While musing over a breakfast sandwich one morning in Kenting (墾丁 / ken ding), I came across a fairly strange invention. It consisted of two loops of wires protruding upwards from a plastic base. Curious, I asked what this device was for.

To my surprise it was to hold trash including boba straw wrappers.

In the land that gave rise to bubble milk tea (珍珠奶茶 / zhen zhu nai cha), it’s no surprise that there would be such a device.

After noticing this peculiarity, I kept an eye out for other neat aspects of Taiwanese design and innovation.

What I noticed can roughly be categorized into a few ideas:

  • Improvement as Innovation
  • Multiple Levels of Consideration
  • Organization as Design

Improvement as Innovation

Whereas much of the innovation in the United States comes from focusing on the new and novel, what I noticed time and time again is a focus on improving existing things. “Improvement as Innovation” is taking the standard number 2 pencil and figuring out how it can be made a better instrument to write with, or in this case…

Figuring out how to design an even better toothpick. This toothpick takes into consideration that people may want to use it more than once, but that tables may be somewhat dirty. The end of this toothpick can be broken off to act as a toothpick holder, storing one’s toothpick above the table surface for later use.

Escalators were also one of the many items I saw improved. Oftentimes in the US, walking up stairs can be faster than taking the escalator. This wasn’t the case most of the time in Taiwan with escalators being noticeably better at moving people around. Because they’re faster, people need a bit more time to prepare to offload. A longer distance of flat walkway helps solve this problem.

Multiple Levels of Consideration

When thinking about design, it’s pretty basic to consider who the user is going to be. What’s not so typical is considering other factors like the environment the item is going to be used within. Taiwan takes this to the next level with a focus on a variety of improvement factors.

Take this Taipei MRT entrance, for instance. Its placement might have been dictated by the location of amenities and housing around it—fairly typical. What I found interesting about this was that the entrance was not only covered, but slightly raised. After doing some research, I found that this design helps prevent negative effects experienced from torrential rains and flooding—considerations that extend beyond mere placement of a metro entrance.

Organization as Design

In the US, there’s no way these crackers would have been neatly organized like this.

Organization and, by extension, simplicity typifies a lot of design. Amidst the hustle and bustle of night markets and towering city streets, organization provides a stark contrast that draws the busied-eye in. Perhaps this aesthetic stems from ideas of what it’s like to be a more modern society or borrows from Japanese ideals of minimalism. Regardless, it was always refreshing to see.

All in all, there are a lot of similarities when it comes to good design between the US and Taiwan. In these areas though, Taiwan takes design to another level in a way that only it can.

Have any thoughts on design or aesthetic as you’ve traveled? Let me know below!