An inteview with taiwanese on intership in the Czech Republic – about design, inspiration and Czechs.
Good morning, can you introduce yourself? Where do you come from and what is your name?
H: Hi, my name is Pei Chun Hsueh, I come from Taiwan, the city of Taichung, which is in the middle of Taiwan, and I work as a furniture designer.
J: Hi, I’m Chia Chun Chuang, but for my foreign friends I’m John, because it’s pronounced like Chuang and it’s easier for them. I’m also from Taiwan, specifically from the big city of Taipei, and I also work as a furniture designer.
How long have you been working as furniture designers?
H: I am still a newbie, I graduated about a year ago and now I work for a company in the industry.
J: After graduating, I went to the army first, where I spent one year. Then I worked for one company as a furniture designer, but then I went to Europe. I realized I wanted more freedom, and I started working as a freelance designer. This is also how I work as a furniture designer, but also as a print planner.
How did you get to furniture design?
H: For me it’s been fun since college, John and I studied industrial design. Furniture design is something of a dream job to me, because you can create things very close to people. Furniture can adapt your home to the style you want, creating different styles of living.
J: For me it’s pretty simple, I’m interested in the design of structures and I like architecture a lot. From here we come to furniture that also has a given structure and internal logic. I enjoy it a lot, but in any case, we will see in the future, maybe I will devote myself to a different kind of design, I would like to study architecture in Europe. For example, in Finland or Denmark, I like their style. But who knows, the longer I have been here, specifically in the Czech Republic, the more I like it here, so I will see, maybe I would come here again.
Great! By the way, this is not your first visit to Europe, you came here last year for the Model Young Package, which is announced in September.
J: That’s right, we were both here for about a week before, but basically Passed we missed each other and we only met for one and a half days when we went to the award ceremony and won the prize.
H: But we both think it’s a completely different kind of experience now that we have a chance to live here.
Chuang and Hsueh with Model Young Package 2018 winners, second and third from left in first row
I would be interested in your project from the competition, you are both furniture designers, but the Lidfree project you succeeded with is completely different. Why did you decide to take part in the Coffee Mania competition?
H: That’s right, the main reason probably was that we both really love coffee. So, we thought we could try to work on something other than what we are used to and discover something really interesting. We went ahead and immediately started thinking about how to come up with something of value that could benefit the planet.
Okay, maybe you could describe your project to me, for people who haven’t heard about it yet.
H: Sure, Lidfree is the answer to today’s popularity of companies like Starbucks where many people buy coffee that they take with them in a cup. But it usually has a plastic cap. So we said, “Can this be done with another material that is easily recyclable?” The result is a one-piece paper cup that does not need an additional lid.
J: As Hsueh says, coffee is our love. Although the Model Young Package often requires strong graphic design and we are not graphic designers, its last year’s coffee theme fitted us well and it was almost like fate. It was about coffee and we brought our knowledge of industrial design into it.
I understand, then, is this a concept that coffee companies will start using?
H + J: Exactly, that’s what we counted on, so the package is all white so any company can adapt the design.
Thinking about it, how did you actually learn about the Model Young Package?
H: We were continually interested in competitions, because each has its own theme. One day we found this, it was about coffee and packaging. We wanted to try it.
J: Yes, in Taiwan we have a website that is about design and contests, so we look at it occasionally and once we found MYP there.
Thanks to this competition you are on internship at Model Obaly in Opava right now. How often do you come to visit Europe?
J: This is the third time, I’ve visited France, Belgium and the Netherlands before. I felt tired and needed some new impulses. So, it was a little holiday for me.
H: For me three times as well, I visited the Netherlands and France before for a conference on industrial design. Now it is Czech Republic.
How much does the local environment differ from your home?
J: It’s completely different, we are from Asia, which has a different culture, food, buildings, people. Even the logic of thinking is quite different. But it is a perfect experience for designers because it helps us think “outside the box”, using different ways to think about stuff. I’ve been confronted with this before, when I was in France in the past, where I met designers from all over the world – from the USA, South Africa, various European countries. And it was a great experience. And I personally love to accept these cultural differences without determining which is right or wrong. For the people of Asia, Europe is something completely different. I have been to Singapore, for example, but that cannot be compared. And it seems good to me. In addition, it has proved to be good for people all over the world, you just need to open your mind a bit. Even though there is a cultural difference between people, and they are a little scared or ashamed, just open up a little and you will find that people are great.
