Design Thinking

A Force for Innovation in Local Governance

2019 / April

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Bruce Humes

Acalling card infused with Tai­tung’s local color that immediately conveys what makes this place unique. An unassuming stool in red plastic that transcends national boundaries and has become the symbol of a bond between the residents of Tai­nan and ­Osaka. In recent years, government departments have begun to apply the modes of thought of professional design to the business of urban administration. This has not only resulted in a refreshing new look, it has also strengthened residents’ pride and confidence in their own cultures.

One such transformation has occurred in Tai­tung, one of Taiwan’s most remote counties. Typhoon Nepartak wreaked havoc on it in 2016, but also served as a turning point, stimulating the authorities to integrate design thinking into public policy, create an exclusive “city brand,” and inaugurate the first-ever county-level design center on the less-developed eastern side of Taiwan.

Design drives Taitung innovation

What is design? “Design is part of our lives,” explains ­Chang Chi-yi, CEO of Tai­tung Design Center (TTDC). “It doesn’t merely grapple with the basic question of what is or is not ‘beautiful.’ It should provide techniques and solutions to resolve problems.”

A native of Tai­tung, ­Chang originally returned to his hometown to serve as deputy county commissioner. His actual job title should have been “aesthetics director,” he confides. At the time, Commissioner ­Huang Jian­ting made use of ­Chang’s expertise to ensure Tai­tung’s aesthetic appeal, and henceforth the city embarked on a path toward quality control and innovative concepts.

A challenging period of acclimation, however, was required before “design thinking” achieved widespread consensus within the county administration. Established in 2017, TTDC was originally under the International Development and Planning Department. “County government departments weren’t prepared,” says ­Chang, “and the center was often perceived as just one more body engaged in oversight and micro-­management.” Later the center reported direct to the county com­missioner, and established a project office. Meanwhile, the idea of the center’s function was re­visited. Its work was “ideally not to frequently intervene in the execution of projects themselves, but rather to introduce good ideas before everything is set in stone. If appropriate strategies are first elaborated, then as projects proceed things will naturally fall into place.”

In ­Chang’s view, frontline civil servants at the local level are often overburdened by administrative tasks. They haven’t spare time to carefully consider what the underlying policy is intended to achieve. As a result, in most government projects officials simply focus on completing the procurement process, but when a project is conducted in this way it often fails to meet core goals. ­Chang explains the center’s role via a simple analogy. “When you visit a doctor, you don’t choose the one who charges the lowest fee, right?” he says. “You seek the one whose expertise lies in the appropriate field, and who has the best reputation.” The center’s role is to flag core issues for county government departments during the early phases of project planning, pose the right questions, and then, in keeping with the needs of the project, to be familiar with Taiwan’s best organizations and the nature of the services they can provide.

In 2018, the center invited Plan b, a private-sector consultancy and planning firm, to jointly promote the introduction of professional design concepts in Tai­tung. The former railroad police station in Taitung City, then idle, was refurbished to serve as the site for the TTDC. For both logo design and exhibition space, designer Feng Yu employed a “window” image that symbolizes the world as seen from a design perspective. Via this window one can both “observe and explore” and “discover and create” Tai­tung’s future. 

Conveying “authentic” Tainan

While Taitung hopes to create a unique “city brand” via design, Taiwan’s oldest urban center—Tai­nan—­intends­ to use design to convey its genuine persona.

In 2015, when direct flights were inaugurated between Tai­nan and ­Osaka, the Tai­nan authorities ­contemplated how to attract Osaka residents to visit. Sue Wang, then dir­ector of the Tai­nan City Tourism Bureau (and now deputy mayor), points out that overly commercialized marketing of a city doesn’t communic­ate anything particularly true; it simply facilitates price-based comparisons. “You can’t really say that’s a method for accurately conveying a city’s reality,” she comments. “We decided to highlight motivators for a visit, rather than focusing on Tai­nan as a tourism market. That meant creating an urge to visit Tainan.”

Wang decided to hold an exhibition that could highlight the “true face” of Tai­nan. The Tourism Bureau sought out C.W. Yu, general manager of L-instyle Boutique Travel Services, founder of Join Cultural Integration Company, and a pioneer in promoting small-scale travel within Taiwan.

What makes Tai­nan what it is? “We like to say, ‘Taiwan’s loveliest scenery is its people.’ Yet we never utilize people to communicate this in depth,” says Yu. In order to convey the real Tai­nan, Yu’s team contacted several locals to share their “Tai­nan story”: Li Wen­xiong, owner of Lily Fruit, a shaved-ice shop; paper-cutting artist Yang ­Shiyi; Feng Cha teahouse boss Ye Dong­tai; Cai Zong­sheng, owner of Sai Kau Kin Old House, built in 1897 and now functioning as a bed and breakfast; ­Huang Ding­yao, executive director of the Togo Graceful Farmer Art Factory; art conservator Leo Tsai; and award-­winning singer-­songwriter ­Hsieh Ming-yu. “This is the requisite ‘human angle.’ When we believe that behind each resident there is a story worth telling, then aren’t a city’s stories inexhaustible?” says Yu persuasively. 

