Spencer Hung is Product Design Manager at JIA Inc. in Taipei, Taiwan. The homeware brand specializes in bringing Chinese stories and traditions into designed products for the home. Having spent time as a designer in North America and as a product design manager in Taiwan, Hung’s cross-cultural creative education and working experiences give him a unique view on design for the Chinese-speaking market.
This Taiwan-born, US-educated product design manager firmly believes there is a difference between designing for the international market and for the Chinese-speaking market. “People in this region have unique living and purchasing habits, and are even influenced by things as seemingly obscure as different regional weather patterns. They value certain things more or less than people from other cultures,” Hung explains. “The Chinese or Asian product design field, excluding Japan and maybe Korea, is still very young. A lot of [designers in this region] are still trying to find or trying to define what East Asian or Greater China design is. One thing I have noticed, although maybe this is just because of JIA’s brand focus, is that there’s a lot of [reflection on history and philosophy] in Chinese design, and I think this reflection on the past is something that sets Chinese or East Asian design apart from design from other parts of the world.”
All of JIA’s products are designed with the Chinese-speaking customer in mind, Hung says. “The story of our brand, and the story behind every product, is derived from Chinese culture, history, or philosophy, so naturally, we have to make sure it works for the Chinese-speaking customer or within the Chinese-speaking market.” However, he continues, the JIA design team also try hard to leave enough space, or “elasticity,” in the function of a product to ensure international consumers will pay attention to it. “We’re not just focusing on the Chinese-speaking customer because in modern home cooking there’s already a lot of influence from both the East and the West,” he says.
Hung uses JIA Inc.’s Steamer Set, which is one of the brand’s most iconic products, as an example. While steaming in and of itself is by no means a uniquely Chinese invention, “we hope this product will allow the rest of the world to experience Chinese-style steaming as an everyday method of cooking,” he explains. “We start with concepts or stories first, and then we look at what kinds of products or what kinds of tools we can translate that philosophy or that story into. Our product design is a medium that allows us to tell Chinese stories to the rest of the world.”
Today, the world is paying more attention to design [from the Greater China region], Hung notes. Asia, he says, has a vibrant design industry with growing opportunities for young designers to explore new ideas and get exposure. These designers have the talent, and they also have financial aid from the government. “It’s a really good time to be a designer in Asia,” he enthuses. However, he cautions, as the design world grows bigger, and as consumers in the Asian market become more aware of the importance of design, the competition between designers grows.
To stand out in this new design industry, designers need to “know themselves very well,” Hung explains. “What kind of designer are you? What is your strength? What sets you apart? These are really good questions that every designer in Asia should ask themselves.” Celebrated designers, he says, have something that stays in peoples’ minds, something that people can connect with on a deeper level. “There’s a direct connection between their name and the way that they design. However, I don’t think everybody should model themselves [on a particular designer] or want to be the next superstar designer. You could be great at reducing costs. That’s something not every designer can do, but it’s a very important skill. There are many different kinds of designers that can succeed in different fields and in different ways.”
About Spencer Hung
Spencer Hung was born in Taipei, Taiwan and at the age of 15, he moved to Vancouver, Canada where he graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He began his career as an in-house designer for wireless products. He then started working for Omer Arbel, at then newly established Bocci Design and Manufacturing, where he was involved in many award-winning projects. At the age of 30, as he had spent half of his life so far in the West and the other half in the East, he decided to join JIA Inc. as Product Design Manager, and he moved back to his birth place, Taipei. Since moving back to Taiwan, he has worked with many globally respected designers on various JIA Inc. projects and is managing a team of in-house designers that are also designing for other internationally recognized brands.