H: I like life in Europe and I have drawn a lot of inspiration from my travels, exactly what John was talking about. And especially the buildings and streets, I love walking around here, because every building and people bring some inspiration. For example, we don’t have many churches in our country. Here they are so tall and big, and I am fascinated by their construction, which I take inspiration from. I look at them and wonder how I could bring some of their elements into my furniture work.
J: By the way, I think Europe is a very special place because you can just jump on a train or bus and go to another country that has a completely different language and culture. That’s why I want to study here because it’s so valuable to see the differences, especially if you don’t spend so much money on travelling. Taiwan is a small island from which if you want to go somewhere, even to China or Japan, you have to fly, which is quite expensive.
H: Everything is different here, no matter how much you move, such as Prague and Opava, there is such a huge difference between them. Individual parts of states differ a lot, even in France I saw a lot of how architectural styles differ.
J: And nature!
H: Yes, moreover, the history is all around.
And is there something in Europe that really surprised you despite what you have learned in advance?
J: Sure, I did some preparation, but in general I try not to overdo it and prefer to follow my feelings. When I get lost, I just ask someone to help me. My parents told me to look out for people who might not love Asians in big cities like Paris. Yes, sometimes this can happen, but I don’t think it happens that often, because there are a lot of people in these big cities, even from Asia. And sometimes you can get into trouble, but not only in Europe, it can happen anywhere in the world.
H: I certainly did the preparation, mainly about culture, history, etc., because I studied semiotics. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me were the people in the Czech Republic. Generally, people from the West are rarely shy, but here I feel that people are a little shy and don’t want to speak English. And I think that this is not because they do not like foreigners, rather they are ashamed or can only speak Czech. So for me it was like, “Wow, this is the first time I see people in the West who are shy!”
J: Right, but otherwise you Czechs are really nice and you always try to help. And people in Taiwan are similar, sometimes shy to talk.
H: That’s why it’s always great to have someone local with you to tell you how things work around here.
J: Moreover, it is not necessary to speak the same language in a friendship, there is always a way to communicate.
What else would you like to see in Europe?
J: Now we have only one week in Europe, during which we plan to stay in the Czech Republic only, see more things and learn more about local culture. Sometime in the future, we may return and go somewhere farther.
H: For me it is better to stay in one place for a longer time, so I want to stay in the Czech Republic longer, there are still a lot of things to see, even between cities.
J: We want to have a strong memory of the Czech Republic, rather than flying from place to place, taking some pictures and running on. We’ll never see the view we see again, so I want to stay longer and enjoy it. Moreover, we really like it here because of the local people.
You have only three days left of your internship here, can you tell us something about the work you have done here?
H: This year’s theme is Unboxing Experience, so we wanted to link our project to the unpacking experience. So first we started to think what to imagine when we say the unboxing experience. It is important for the designer to travel, and as we work in a team, we discussed our experiences.
J: We met in the office and we had a brainstorming project that came out of this star-based project.
A project based on the stars?
J: Exactly, it came to my mind when I drank wine with my friends, then lied down and stared at the stars.
H: So we thought about how to combine experience and unpacking. The idea is to wrap the experience. Once we were in Korea at the Art Museum; there was a drawing of the sky with stars referring to the moment when one looks up at the sky.
J: So we did something to wrap the stars in. And take it anywhere.
H: So this product expands the human experience.
J: We want people to go in and see the experience.
H: It is a foldable product, its design is inspired by the church in Opava. We took the arches and added them to the product appearance. It then serves as something you can put on your head, but it can be used for multiple purposes, you can make a piece of furniture of it or you can sit on it.
J: With this you can actually relax, we would like to incorporate a speaker with bluetooth into it, to which you can connect your phone with music, but it is not done yet. That would enhance the experience.
That’s really a lot of material in one product, so what would you call it, and what is it?
H: We don’t have a name for it yet, but it’s basically a hat. But he’ll probably have more variations, depending on what he can do with it.
J: We’ll see, maybe it will be a piece of furniture, table, but originally it was supposed to be something like a hat to put on your head.
Do you have any projects you are still working on at home?
H: I work for a furniture design company. I told my boss that I had the opportunity to go on an internship and that I was going away, so I don’t have any work in progress right now. It also took place at the same time as the Chinese New Year, which is a 10-day holiday, so I actually took a shorter holiday. That’s why we chose this time.
