Inspiring Design Enhances Brand Image

By Doris Li China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

We first set eyes on Edifier’s Chief Designer Xie Xiaoguang nearly two years ago when two of Edifier’s speakers, M3plus and e20, won the “Red Dot Design Award” in Germany in 2009. However, according to previous experience, China’s achievements in the field of industrial design have never been a bright spot. Thus, it was considered to be “accidental” when Edifier received the top design honor.
In the last year, Edifier has continually received recognition by winning numerous awards. These honors include, the German iF Design Award, Germany Red Dot Product Design Award, the American CES Design and Engineering Innovation Award, Golden Design of China Industrial Design Association, Outstanding Design Award by Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization, and the Best Fashion Design Award at “Innovation Festival” at home and abroad.
These tributes not only exclude fortuity, but also illustrate Edifier’s ceaseless efforts in industrial design. When talking about these international top honors, it is natural for us to look at the chief designer of Edifier, Mr. Xie Xiaoguang. However, he stressed in the interview: “Although the award-winning products will increase brand value, this does not mean that our high-end products are mature enough.” When Edifier’s speakers are exhibited in the top audio shops together with international well-known brands from America and Europe for the first time, and when Chanel’s design director Lagerfeld bought two Edifier M500 speakers in Paris, we can find that such Chinese companies are heading down the path of enhancing and strengthening brands by design.
China IP: Not long ago, Edifier took part in the International Consumer Electronics Show in the United States and won another award. Which product won the award?
Xie Xiaoguang: It is the M500 that won the 2010 Design and Engineering Innovation Award for Audio Products. Before the show, this product was very popular in Europe and the United States and sold well. In the previous show, our product was not good enough for the award, so that we did not participate in the competition. With improvements, M500 won the Design and Engineering Innovation Award in January's CES and gained “Red Dot Design Award” in the CeBIT exhibition this March. Late last year, the product also won the fifth place in the top products evaluated by a mainstream consumer media STUFF in France, in which Ferrari was listed as the third. It was also been awarded the Best iPod Dock in Germany's top technology media ComputerBILD.
China IP: With Edifier products winning international awards, has the company increased emphasis on innovation and design now?
Xie Xiaoguang: Of course, we are not alone in this field. In the current financial crisis, more and more domestic enterprises have to focus on design. However, many companies are at a loss in  the design field. Although Edifier’s products occupy half of the domestic speaker market, most of its products are low-end products. Take the computer speaker for example. In domestic market, its price is only tens of Yuan. Though it sells in a large number, profitability of each product is rather low and its brand influence is not strong enough. After nearly two years of development, now we have chosen the way of enhancing brand value with creative design for sustainable development.
China IP: What is industrial design? What is its connotation? Is product design part of industrial design?
Xie Xiaoguang: Industrial design is not a simple change in appearance or improvement in functionality and performance. These are not the essence of industrial design. Personally, I think good industrial design should not only consider function and aesthetics, but also form unique cultural connotation for the product. Good design shall let consumers fully feel the positive impact brought by the product on their living quality, so that they can understand the value of brand. In some industries, there are goods of the same grade but with different brands which are very different because of different brand concepts created by the products. It is the connotation of industrial design to interpret the cultural essence of the brand or to elevate brand value to a cultural level.
China IP: When did Edifier enter the international market? Did it go well from the company’s inception? What’s the impact of international awards on Edifier?
Xie Xiaoguang: In 1998, Edifier set up a branch in Canada. However, our products did not sell well in Europe and the United States until 2006. With good quality but low price, our products can be said as “best buy.” However, the consumption concept in European and American markets are quite mature and people do not rely on good quality merely. Foreign distribution channels are quite different from the domestic market. Foreign market is usually dominated by several large distributors or chain stores and therefore products that are not recognized by these stores are difficult to sell. At that time, for those European and American dealers with brand awareness, Edifier products did not have the high quality they accredited. Quality is different from texture. High quality often represents high-grade and uniqueness, and reveals personality and uncommonness. That is why the branded product is different from others. Moreover, the product is irreplaceable, which forms the significance and value of the brand. Even though our product had good and stable quality as well as low price, foreign customers still could not recognize its value and preferred to purchase cheaper products from China and then to affix its own brands. The only reason was that our product could be replaced completely.
