Taipei Times: You have been a panel judge for various international design competitions including the coveted iF Award. How do you see Taiwanese companies standing in the Asian design landscape?
Ralph Weigmann: Asia has diverse design backgrounds and consumers buy a brand which they trust, a brand which they believe in and a product which is trendy to go with.
Japan has a long history in design, with big names like Sony Corp and Panasonic reaching high levels. South Korea is primarily known for Samsung Electronics Co and LG Electronics Inc and Samsung is slightly leading in terms of design.
In Taiwan, well-known firms include Acer Inc, Asustek Computer Inc (
Chinese design is the weakest in Asia as it is still a very young discipline there. They have more to learn. Taiwan has a head start in design education and has nurtured a pool of competitive designers. Even though China can hire designers from North America or Europe to get superb products, understanding the design concept is a totally different issue. China will probably need a minimum of five to 10 years to catch up with Taiwan.
TT: A number of companies here have been trying to make the switch from original equipment manufacturing [OEM] to the brand business but have had problems. What's gone wrong?
Weigmann: Those who are trying to become a brandname company should understand the key importance of design management. Many companies have designers, but they don't have design management. Design needs to be managed, and there must be someone in the enterprise hierarchy who has the knowledge to manage design and set up the design language.
If you put a collection of Taiwanese products on a table, its hard to differentiate which product is from which company. But this is not the case for, say, Samsung as it has a strong design language.
They [Taiwanese companies] shouldn't be designing something that just looks nice. These products must suit the company's long-term design strategy for brand consistency. Many OEM firms are locked in a short-term strategy and simply follow day-to-day market trends. Revenue driven business is not a long-lasting strategy but design is.
TT: BenQ has swept 125 internationally acclaimed design awards over the last five years, and it won 17 prizes from iF Award and 11 from Red Dot Design Award this year. How do you rate its progress so far?
Weigmann: BenQ certainly has made a lot of improvement over the past few years. It is one of only a few Taiwanese companies which understands that brand investment is the way to leave OEM. The brand is young, but already very successful.
BenQ has Manfred Wang (王千睿) [Lifestyle Design Center's director], who heads-up the design department, is very professional and has an international design view. Chairman Lee Kun-yao (李焜耀) also understands that design is important.
Despite its strong brand in Asia, BenQ's brand awareness in Europe is still growing. Even after BenQ took over Siemens' mobile phone unit last year, some people still did not recognize BenQ when the BenQ-Siemens logo hit the market. It is difficult to tell if BenQ will be a great success, but it's very interesting to observe.
TT: This is the second time that you have judged the Lite-On Awards, an industrial design competition open to students and the public. How do you see the quality of submissions this year?