Taiwan’s Got Talent – Series II

Next up on the Taiwan’s Got Talent Series, I interview talented Jing-Wen Jian of Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology, who along with fellow students Chong-Yue Chen and Nai-Wen Chang designed the U-Ride for their graduate project.


Looking like something out of a sleek design magazine with claims to provide riders plenty of freedom in the way they move, the U-Ride is a revolutionary 2-in-1 electric bike and segway, designed to meet the increasing demand for efficient shared public transport in urban cities. Much like Taipei’s current YouBike system, but with a smart and minimalist design, the U-Ride has the potential to play a big role in reducing traffic congestion without compromising convenience, allowing commuters to travel more freely and at an affordable price. Its segway mode is aimed for travelling back and forth at an easy pace – making it attractive to the visitor in search of indulgent sightseeing.

Anything that helps people to slow down but still get around without fuss and is also environmentally-friendly deserves some ovation, so it is no wonder that the U-Ride project was awarded a Young Pin Design Award in the product design category this year at the Young Designers Exhibition (YODEX), as part of the local events for World Capital Taipei 2016!


with Jing-Wen Jian – 22 Years Old


What did you envision for the U-Ride?

The U-Ride is an electric vehicle that could be used in two modes: You can sit on it as you would with a scooter, or, by unlocking the handle you can use it like a segway. We designed this to allow people to move about more freely. The two Touring or Roaming modes take on the ‘Move Free. Move Relax.’ concept. In the Roaming mode you can slow yourself down as well, allowing you to relax. The U-Ride in this mode is no where near as fast as other segways, reaching only 10km an hour. Apart from allowing the rider to relax, it is also useful in multiple situations. You can ride alongside with your friends in a park, for example.

What issues of public transport does the U-Ride aim to address?

Addressing traffic is a major factor in coming up with the idea for the U-Ride. The U-Ride can be used as a form of shared public transportation but unlike popular forms of public transport, the U-Ride is more personal and portable, much like a scooter. Taiwan’s current environment however, is especially inundated with motorcycles. We believe that there’s no need to buy them to get around anymore. From the tourism point of view, visitors can rent one, allowing them to move between sights freely, and in a relaxing way.


Is the U-Ride safe to be used in traffic?

I think we all have the experience of riding a segway or know how it works. Most of them don’t have handles. They’re fast, and can be dangerous. For most people, they’re like toys. We were thinking more from the perspective of transport for visitors – how would the U-Ride benefit them? The difference with our product design is that by including a handle, the feelings of safety is enhanced and it is easier to manoeuvre. And because we decreased the speed, it is rather slow, and therefore safer to ride.

(Video in Chinese)

Why the likes of the U-Ride is so important to Social Design

Shared transport and facilities not only address major issues of limited space and traffic in growing urban areas, but also enhance the general wellbeing of a community, creating greater access for people to get around and enhancing community interaction and cohesion.

In increasingly populated cities like Taipei, the need to minimise waste, be environmentally-friendly, as well as to connect more people to facilities is vital for an efficient and sustainable system. It is also cost-effective to provide social and community infrastructure and integrated transport. The likes of a minimalist yet flexible vehicle that not only has multiple uses but can be publicly shared is a logical solution.

On the psychological perspective, it is also increasingly important to take it easy in a modern and bustling city. Tourists won’t be the only people who could enjoy a slow and relaxed change of pace. And I could imagine only benefits in which the U-Ride would bring to people who are physically incapacitated; who are unable to walk distances but will not remain limited by accessibility to complete the activities they wish to do. The U-Ride then addresses both recreational and commuting factors as well as environmental and social factors which makes it, what I deem to be, a genuinely smart design that deserves backing and further development.

I hope to see more designs that aim to address social and practical issues such as the U-Ride, and wish these bright graduates a promising future!


Taiwan’s Got Talent – Series I

No. I’m not talking about the TV Show. What is even more enthralling and praiseworthy is the talent at this year’s Young Designer’s Exhibition recently held at Taipei’s World Trade Exhibition Centre.

YODEX. The world’s largest student-orientated design exhibition, is the only one of its kind. Graduates from universities across Taiwan and abroad crowd into one place in Taipei to show off their talent as well as compete for one of the most prestigious design awards given to emerging designers.

Held every year in May, the 4-day expo showcases some 4000 projects and attracts an audience of 95,000 strong. Anything and everything design-led is here under one roof. Product design, fashion, visual communication design, spatial design…It’s a buffet for the design-hungry. Not only that, it’s a stellar opportunity to get acquainted with some of the brightest young minds.

For the 9000 or so students who come from 64 universities and colleges around Taiwan, as well as the 13 design institutes across the globe, it is a platform to see the industry beyond graduation; an opportunity to stand out to potential employers and sponsors. Since 2015 year, the highlight for these fresh creatives is the Young Pin Design Award, which will be given to outstanding designs in each of the 7 categories determined by a panel  of judges, all of whom you can be assured hold impressive curricula vitae.

