ART4D SPOKE WITH ONE OF TAIWAN’S MOST PROMINENT DESIGNERS OF BUSINESS AND INNOVATION STRATEGIES FOR THE GLOBAL COMPUTING AND MOBILE INDUSTRIES ABOUT HOW HUAREN CULTURE COMES INTO PLAY WITHIN THE FIELD.
During this year’s Golden Pin Design Award 2016, art4d had the opportunity to catch up with Shikuan Chen, Vice President of Experience Design at Compal Electronics, Inc. who was serving as one of the jury members of the awards competition. Our conversation at ‘Not Just Library’ inside the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park provided many insights into the exciting and coming changes happening within Taiwan’s design scene.
Over the past 35 years, the Golden Pin Design Award has been through many years of selection. As a designer who has always paid close attention to Asia and the Taiwanese design fields, have you observed any changes in the selection criteria over the past few years of the Golden Pin Design Award?
SC: Over of the past decade I observed some extreme differences. For example, about 10 years ago, people were primarily looking for a new market and new product positioning within the market. However, today, because of the rise of technology, it has become much easier for designers to produce their products. They don’t need to go through conventional channels to get their products out on the market. The resource now is crowd funding and designers use Kickstarter to raise funds. Not to mention that they can use other resources such as 3D printers to create their own products. But if we look at projects that are based on Kickstarter, only 4 percent are successful at raising the funds required, meaning that 96 percent of them fail, and only half of that 4 percent can last for more than 4 years on the market. So, while you can see that technology has made it easier for people to create their products, a lot of them seem not to work in the end. This means that a lot of waste is created due to the convenience of the technology. Furthermore, many products are not actually confirmed or verified by the market. So while the demand for the product has not yet been verified, they are still produced. So, we can see many different kinds of new cookers or new toothbrushes on the market as technology gives us freedom where the designer can create whatever they like, but at the same time they also bring about a lot of cost in terms of the energy they consume or the material that has been wasted. This also influenced the selection criteria in the Golden Pin Design Award because we have to select 60 projects out of around 3,000 entries. One particular product may really demonstrate the essence of Huaren Culture and be great and sophisticated; however, if we think that the product simply doesn’t have a reason to exist then we’ll filter out this product.
You mentioned that you felt that within this year’s Golden Pin Design Award, most products were able to find a balance between the mainstream commercial market and the Huaren culture value. Could you please provide some examples?
SC: In the spatial design project this year, they’ve done this very well. However, in the product design categories, perhaps there is still room for improvement. But in terms of product design, a good example that I particularly like was done by a designer named Shi-Chieh Lu with a chair that was made of a steel structure with leather on top. If you look at the two elements separately, the steel tube is something that is of a Bauhaus, German and 50s western style. And for the leather itself, it also does not look Chinese either. However, these two elements, when put together and through the shape of the line, actually show a style of the Ming dynasty. It’s very rare that a product can make you feel like this. Also, it is a chair. So, in terms of functionality it is still working very well.
You mentioned that even if a particular product demonstrates the essence of Huaren Culture but fails to have a reason to exist that you will filter out these types of products. So, our question is, could you give us some examples of these kinds of products that you feel lack necessity?
SC: There are a lot of these types of products and as Taiwan has a robot IT industry we have a lot of technology accessories that are produced and which may seem fancy; however, in terms of the functionality, they may not really be necessary. For example, in the entries we see a lot of USB thumb drives in different materials and colors with different cultural characters on them, but, we don’t really need USB thumb drives at this point in time because we are now storing information in clouds and working with cloud computing. So, on one hand we are talking about cloud computing but on the other hand we are producing USB thumb drives for storing the information. So that is to say, during the jury selection process, if we think that a product does not have any influence on the market or that the market may have a better solution, then this entry will not be chosen for the next round.
People confuse design as an element in itself but for me, design is a tool to produce an artifact that makes human beings to have a better life. And, there are times when some people say, “this is the good design” but the core reason for its existence is not there. If we say that design is a tool and that this tool is used to resolve our daily life issues, then if it isn’t needed we didn’t need to have that artifact in the fist place. I don’t judge design from an art perspective, I’m looking at it as if this design resolves an issue and can bring us a better life or not.
If we talk about traditional Chinese culture, we will focus a lot on the divergence of people and the need to be polite, diligent and humble. These are the kinds of elements that we emphasize a lot in our culture. But one wans to have a global vision in terms of their design as well. So the question is, as you are a designer, from a Taiwanese point of view, what do you take on as elements of classic Chinese culture within your approach toward design?
SC: Actually, Chinese designers are doing a better job, particularly in graphic design and also spatial design. And for Taiwanese designers, a lot of times they will have this breakthrough because they are in the corner in the first place and because of the short history that we have in Taiwan. For a long time as a designer I kept thinking, “what is this so-called Huaren culture and what is the Taiwanese culture?” You may say that there is 5,000 years of history for Chinese culture; however, for Taiwanese designers they’re struggling with this because the legacy of China is not ours. So, I would probably say that maybe half of the designers use elements of so-called Huaren culture while the rest are half based on western styles since having come into contact with the western industry very early on in the era of development. So I wouldn’t say that Taiwanese designers are the gatekeepers of Huaren or Chinese culture; however, we can engage with or work with some stronger culture and perhaps we can provide a different taste of Huaren culture.