the design sector as I have described earlier. On the other hand, our designers, with their skill in fusing eastern and western cultures and rich experience in bringing overseas businesses into the Mainland and vice versa, are now well placed to benefit from the growth of the Asian and Chinese consumer.  It is time for our enterprises to take the strategic decision and embrace innovation and design to drive value and build their own brands.  

     The Business of Design Week has been fortunate to have the Netherlands as its partnering country for 2008. I wish to thank you, Ambassador Berkink and Consul General Schuddeboom, for the substantial resources the Netherlands has put in to this event. I understand that the Netherlands brought a delegation of over 280 persons to Hong Kong. This is a reflection of the value you place on this event. I hope that all of your delegates have had the opportunity to meet up with local and Asian designers and business people and forge new working relationships and friendships. I really look forward to seeing the results of these collaborations in future.  

     Through your presence here, you have not only successfully introduced the Netherlands creative sector to Asian markets but you have also been able to raise awareness of the enormous talent and creativity that is now so much part of Holland¡¦s national character. The BODW has really been able to take a significant step forward through your country¡¦s participation and your presence here: I look forward to a long and fruitful association between Hong Kong and the Netherlands.

     Before I end this speech, I must ask you all to recognise the Hong Kong Design Centre for organising another extremely successful Business of Design Week, and for arranging sponsorship for this dinner. I would also like to thank all co-organisers, sponsors and supporting organisations, as well as the speakers, for their valuable contributions.  

     I wish you all a safe journey home to wherever you are heading.  For our visitors from the Netherlands, in particular, I encourage you all to enjoy the rest of your stay in Hong Kong and do come back again soon.

     May I take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

     Thank you.

Ends/Friday, December 12, 2008
Issued at HKT 20:15


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