Winners or not, the level of ingenuity here practically pulsated through the Centre this year. I interviewed the fresh-faced designers who have worked on pieces of a particular interest of mine – social design. My next few posts will expand on some of my favourites and their stories.

yodex (2 of 2)


– with King-Hong (Anthony) Au Yeung – 30 years old

Nothing beats listening to the stories of young children to brighten your day. Based on the simple idea of marketing happy stories, just like your feel-good version of HONY, Cheer Up! serves as a reminder that happiness lies in the understated and often overlooked. Designed by Xin-Qi Lu, Hsueh-Chi Wang, Yung-Bing Wang, Bing-Cheng Wu, and King-Hong Au Yeung of Ming Chuan University, the project exhibits the stories of children from rural schools. Complete with bright, light-hearted posters, leaflets, a 3D book, and even an interactive happiness vending machine, Cheer Up! won a Young Pin Award in the visual communication design category.


What was the motivation behind designing this project?

In today’s society more and more people are finding that there are many aspects in their lives that are becoming too convoluted and difficult. It can be hard for someone to feel happiness. We hope to encourage our audience to return to moments in their childhood that made them happy. To know that happiness is in fact a very simple thing. It’s also a reminder to them to always preserve that childlike mind. That by returning to thinking in a simplistic way, being happy is an easy thing to do.

Thinking more simplistically…in which way?

It can be as simple as drinking a glass of water on a hot day; eating till you’re full. Just like what these kids speak of.

What have you personally taken away from working on this project ? 

Having worked on this project I often ask myself, why is it that when we get older we complicate matters and lose sight of small accomplishments that makes happiness attainable. I now can go back to thinking more simply, just like when I was young: ‘I want to do something fun’, so I go out; ‘I want to eat well. I want to sleep’, so I do these things. We as adults make our lives more complicated than it really is. The project taught me to be more aware that it is the little things which makes us happy. I hope that our work can bring this same sentiment to our audiences.

yodex (1 of 2)
The wonderful idea behind the happiness vending machine is to exchange happy stories and to keep the cycle of happiness going. By adding your own story of happiness to the machine, you will then receive the booklets and pamphlets which detail the happy stories of school-children.

If you missed out on YODEX this year, don’t despair. Works from graduates that were on display at YODEX are also currently on exhibit at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. As part of the World Design Capital Taipei 2016, there are even more events coming up so check this events calendar to stay up to date!

Keep an eye out for Series II where I interview 22 year old Jian Jing-Wen from Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology on her collaborative project, the U-ride, a two-in-one electric bike and segway.

Design as Development

What comes to mind when you hear of design? Something trendy like fashion? A plan or blueprint of a building of some sort? Perhaps it’s something more aesthetically pleasing, say, an art piece or something from a home decor catalog. Or to those with a practical mind, it should cater to your needs, like the mobile phone we all depend on so much.

Whatever is your answer, you are not wrong. Design connects a great number of disciplines and its application is varied. But what should strike people the most is that design is no longer just associated with creating something pretty and functional. Design is now involved in solving some of the world’s biggest problems in an innovative and creative way.

That’s what social design is. Whether it’s creating something that has never been thought of before, or making systems run more efficiently, it is about using the process of design to bring about social change and make lives better.

Design Solution – Swedish Design for 170 Years (on at Songshan Cultural Creative Park unil 10 April 2016)

You may not already realise that it’s already happening around you. When you select that Ikea couch thinking it’ll just match with your interiors for a good a price, you were unlikely aware that there was a whole process into making it not only a quality and good-looking piece of furniture, but affordable, and therefore accessible to you. Don’t you feel great when you have more quality choices within your means to choose at will? Now imagine that on a large scale. And instead of choosing a couch, you are able to choose better education, smarter ways of travelling, a more comfortable place to live – basically, you’re able to exercise greater individual agency in every aspect of your life.

We are recognising that design creates more opportunities for people to do this. World Design Capital (WDC) acknowledges a city’s efforts and accomplishments in using processes of design to make cities smarter, more efficient, competitive and liveable, and by doing so, people’s lives are improved.  Awarded biennially, this year’s  World Design Capital goes to Taipei.

Last week on 18 March at Taipei’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the International Design Gala as part of WDC‘s Signature Events paid tribute to the efforts and achievements in the Design community. Most notably the World Design Impact Prize 2015-16, awarded by the International Council of Societies for Industrial Design, celebrates feats in design that contribute to the process of social change. Change such as solving the world’s water crisis by producing and storing clean water in places that need it most.