In fact, this problem is faced by all domestic brands. We started from finding the gap between Edifier and foreign brands. After comparison, we realized that their products were designed while ours were just manufactured; they asked all of the production procedures to meet the requests of design while we did the opposite. In fact, the real people-oriented concept is not only to provide consumers with good functional value and low price, but also to embody the product concept in the brand value and enable customers to fully experience the charm of brand culture, which will increase the added value to achieve win-win in product marketing. Therefore, we intensified efforts in research, planning and design. In 2007, we finally launched our new products with the latest design concept at the CeBIT show in Germany. We found that the opinions of European and American distributors were changed significantly. In fact, they had never looked at us with tinted glasses. On the contrast, we ourselves did not have deep understanding of their demands. When our products truly have distinctive style and our innovation and cultural connotation catch up with European and American brands, we will naturally get their sincere praise and practical return.
With innovation, the award-winning Edifier M500 design opened the high-end retail channels in the international market, improved the profitability of the product, greatly enhanced the brand’s position in the international market, stepped into positive brand competition (i.e., differentiated competition), and increased the overall sales of the full series of products. This is the advantage brought in by industrial design. Now at international exhibitions, a large number of agents are waiting in line to do business with us, which was unimaginable in the past.
China IP: Many Chinese enterprises do not have much experience in the field of industrial design. What difficulties will they meet in new product innovation and design?
Xie Xiaoguang: The difficulties encountered in design and development comes from all aspects. Generally speaking, it is difficult to make the breakthrough. We once got stuck in the product concept problem when developing M500. At that time, the market did not lack of such audio playback systems for iPod or iPhone, so we had to find ways to avoid similarity and to gain irreplaceable features. This means the design shall have a clear market positioning and distinctive original style so as to create a unique aesthetic taste which would make our product unique in the market and generate strong demands from target consumers. In fact, it is also common for international brands to meet bottleneck in developing new products, which is the nature of design work. Domestic enterprises have too few experiences or accumulations in this field and some companies still have no experience of it. Therefore, these companies are at loss at the critical moment of transforming.
China IP: Do you have protective measures for each new product launched at home and abroad? Do you attach importance to patent application?
Xie Xiaoguang: We have specialists who take charge of intellectual property protection issues and we have staff that fights against counterfeits. At present, the counterfeiting products are mostly our low-end products, because the cost is relatively lower. Of course, we lay great emphasis on patent application, but we do not apply design patent for every new product. In international market, high-end products are usually distributed via standardized sales channels. Counterfeiting products would never enter this channel, which is also the barrier set by high-end brands.
China IP: Is the gap between domestic and foreign enterprises large in the industrial design field?
Xie Xiaoguang: It should be said that the gap is rather large. It is still rare for Chinese enterprises to win international award in industrial design. In many supermarkets in Europe, a wide range of products, including TV, fridge, knife and fork and other daily appliances, are all design award winners. Low-quality products have no place in these supermarkets, which is also the brand-based operation model in rich economies. Currently, the overloaded domestic market, serious product homogeneity and overcapacity lead to the severe price competition. Domestic enterprises have been in lack of industrial design practice and accumulation for a long time. High-level design talents are not enough; there is no scientific management or systematic design development procedure; companies have low brand awareness; there is no clear brand positioning and corresponding marketing norms. Therefore, domestic industrial design is still at a low level in terms of the overall industrial concept and standards. It requires long-term exploration and accumulation to raise design level and enhance brand value. Overnight effort will not produce a qualitative leap. Unfortunately, it seems that speculation and fickleness is still the universal value held by domestic enterprises.
China IP: You once said, “Design itself is a kind of constant pursuit, pursuing the dreaming inspiration.” Would you like to explain it?
Xie Xiaoguang: It is generally believed that design depends on inspiration. But I think it is not comprehensive. Design is created by thinking, which is originated from the concern and understanding of human nature. “Inspiration” is the most noble and scarce mental demand in human spirits. To move people, the first step is close concern. This concern should not only be reflected in the exhaustibility and comprehensiveness of product, but in the created value beyond the imagination of consumers, which will ascertain the nature of consumer issues and further satisfy their demand. Products shall sympathize with demands to give consumers the inspiration. Why is brand “branding”? Because the long-term human care of the brand move people and create ever-lasting inspirations.

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