M+ / Design Trust Research Fellowship Grant

Chinese Alternative Design

M+ and Design Trust are pleased to announce that Jason Lau and the team of Farzin Lotfi-Jam and Mark Wasiuta are the recipients of the M+ / Design Trust Research Fellowship 2020. The fellowship supports original research projects that investigate issues relating to design and architecture in Hong Kong, the Greater Bay Area, and Asia through a transnational lens, aligned with the curatorial interests and activities of M+. Lau’s research will focus on ‘alternative’ designs of mobile phones originating in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area, and Lotfi-Jam and Wasiuta will investigate computational urbanism in Southeast Asia.

Jason Lau, a New York–based, Hong Kong born, scholar of design anthropology, will examine the design and impact of China-made mobile phones. With the intention to explore designs that propose alternative models to global conventions, he will focus on selected case studies, including the so-called dumsor phone—a mobile phone designed by a Hong Kong company and manufactured in Shenzhen that has found particular success as an export to Ghana. Lau’s research will consider how Chinese designers use limitations as strategies, how the binary of mainstream and alternative can be redefined, and how unconventional designs can gain global influence.

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Huaqianbei, a place where the Guardian described as “the mega-market” with every smartphone part. Credit: Jason Lau

About Jason Lau

Jason Lau is a fellow and PhD candidate in anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York. His research focuses on innovations in China, with particular attention on mobile phone design. He previously taught at Parsons School of Design and has conducted extensive research across China, including in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. His 2013–2018 study on the paradoxical relationship between innovation and the long-standing practice of imitation in China led him to define the term ‘Chinese alternative design’. He holds an MPhil in comparative literature from the University of Hong Kong and a Master of Arts degree and an MPhil in cultural anthropology from the New School for Social Research.