Warka Water is a water tower that harnesses water out of thin air. The structure, made of bamboo, plastic and rope, is dependent only on natural phenomena such as evaporation and condensation to collect water. Designed by Architecture and Vision to be easily set up and maintained by locals with minimal environmental impact, Warka Water is a cheap and sustainable way in harvesting our most fundamental resource.

Inspired by stories of which villagers who need to walk for hours to collect water, the Warka Water allows locals to source water easily under shelter.

There are many design projects like Warka Water that has a strong vision towards solving social problems, most of which is collaborating over a number of disciplines previously considered incompatible. Refugee Housing Unit, for example, is a partnership between UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Ikea Foundation to build innovative shelters with improved living conditions for people displaced by conflict and natural disasters. Ikea’s well-known expertise in flat-packing and assembling units coupled with UNHCR’s considerations to the social and cultural values of displaced people, resulted in not only providing the basic necessity for shelter, but promises to uphold human dignity and thoughtfulness in the most desperate of times, something that is easily forgotten during conflict.

The Refugee Housing Unit or Better Shelter takes on the underlying principle of any assembling furniture from Ikea. Only 4 people and anywhere between 4-8 hours to assemble. Photo courtesy of Better Shelter.

When design meets multidisciplinary cooperation as such, greater holistic solutions are formed. That’s why entities such as 5% Design Action is so important. The winner of this year’s Social Design Golden Pin Award, also at the International Design Gala in Taipei, is a think tank that incubates and put design ideas into action by linking professionals over multiple disciplines to co-create solutions. The idea behind it is to ask people use just 5% of their time to focus on social innovation, discuss social issues and put solution ideas into practice.

Such entities are quickly changing the way we understand design. We see that it is now becoming accessible to people who need it the most, the poorest of the world’s population, who have previously been deprived of design ingenuity. Though there is still much to be developed and promoted in the area of social design, it is hard to not be impressed by the vigour that comes from designers determined to help.

When I asked cofounder of Warka Water, Arturo Vittori what he would say to cynics of social design, he calmly responded with the following:

With great innovation there is always great risk. I am ok with criticism. We do not pretend to solve all problems. Rather we lead by example. Mistakes are learning tools [and] we tweak designs to adapt to [changing] conditions. But what I think is important is that we don’t compromise on beauty and authenticity. If there are issues, we try again.

Design for development in itself is an ever-developing process, and I don’t think design could be much more intrinsically authentic and beautiful than that.

With Arturo Vitorri at the media forum of  WDC’s International Design Gala, Taipei 2016

The city will play host to some major international design events throughout the year now that Taipei has been chosen as World Design Capital for 2016. It’s an exciting time for Taipei and if you happen to be here like I am, there’s plenty more to explore in the world of design! Check the official website for more events and details.

New Year Traditions in Old Taipei

I’m sitting in the still of the night of Lunar New Year’s eve, feeling mildly astonished with today’s sudden quietness compared to the recent experience of jostling through one of Taipei’s busiest streets during the Lunar New Year festivities. If you are a visitor to Taipei during around February, without a doubt you would have heard to hit up Dihua Street in Dadaocheng (迪化街,大稻埕) for its hustle and bustle as locals prepare for the new year.  The usual quiet and calm of old Dadaocheng will abruptly change, becoming loud and spritely of people eager to prepare for Taiwan’s most important celebration. I was one with the throng of people yesterday, sampling all sorts of delicacies that would only be be found this time of the year.

Dadaocheng is one of Taipei’s oldest districts. A wander through the area will give you a rough idea that this is the place for tea, Chinese medicine and old architecture. It became a popular base for foreign exports in tea and textiles after Taiwan opened its doors to Western trade following the Second Opium War (1856-1860). Dadaocheng quickly grew as one of Taiwan’s largest cities at the time, attracting locals from all over Taiwan and foreign merchants alike. Soon after the Japanese built the railway system, connecting major commercial ports such as Tamsui and Keelung to Taipei however, Dadaocheng’s importance declined and major companies left the city for greener pastures.

An example of the unique buildings of Dihua Street. Tall and narrow, this is typical of Ming-style houses. However the obvious influence of Western-style adornment shows just how rich and diverse Dadaocheng was in its hay day.

These days, Dadaocheng is a popular destination for visitors wanting a glimpse of Taipei’s glory days. A stroll down Dihua Street will leave most architecture geeks giddy. From Fujian and Japanese Colonial style buildings, to those of the European Baroque and Classical periods, these nostalgic facades are enough to impress even the most architecturally unphased. Thanks to heavy restoration, many buildings have been salvaged and repurposed for creative spaces. ArtYard1 for example was once an age-old Chinese pharmacy that was left abandoned after a fire. The building is now an interesting boutique and coffee shop, selling ceramics, textiles and vintage books.

This eclectic mix of old and new, of puppet museumsart galleries, Chinese apothecaries, tea houses and temples, breathes new life into what was once a forgotten reminder of Taiwan’s past, making Dadaocheng worthy of your time for some urban exploring.