J: I have some projects because I work freelance, now I am working on a tea table, I would like to incorporate some elements from Europe into it, such as arches. Every time I try to bring my experience from my travels back to Taiwan and put it into my work. Sometimes it is hard work, but the result is worth it.
H: We are also thinking about our projects. For example, at Lidfree is not only a design but also of business model and we are trying to bring it into reality.
J: Exactly, people drink a lot of coffee, and there is a lot of plastic waste.
Is this solution more expensive than making a conventional cup?
H: Yes, because companies still have to design it to their liking, which costs something.
J: In addition, the material is a little bit expensive and we still can’t talk about mass production.
When we talk about material, what material do you prefer to work with?
H: I mostly work with wood, but overall, all the materials are interesting because everyone is different. I guess I don’t really have any favorite material.
J: I usually use ash wood, which is very bright.
Wait a second, ash, I think it’s more like ash, can we look at the internet, what exactly do you mean by that?
J: Right, enter A-S-H, ASH.
The search engine finds us a character Ash Ketchum from the series Pokémon.
H: Oh, Pokémon, it’s so popular in Taiwan!
Haha, here it was popular as well, about 10 years back, but we know him.
H: Really? That’s good!
Back to ash wood.
J: Yeah, ash wood is quite a popular material, I try to use recycled materials as well, although it is sometimes hard. But I’m not giving up. Actually, paper is pretty good, which can also be recycled well.
Today we talked about inspiration, but where else do you draw it from?
H: Travelling is very important in our lives. But sometimes I like watching movies, each director has a different style and their films have their own…
H: Exactly, the movies can take you to different places and make you think about what led the creator to tell the story, which inspires me. So, I consider movies and travel to be the most important.
J: I don’t watch movies that much, but I like reading a lot. This is like travelling, the author writes something about his journey in the book, and I can imagine it that way. That sometimes gives me the opportunity to travel even when I’m at home. Otherwise, I believe in “Work hard and play all the more”. I like to talk to people and share my experience, which helps me to understand the differences. And one more thing, I love nature because I live in a big city where there is not much nature. So I like to go to nature and just turn my brain off, feel the moment and listen to the environment.
And what would your dream workplace look like?
H: I’d like to work somewhere on the playground. That’s why I like it here in the Model, because there is so much space where one can choose his place and even think and enjoy the sunshine for a while. At the core, I still have a child inside me and I like to play, even with Lego, and try to make my work more pleasant by that. I hate to just sit in the office, but I like going out and I like open spaces.
J: I would like to be everywhere. For example, stay in Prague for a few months and then move to Barcelona. I think it is important to stay in place for some time, to try local life and discover something new. When I get older, I’d like my studio to be somewhere by the ocean where I can watch the ocean, listen to the waves and think about another design over a glass of wine. And beyond that studio would be a mountain and some river. I would like to have a quiet environment in my studio, that’s my dream.
H: And I will visit you!
J: Haha, sure. Anyway, while I’m young, I want to travel and design around the world. I also like to work in a team, even though I’m a freelancer. But once I meet people with the same enthusiasm and goals, we may start a company and then it will be my dream job. But before that one really has to travel to try everything.
What are your plans for the near future?
J: As I said, I’d like to study architecture, so I’m putting together a portfolio to study at a university in Europe. At the same time, I’m trying to save some money to pay for it. Furthermore, I would like to devote myself to social design, to get to know a social problem and to prepare a model for it that will have a positive impact and at the same time pay somehow, so that it is not charity.
H: I found my passion for design three years ago when I was in China. I met a lot of people there who inspired me for design. Now I’m trying to earn some money to get started, and most of all, find my distinctive style. Life is a long way and I already know that I want to be a designer, I just want to find my style that will bring value to the people.
Is there a blog or page where people can follow you?
H: Instagram @x___xue
The last question is: Is there something you want to tell our readers?
*After a while of thinking*
J: Come to Taiwan! It is something completely different than here, but it has a somewhat similar history as the Czech Republic. You broke up with the Slovaks and remained friends. Unfortunately, we do not have such a good relationship with China, but it could be interesting for Czechs. Anyway, as Europeans, I can only recommend a trip to Asia to you, for us it is really valuable to see the differences between our cultures.
H: Moreover, the differences between both people from Asia and Europeans who are excited about the other culture. But until one experiences it, one cannot see how different it is. So be sure to come, enjoy life in Asia and then experience what we do.
And that’s the end of our conversation, thank you very much for your time and interesting answers. We from Model Obaly wish you much success and enjoy the rest of your stay with us.