Alain Lee, who is the design director at Pegatron Corporation, believes that design is borderless. Rather than discuss design for the Chinese market, he questions, why not consider global design trends instead? Lee prefers to ruminate on what he calls “human” designs. Chinese people possess invaluable cultural assets that have developed over thousands of years. Lee believes the best kinds of innovations are a result of the blending of traditional and modern culture. It is only through combination that you can extract a new design language and create timeless, valuable cultural assets.
Given today’s thriving internet and social media landscape, Alain Lee feels that design should not be distinguished by region. He cites the Apple iPhone as an example, noting that even though Apple never makes adjustments to their products to cater to the demands of a certain country or region, the iPhone continues to dominate markets around the world. “Regardless of whether a person is American, Asian, or European, regardless of whether someone is 18 years old or 60 years old, the iPhone is deeply loved and appreciated by everyone. This subverts established marketing theories. Investigating how to design for the Chinese-speaking market is important, but perhaps researching how to design for humans is even more crucial. What kinds of designs will have universal appeal? It’s only if we believe that there are no boundaries to design that we can take the first step toward this future.”
Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle advocated that men live lives of good for the purpose of achieving happiness, says Lee, and that the guiding principles by which one can lead a life of good are virtue and morality. This theory emphasizes the importance of two major qualities, kindness and beauty, which Lee believes are intrinsic qualities for design. Corporations, Lee explains, should possess kindness, and should not sacrifice the welfare of the public or the world in the pursuit of profit. “‘Beauty’ means inspiring happiness within people through aesthetics. These two qualities are the universal standards of the world, and cannot be affected by regional differences. Hence, design is also something that is not differentiated by region,” he says.
As Alain Lee notes, Chinese people have a distinct advantage: an abundance of precious cultural assets that have been developed over thousands of years. How should Chinese people leverage this advantage in order to face future challenges? In terms of traditional culture, Lee believes Chinese designers should not walk down the one-way street of retro style as they will lose themselves in reminiscences and plagiarism. Designers should seek influence in the roots of culture, decipher those influences using new technology, and learn from history and traditions. It is only then that Chinese people can harvest the cultural elements that truly belong to them, he says.
“The best kinds of innovations are a result of the blending of traditional and modern culture,” Lee concludes. “It is only through this combination that we can create new design elements and classic designs. New design elements are always based on the past. Designers need to familiarise themselves with traditional culture and then ‘digest’ their findings. These elements can never be taken away by anyone; local traits have a true value. It is only in this way that you can extract a new design language and create timeless, valuable cultural assets.”
About Alain Lee
Everyone is capable of producing awe-inspiring products, Tung Tzu-Hsien, Chairman of Pegatron Corporation, once famously said. In his early years, Alain Lee, the current director of design at Pegatron, was the assistant manager of the marketing and planning department at Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore. At the age of 30, he traveled to France for study, where he earned a master’s degree in industrial design and a diploma in concept design. In 2001, he joined ASUSTeK Computer Inc., where he led the design team to wins in four of the world’s leading design awards: iF, Red Dot, IDEA, and Good Design Award. In 2008, ASUS and Pegatron parted ways, and Alain Lee, along with much of his design team, followed founder Tung Tzu-Hsien to Pegatron and established the new corporation’s design team.
Aside from developing a line of premium electronic products, he also spearheaded the architectural design of the Pegatron headquarters in Taiwan and in Shanghai, China. In 2010, the Pegatron’s design team, under Lee’s leadership, collaborated with Eslite Bookstore to found PEGA CASA, which is committed to the development of non-IT products. Under this brand, the design team craft contemporary, high-quality lifestyle products that draw from both technology and culture.