Yesterday however, the nostalgic imagery gave way to roadside stalls and makeshift tents housing vendors hoping to bring in the new year with even more wealth. Meanwhile locals look to get their hands on the necessities for the eve’s dinner and what would follow it, a whole week or more of continual eating, drinking and merriment. Just like what Christmas is to Western societies, celebrating Lunar New Year is heavily dependent on gathering with family and friends and feasting appropriately. By which that means, eating plenty and eating frequently. The cultural belief that by bringing in the new year with such abundance allows for the rest of the year to be just as lavish and bountiful is further incentive to bust out that wallet, forget about budgeting (don’t be stingy at new years or for the rest of your days in the year you’ll be scrimping), and buy whatever it is that will complete the dinner table and adequately serve your guests.

So it is no surprise that locals flock to Dadaocheng in the week leading to Lunar New Year. The area became a huge purveyor of not only traditional food and snacks, but also decorations. Hand-painted calligraphy is particularly welcomed here as it is tradition to grace doors and gates with well wishes written on bright red paper to bless all those who pass through them.

Though the market heavily stress old Chinese tradition, people from all walks of life were seen jostling about. Whether elderly or young, the local or the foreigner, everyone wanted to take part in this atmospheric scene that only takes place once a year. As I waddled along with the crowds with my friends, sampling everything we could get our hands on, I took in the sights and smells of not only delicious food, such as what probably is the most delicious roasted pork knuckle and hock ham I’ve had to date, but also the unique odours of strange-looking roots and herbs, which come from the Chinese apothecaries that line the streets.

I am not one that is too fond of crowds, but I felt every bit revitalised experiencing Taipei’s greatest Lunar New Years market. Taipei falling into a sudden sleepy slumber while shops close and families retreat back to their homes on the eve of the new year made it especially reassuring that I didn’t miss some of the excitement. Having our own traditions when it comes to celebrating Lunar New Year in my family, it was rather comforting to come across some imagery that I hold close to heart despite not being with them.

The sporatic sounds of firecrackers and fireworks are now being heard around the neighbourhood, marking that the Year of the Monkey is finally here.

And with that I wish you all a very happy year ahead! May luck, good health and prosperity follow you wherever you  go!

新年快樂, 萬事如意!!!

The Taiwan Good Life

Then, she began to breathe, and live, and every moment took her to a place where goodbyes were hard to come by. She was in love, but not in love with someone or something, she was in love with her life. And for the first time, in a long time, everything was inspiring.
R.M Drake, self-published writer

Life here in Taipei is coming along swimmingly.

It took about a year of planning for me to get here. From when I applied for the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, quitting my job after my application was successful, to making the big move… I’ve made a few changes to my life to fulfil my wish to speak Chinese fluently.  So I have made studying a priority and have been actively searching for ways in which I could learn more swiftly.

But what followed with it has really taken me by surprise. Through a whirlwind of random encounters, Meetup activities and basically staying true to the ‘Make It Happen’ mentality, I have already realised my goal of living the good life. It hasn’t been without some tribulations, goodbyes and heartache, but it has all been for something very worthwhile.  I am constantly challenging myself, surrounded by kind and generous people, and taking part in the local adventures.

I’ve experienced my first real earthquake in the most inappropriate of times (fresh out of the shower and naked as the day I was born); stood by my balcony watching Typhoon Soudelor hit Taipei, only to witness my own flyscreen get ripped off its hinges; I am now excellent at avoiding crazy taxi drivers whilst zipping around the city on a U-bike, and have even learnt to love stinky tofu.

The past six months have seen me making new friendships, discovering urban backstreets, keeping my belly happy (despite the food poisoning incident), and taking on more activities than I’d initially intended to do…like learning how to ride a scooter in Yangmingshan after dark, or multiple throwbacks to ten years ago when dancing to the wee hours of the morning wouldn’t have rendered me so haggard.

But fear of a scooter accident and severe sleep deprivation aside, it has been a wonderful journey that I never want to end!

In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been here that long, but it has been such a pleasure for me to adjust to life here that I often don’t yearn for my hometown. I’m not just getting used to a change of lifestyle anymore. I don’t feel as though I’m trying to fit into a new country. Somehow Taiwan has moulded my life into something better than I expected…as though I’ve been here all along. It’s liberating, and the contentment I feel – well, I really can’t explain it! If you are or were an expat as well, I’m sure you will understand what it’s like to be drawn to a place and build your life in that very place you love. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but I feel right at home here in Taipei and I am seeing different sides of Taiwan that makes me fall in love with this little island more and more.

I am excited by the prospect of another fulfilling six months, and hopefully I’ll be able to speak Chinese fluently by the end of my time here.  As long as I could help it though, that day will be pushed back further and further away!