Danish, Scandinavian, and Dutch design is world-renowned, of course – but have you heard of huaren design?
Designing for and within Chinese-speaking, or huaren, communities is still a relatively unexplored area, especially in the Western world. However, with huaren communities making up over a quarter of the world’s population, and soon reaching one billion active consumers, it’s an area that is fast gaining in attention.
The online platform, Design Perspectives (designperspectives.org) was set up to explore this area by highlighting the products, projects, and people that embody huaren design today. The platform then linked with Taiwan’s premier design award, the Golden Pin Design Award, a competition that was originally founded over three decades ago that has now expanded to recognise innovative works from anywhere that is made by and for the huaren world.
One result of this partnership is the Taiwan’s Design Perspectives x Golden Pin Salon series of events and talks. Recently, Kuala Lumpur played host to an event from the series, the first city outside of the Greater China region to do so.
Hosted by the Golden Pin Design Award and the Taiwan Design Centre, the salon was put together here by DDG Taipei and KL’s Tsubaki Studio.
Held at the Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) Centre, the series came to KL after two years of touring 18 cities in the Greater China region, including Shanghai, Qingdao, Hong Kong, and Taipei. To date, 79 speakers have taken to the salon stage to share their work and ideas on Chinese-inspired design.
In KL, three established designers shared their thoughts on the application of culture in design, and designing for and within Chinese-speaking communities: Malaysia’s urban identity designer William Harald-Wong, Hong Kong-based experimental architect and professor Kristof Crolla, and Taiwanese conceptual product designer Rock Wang.
In an exclusive interview with Star2 prior to the talk, the speakers shared their views on various topics, including the appeal of huaren designs.
“I think anybody who is devoted to the design he is doing will make the most of anything he has around him, including his history, education and references, that define what he can do,” says Belgium-born Crolla, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Architecture.
“And I think style is a label put onto someone’s body of work afterwards by historians, art critics, or the public to make it easier to categorise and understand. But if I look at your work or an architect’s work, the most interesting ones are not those who are actively trying to fit in one of these categories but one that makes the most of what is available, and then if enough people like it, then it becomes a movement,” he says.
Crolla views working as a non-Chinese in Hong Kong as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage, as he brings a different perspective to certain things.
“For me, what’s very interesting is that there is a great audacity to just move forward and do things as long as you are confident, and people will buy into what you are trying to do. The speed and dynamism is quite high and that is a great asset of working here in this region,” he says.
Harald-Wong feels that Chinese culture has very deep, long-lasting values.
“This is what I find interesting in designing for the Chinese-speaking world. I don’t speak Chinese myself (Wong is Peranakan Chinese), but I am attracted by its philosophy and concept as well as letter form. Every culture has certain ideas which come from millennia which are still relevant today, so we just need to explore that,” says the award-winning designer who is also founder and chairman of The Design Alliance Asia (tDA Asia).
Wang, a university educator and chief designer at Qiao Design Studios in Taiwan, notes that 20 years ago, many Asians were trying to imitate Western lifestyles and trends, like New York or Scandinavian styles.
“But now, many Western architects and designers try to adapt to life and society in Asia. They try to change their ways, and try to understand the Asian way of life, so I think that’s the change happening,” says Wang.
How significant is the impact of culture on design within the Chinese-speaking communities today?
“I strongly believe there is great opportunity to look at the technology we have today and the essence of the (traditional) crafts that we have built up over the centuries and how those two can be matched (to produce) something greater,” says Crolla, who heads the architectural practice Laboratory for Explorative Architecture (LEAD) in Hong Kong.
One common misconception, Wong says, is to think that culture is stagnant.
“It’s never been stagnant for 5,000 years and has always been influenced by various things,” he says.
Adds Wang, “I think in these past 10 years, especially in Asia, many countries have (formed) their own identities. I always think Chinese culture is like a cocktail; we cannot find pure cultures today. For example, what is the difference between Taiwanese Chinese, or mainland Chinese or Hong Kong Chinese? Each has been influenced by other cultures like Japanese, British or Dutch to become what they are today but at the (core of it is) still Chinese culture.”
Wong feels that Malaysia is in a unique position because the Chinese culture here is still very strong.
“We find different types of Chinese here – those who speak only Chinese, and a little Malay, who are very much in the insular Chinese world. Then we have the Westernised Chinese who don’t speak any Chinese at all, and then we have the Peranakan Chinese.
“The other interesting thing that will really advance the Golden Pin Design Award is the fact that there is an increasing number of Malays going to Chinese schools,” says Wong.
“So within the next five to 10 years, there will be many Chinese speaking non-Chinese in Malaysia, and that is very interesting for the award, because the concept of designing for the Chinese-speaking community has actually expanded in that sense,” he says.
Can a Malaysian snag the top prize?
The prestigious Golden Pin Design Awards is calling for entries from around the world.
The Design Perspectives x Golden Pin Salon was founded by Taiwan’s Golden Pin Design Award in 2015.
The Golden Pin Design Award itself was founded in 1981 by the Taiwan Design Centre and is a prestigious annual design event that is open to entries from companies, organisations and individuals who sell, produce or design products and services within or for huaren, or Chinese-speaking communities.
In 2015, in an effort to cater to changing demographics in the global design industry, the Golden Pin Design Award extended the range of competitions held under the Golden Pin banner to include the Golden Pin Concept Design Award and the Young Pin Design Award (open only to design students in Taiwan).
Collectively, these three awards aim to honour innovation in products and design projects created for and within the world of huaren communities.
In 2016, the Golden Pin Design Award received over 3,000 submissions from countries such as Britain, China, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and, of course, Taiwan.
Submissions were accepted in four award categories: product design, visual communication design, packaging design, and spatial design.
The Golden Pin Concept Design Award is open to young and emerging designers around the world, and accepts design concepts under a yearly theme that is rooted in and inspired by huaren thinking and philosophy; this year’s theme is: “In craziness lies genius”.
Both competitions are calling for entries for their 2017 editions, with entry deadlines set at June 30 for the Design Award and June 28 for the Concept Design Award.
The top three Concept Design Award winners will each receive NT$300,000 (RM42,000).
The winners will be announced in December at a ceremony in Taiwan.
Online registration for both the Design Award and Concept Design Award can be accessed at www.goldenpin.org.tw/en/GPCDA.asp.