With its glass and steel display cabinets, graphic art posters and 150 stylish young graduates, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake this place for the headquarters of a global advertising firm or architecture company. The Taiwan Design Centre (TDC) is, however, almost entirely state funded and completely not-for-profit.

Set up in 2004 as part of a government initiative to use creative design as a catalyst in Taiwan’s economy, it now acts as a platform for the promotion of locally designed products to international markets.

One of its main activities is organising international design competitions, at which local designers can showcase their creations to the world’s critics and media. One such competition is the ever-popular Yodex.

This international degree show is the biggest student design fair in Asia, each year attracting nearly 100 000 visitors, many from companies on the hunt for fresh talent.

It is from this pool of talent that the TDC fills its own books. Acting as a kind of creative broker, the Centre offers a consultancy service to local businesses, putting them in touch with designers to work on commercial projects.

Examples of these partnerships are on show in the TDC offices; redesigned soy sauce bottles and reinterpretations of traditional rice packaging being proof of how design is infiltrating even the most basic of Taiwan’s industries.

The help offered to local companies does not stop there. Some of the TDC’s most vital resources are the design and materials laboratories. Manufacturers, students and designers can hire out their Human Factor Lab to test out new products or to conduct research.

Here they will find, for example, an electroencephalograph, which uses an electrode-covered cap to record a wearer’s electrical brain activity while using a new product or interface.

These brainwave reactions are then analysed using an ERP (Event-Related Potential) cognition analysis system, giving researchers valuable insight into users’ cognitive psychology. The lab contains behavioural analysis software plus, for those interested in interface design research, a wireless mobile scene camera that records images of the interaction between user and mobile/handheld devices.

There is also access to an ergonomic database and analysis toolbox known as RAMSIS. RAMSIS simulates the movements of human joints through a 3D model of the human body inside the system and can be used to evaluate the safety and comfort of, for example, the design of a chair or car.

Next-door is a studio dedicated to universal design. Here, design students and manufacturers come to get inspiration for new ideas or to test out products at certain stages in their development. In the studio, kitted out like a real-life kitchen and bathroom, visitors can try out different simulation suits (pregnancy or third-age) or sit in a wheelchair while maneuvering their way around, giving them a deeper insight into the needs of these different demographics.

One particular section of the TDC that brings together manufacturers, designers and students from all areas of design including fashion, industrial and graphic, is the Colour and Materials Lab. In the colour observation area, for instance, visitors can view hundreds of colour samples under various light conditions, such as CWF, UV and A.

The iF International Media Exhibition Area displays over 465 samples of design materials from the iF Material awards, while another materials library displays the latest discoveries in surface treatments and material technologies.

These surface treatments and painting technologies, plus colour tuning, can be physically tested using quality control and colour match software and hardware including a spectrophotometer, rubber hardness measure and grid testing facility.

Perhaps one of the most interesting sections of the materials lab is the one dedicated to materials native to Taiwan. Examples include bamboo, now often used to make underwear, and fish skins.

There are also graphic and fabric printing facilities for those in the print and fashion design sector. And taking up a fair percentage of space is the fully stocked and perfectly organised Library of Design Information with books, magazines and periodicals, covering all aspects of the industry.

Although open to the public, these labs and the library are mostly used by academic institutions, manufacturers and businesses engaging in design research. The TDC reaches the public consciousness through its website (www.boco.com.tw) and magazine, Design, which is sold everywhere from design bookstores to neighbourhood 7-Elevens.

This glossy bimonthly covers the latest in domestic and international design news, with much source material coming from sister Taiwan Design Centres that have been set up in Dusseldorf, San Francisco and Tokyo, their mission being to provide Taiwan’s designers with insight into global trends whilst also raising awareness abroad about a new breed of Taiwanese design.

These new breeds of products coming out of Taiwan are a far cry from the infamous Made in Taiwan brands of the eighties. With the rise of China’s mass-production capacities, Taiwan has been forced to re-identify itself in the trade wars, and the government is using design as a major weapon in its arsenal.

The culmination of this creative drive will come in 2011 when Taiwan is to host the International Design Alliance (IDA) World Congress. The Taiwan Design Centre was fundamental to the success of this winning bid, beating nineteen other countries for the right to hold the congress.

They will act as organisers of the event, which brings together three world-leading design promotion organisations: the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid), the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (Icograda) and the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI).

The hope is that the 2011 IDA Congress will play a pivotal role in placing Taiwan on the world design map.

The organisation of the upcoming congress is already smoothly underway and, if the impressive profile of the Taiwan Design Centre is anything to go by, it promises to be an exciting show. 

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