The ubiquitous red plastic stool that dots the city’s food stalls was selected by Yu’s team to serve as Tai­nan’s icon. Deceptively simple and unadorned, the robust stool fears neither sun nor rain, and—not unlike the character of the Tainan­ese—it is welcoming and depend­able. The sight of a group of the bright red stools brings to mind the hearty local greeting: “Take a seat!” At the annual “Red Stool Travel Club of Tainan” exhibition in Osaka, each stool is used as a stand to display an item that represents a “Tai­nan story,” and carries with it an aspect of life in Tainan.

Find the right person and move forward together

The Japan Institute of Design Promotion, which tradi­tion­ally emphasizes innovation and sleek design, surprised the design world by recognizing the Red Stool Travel Club with a Good Design Award in the category “Activities for Regional/Community Building” in 2018.

Scouting for the right partners has turned out to be the key to success. Over the last two years, Yu has visited Japan with an eye for issues related to “regional revitalization.” “How the government identifies private-sector partners who share common goals, and then nurtures trust and open-minded collaboration, is absolutely crucial,” he says.

“No matter what problems we’ve encountered, we’ve never lost faith in one another,” says Wang. For government projects, there is a certain verification schedule to be followed. But Yu always tries to win more time for collaborating artists. “A little more time can mean increased opportunity for inspiration to occur.” On the other hand, execution of a project depends upon a reasonable pace in order to culminate in a satisfactory outcome. At times like these, Wang must make a professional assessment from the perspective of the commissioning department, and determine the maximum permissible delay.

After deciding to join forces with Tai­tung Design Center, Plan b’s founder and senior partner Justin Yu called on various departments of the county government. Senior officials “were really very fond of Tai­tung, and put the county’s interests first in considering all matters,” relates Yu. “That was truly remarkable.” For deputy CEO, ­Chang Chi-yi selected Lo Shu-yuan, who possesses abund­ant experience in business, to liaise between county departments. This included communicating with the accounting department to grant the design center greater flexibility regarding procurement standards for projects, and bringing in professionals from different fields in order to achieve optimal results from the design-driven approach. “The key performance indicators that we set require our partner to deliver three key projects that can exert public influence. As for what sort of projects they would be, we have left the content undefined,” says Lo.

“It is true that we are challenging past procurement practices in terms of key performance indicators.” For anyone knowledgeable about the procurement process for government-commissioned projects, Lo’s description would sound rather surprising; just in terms of the difficulty of persuading the accounting office, defining the phrase “exert public influence” would suffice to sew utter confusion, chuckles ­Chang. “But we believe that if we introduce professional teams into the process and give them space to function, they will generate social influence in and of themselves. And that will be the result of our collaborative efforts.”   

This year TTDC launched a campaign to redesign the county government’s business cards. Centered around the theme of Tai­­tung’s mountains, sea and sky, elements such as rice, sugar apples, flying fish, San­xian­tai Island, Kung-Tung Church and hot air balloons appear on the cards in sketched form. “Besides aiming to convey to local residents the problems that the design center hopes to resolve, the county’s redesigned calling cards are exchanged daily and therefore can help recipients discover what makes Tai­tung different,” explains Yu. “This point of difference implies that Tai­tung is open to accepting a greater variety of new possibilities.”

Small item, big impact

A visiting card embodies Tai­tung’s unique culture, and communicates how it is changing. “Perhaps it isn’t a big thing, but it can have a big impact,” says ­Chang. What other counties and cities have not been able to do, Tai­tung has achieved via this petite but widely influential item. “So we are the ones lighting the torch, driving the public sector to imagine opportunities for innovation by working in tandem with the private sector.”   

Meanwhile, the red plastic stool has become a symbol of Taiwan in Japanese eyes. At the closing of the annual exhibition held in Osaka, the organizer encourages attend­ees to take a stool with them as they leave. At first some locals told Yu that attendees would be averse to be seen transporting a stool home on a train, but in the event, each and every one was snapped up. “It’s emotions that cause us to do the irrational,” says Yu. The red stool connects the ordinary people of Japan with ordin­ary Taiwanese. “This isn’t about price, it’s about value.”   

“A red stool is actually an inconspicuous element in our lives. But if we have the confidence to present such an element to others and concede that this is us, that signifies that we have the courage to face up to who we really are,” says Wang. She has constantly been hoping that tourism can be correctly perceived, and thereby help more people get to know Taiwan and understand that this is a country that maintains freedom, demo­cracy and human rights despite adverse conditions. This realiza­tion is the unseen raison d’être for tourism—to convey this message to more visitors.

