The Taiwan International Design Competition 2009 (2009 TIDC) received 526 entries from over twenty-one countries, the highest in the contest’s eight-year history, and almost double that of last year.

“As a conceptual design competition for designers and young talents worldwide, TIDC has dedicated itself to interactive design and cultural exchange,” says Tony KM Chang, CEO of the Taiwan Design Center who co-hosted the event.

The competition had two categories: a general section, for product design, and a student section for designers under twenty-six, which also covered visual and digital design. In response to the recent financial crisis and ongoing environmental issues, ‘Restore’ was chosen as the theme of the 2009 TIDC.

“Under this theme, we hoped to explore design as a tool to create new opportunities and restore the world back to a prosperous state,” explains Chang.

Winners were chosen by an international jury of high repute, which included Mark Breitenberg, president of Icsid, Peter Zec, president of red dot and Shashi Caan, president elect of IFI.

“The 2009 TIDC winners were good examples of human-centred design and the importance of the experience of the product,” says Breitenberg, “I often feel that the best Taiwanese product design exhibits a kind of playfulness, as several of the winners showed this year.”

Green design featured heavily throughout the winning products in the general section, with the concept of saving power dominating the top three spots. The gold award went to Zhong-pin Lai and Ming-hong Ye for, Restore Health.

In a paradox of conserving energy by exerting energy, the battery inside this bar-shaped lamp is recharged through the action of human pulling. Aimed at office workers stuck motionless behind their desks, the bulb in the lamp fades after fifty minutes, prompting the user to perform stretching exercises that will repeat the recharging cycle.

Restore Health was praised for its ability to help both personal health and the environment.

Shi-hao Chang and Wen-zheng Xiao snapped up silver with Guide, a rechargeable radio and integrated extension cord. Taking their inspiration from the fact that thirty to forty per cent of the energy consumed by household appliances during their lifetime is used when in standby mode, this duo designed a rechargeable radio that actively stores electricity as soon as standby status is detected.

By putting otherwise wasted energy to good use, this radio will still function during a power cut, restoring connection to the outside world. 

Bronze went to Zheng-xiu Du for Time Switch. Using the principle of clockwork, this light switch has a ring-pull that is drawn to a certain length depending on the user’s need: the longer the length, the longer the light remains on. Their design is intended to prevent lights being left on unwittingly and electricity being wasted unnecessarily.

A witty take on watch design came from Xin-xing Cai with his Take it Easy & Serious. As well as telling the actual time, the watch aims to show the value of time through visual representation.

A wearer can set up how many hours in their day are dedicated to work – shown as the black area on the clock face, and how many hours are for personal time – the white area. Simply shake the watch and the current time is again displayed.

The manipulation of plastic played a central role in Yuan-zhi Xu and Wen-jun Chen’s Flexible Bottle. Rather more imaginative in concept than in name, this drinking bottle is ribbed, allowing it to contract like a concertina as the water in it decreases.

Not only does this save space, it aids the recycling process. Again on the theme of recycling came a quirky design from Xi-kai Zeng called Moulding. Waste paper of any sort is pushed into a contoured plastic bin and then opened, when full, to reveal a paper ‘vase’.

These vases can then be kept as ornaments until rubbish collection day, turning the act of recycling from a chore into something creative.

Several designers expressed the theme, ‘Restore’, in products that related to horticulture. One, entitled aLive, is a self-sufficient pot for growing plants in places without sunlight. After watering, the redundant water in the basin charges a water battery that powers a plant-growth lamp, which in turn prompts photo-synthesis.

So what does the 2009 TIDC, and in particular its winners, say about the current state of Taiwanese design? For one thing, it shows that original creativity is blossoming in a country that, up until recently, has been known solely for its cheap, mass-produced goods and OEM manufacturing.

Where once all design objectives in the product manufacturing industry were set by teams in the west, this responsibility is falling more and more into the hands of local designers. Plus, the keen awareness of environmental issues displayed in many of the winning product designs suggests that Taiwanese designers are finely in tune with global design trends.

If the 2009 TIDC is anything to go by, Taiwanese designers will be stealing more and more limelight in the future. 

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Korban/Flaubert is a Sydney-based design and production workshop founded in 1993 by metal specialist Janos Korban and architect Stefanie Flaubert.

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