Taiwan, a country known for its foodie scene, night market, and touchy cross-strait relationship with China, is rarely mentioned for its diversity and creativity, which are inspired by its unique geopolitical situation, its collision between traditions and new identities, and an emerging desire to be heard. All these have sparked new trends and ideas for Taiwan in many areas, from traveling to business; from art to design. At Ketagalan Media, we have been uncovering these emerging topics and stories ranging from culture, business and entrepreneurship, to food. However, design has been a foreign territory even though we are all deeply rooted in Taiwan, merely because there is not much information about design made by Taiwan, in English.

It is out of the same frustration that led Australian curator Annie Ivanova to create “Taiwan by Design”, the first comprehensive book about the elements and influences shaping a new Asian design aesthetic from the beautiful island called “Taiwan”.

The book, which covers 88 curated projects and is written in English, took 2 years to complete, involving visits to 350 companies and 120 interviews. In order to enable more people to know and learn about the beauty of Taiwan, Annie has started a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter equivalent, ZecZec, in Taiwan, to seek support for publishing this book in English.

Below is our interview with Annie about her motivations and behind-the-scenes stories. Also, you can head over to ZecZec to support and bring one book home, or check out Annie’s website for ordering instruction in English.

Ketagalan Media: Can you tell us what made you interested in creating a book about Taiwan? And why design?

Annie: Quite honestly it all started with a sense of frustration. I am an adviser to a major design festival in Australia. Back home there is a lot of interest in Asia (we are a part of the region!), so we try to bring new ideas and connections from across Asia. For the first time, I introduced Taiwanese designers as speakers at the conference. The response from delegates was very encouraging.

I then started looking for resources in English to research, but I couldn’t find anything suitable. I also visited many expos but the marketing materials usually sound too generic… and quite meaningless. I wanted to learn more about the real stories behind the brands or the products. This book is like a travel guide to Taiwan through design.

Ketagalan Media: What makes Taiwanese Design different or unique from other cultures/countries?

Annie: To me Taiwan is fascinating for many reasons. Culturally it is a custodian of crafts traditions that have been obliterated on the mainland. Designers also have enviable access to 50 years of manufacturing know-how and the best electronics industries in their backyard.

Besides, the frequent earthquakes, typhoons, humidity and the high population density challenge them to develop a unique sensitivity. Products tested here can become solutions for liveability problems occurring elsewhere in the world, now and into the future.

These and other factors have created a unique design environment.

Ketagalan Media: Can you share a few of your personal favorite designs from the book?

Annie: We should be fair, I respect everyone’s handwork and creativity. I used five criteria by which to select products for the book. Those that address ecological challenges are particularly important, such as: POLLI-BER BRICK by Miniwiz (a semi-translucent building block that belongs to a new class of composite polymer materials manufactured from recycled plastics enhanced with agricultural waste) or FABRIC GARDEN by Tom Cheng & Taiwan Textile Research Institute, which is the world’s first 3D curved surface textile designed as a soil substitute.

Ketagalan Media: Can you share if you had any memorable experience or encounter when interviewing companies and people for the book?

Annie: The first interview was with Yi-Ting Chen, designer of ‘Urbancage’ sound speaker. We went for a walk around Wanhua Street and talked to merchants still trading with exotic birds. He then said to me : “It’s a sad thing, because technology is destroying innocence. All these gadgets we carry in our pockets inhibit our sense of wonder. Our minds are becoming like caged birds. I want to bring back some humanistic touch to technology, this is why I use the birdcage form.” It was striking to hear this from a young man.

It was also special to interview Arty Peng, the designer of Trip View Bowl who became a big supporter of my project, and I feel very sad he passed away. Arty insisted that I travel to Tainan and visit some of the eateries that participated in the creation of his famous ‘Tainan Bowl’. He said, “you must have the full experience to understand my thinking”: that was a real heart-to-heart interview.

Ketagalan Media: What do you wish people to learn or take away from reading “Taiwan by Design”?

Annie: I strived to present diversity of ideas. Each article reveals something about the design process or the inner world of the designer, their great moments of inspiration. Some designers were willing to share their experiences as business people, and the many challenges they had to deal with to become successful. We can all learn from their stories.

The book is written in an accessible, non-academic style, so that it can reach more people and hopefully present the Taiwanese design industry in a positive and intriguing way to the non-Chinese speaking world.


The Ketagalan Project

History and culture are the frames that prescribe how we understand the world around us. Our co-hosts present in-depth interviews on how art, culture, history and politics intertwine throughout time and space to connect us. Find out about the cosmopolitan modern Taipei downtown in the 1920s, regional trade, the future of aboriginal culture and more.