We continue to look forward to a wealth of possibilities generated by design-driven innovation.           

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文‧鄧慧純 圖‧莊坤儒









2018年,設計中心邀請民間專業企畫團隊Plan b加入,共同驅動設計導入台東的理念。並活化閒置的台東鐵路警察局,作為設計中心的實體場域。空間保留原初建物的質地,設計師馮宇在LOGO設計和展間運用「窗」的意象,象徵由設計的視角切入、透過窗戶「觀察探索」與「發現創造」台東的未來。常設展「台東未來生活提案所」則邀請民眾從自身不同的生活經驗及視角出發,寫下對台東未來的想像。








「台南紅椅頭觀光俱樂部」不僅連續兩年獲得國內指標創意設計獎項的肯定,更讓素來注重創意和質感的日本驚艷,在2018年獲得日本Good Design「地域‧社群創造」類別獎項。



而原本不太接觸公部門案子的Plan b創辦人游適任,確定成為設計中心的夥伴後,曾拜會台東縣府各局處,他發現長官們「都蠻愛台東的,事事皆以台東利益為優先出發,這件事情蠻可貴的。」台東縣府近年來的努力,創造的改變,讓在地居民以身為台東人而自信。


合作的過程,游適任引張基義的比喻,專案辦公室就像是陸軍,深入當地,了解在地需求,而Plan b像是空軍,急切地想把人運送過來投遞下去,急著創新,做出改變。這時候專案辦公室評估放行或是踩剎車,兩者就像是男女朋友交往,試探著彼此的底線,互動也產生火花。

台東設計中心今年年初就打出一手漂亮的牌──「台東縣政府名片再設計」,由Plan b提案,以台東的山海空為主題,將台東產的米、飛魚、三仙台、公東教堂、熱氣球、釋迦、衝浪等元素簡化線條,傳達出台東特有的意象。「重新設計縣府名片,除了讓民眾馬上catch到設計中心想解決的問題;而且名片是每天都在交換的東西,馬上就能讓別人發現台東不一樣了;以這個不一樣為起點,也意味著台東願意接受更多的可能性。」游適任解釋。



「它不見得是超大的事,卻是偉大的事。」張基義說。這不是找一位知名設計師就能解決的問題,是設計中心以專案包裹的方式,委由Plan b團隊尋求專業設計師張溥輝共同執行。「當初找設計師也有很多眉眉角角,希望是年輕人,暗示台東希望了解年輕人,但是又不能太年輕,要小有知名度,有影響力,又要熟悉公部門的規矩,還要人緣好。」游適任苦笑著補充。其他縣市做不到,而台東透過設計中心讓這件具有公共影響力的小事被實踐了。「所以我們是點火者,帶動公部門跟民間想像創新的契機。」張基義說。




デザイン思考で イノベーションを駆動——

文・鄧慧純 写真・莊坤儒 翻訳・山口 雪菜










2018年、デザインセンターは民間のプランニングチームPlan bを招き、共にデザインによって台東を変えていく作業を開始した。そして放置されていた台東鉄路警察局の建物をデザインセンターの活動の場とした。デザイナーの馮宇は本来の建物を残し、ロゴデザインと空間に「窓」のイメージを展開した。視覚を起点とし、窓を通して台東の将来を探索し、クリエイティビティを発見するという意味が込められている。











Plan bの游適任が台東デザインセンターのパートナーに確定した後、彼は台東県の各部署を訪ねたが、どの部門の長も台東を深く愛し、常に台東のためを考えていることがわかった。


全体の協力関係を游適任はこう表現する。プロジェクトオフィスは陸軍のように現地に足を踏み入れてニーズを理解する。Plan bは空軍のように急いで現場に人を送り、イノベーションと変化を起こす。この時、プロジェクトオフィスはそのまま進めるか否かを判断する。両者は恋人同士のように互いの気持ちを探り合い、火花を散らすこともあるという。




「大きいとは言えませんが、偉大なことです」と張基義は言う。これは著名デザイナーが一人でできることではなく、デザインセンターがプロジェクトとして統合し、Plan bがデザイナーの張溥輝とともに推進したものだ。「デザイナー選びだけでもいろいろありました。若い世代でありつつ若過ぎず、一定の知名度と影響力を持ち、また公的部門のルールを理解していて、人との交流に長けた人という条件でした」と游適任は苦笑する。他の自治体にはできないことを、台東はデザインセンターを通すことで実現した。「私たちは点火者であり、公的部門と民間の想像やイノベーションを動かすきっかけです」と張基義は言う。




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