“Our goal is always to simplify. Getting the same job done with fewer parts, in fewer steps – it's not about cutting cost. It's about elegance, durability, and a better experience for the user.”
Over the past 20-odd years, Jung-ya Hsieh has designed everything from laptops to bike lights to medical devices. He's even been called Taiwan's Guru of Product Design. Today, he talks past insights, present challenges, and a vision for the future.
How did you find yourself in the kitchenware business?
Well, I wouldn't exactly say I just ‘found myself’ here, I mean, this was a rather deliberate step. Originally, I'm sure you know, we were offering design services through Gixia. Manufacturers of all sorts of things come to us with an assignment. We need a rice cooker, a light bulb, a phone case. They'd give us the spec, and we'd turn it around, you know, send the completed design back and let them handle the rest.
But Taiwanese manufacturers are a conservative bunch – they don't like to take risks on products that haven't already demonstrated their viability on the market. And I'm a creative type: I don't like to waste my time on projects that aren't at least trying to innovate somewhere. So I've earned a reputation for giving a little pushback on these specs, and persuading local manufacturers that we can make something new together, something that can make a company's reputation, rather than just being another generic, OEM product.
That must not have been easy.
Oh, absolutely not. It took a lot of pleading at first, but we got some real recognition for our work, both at some major international awards shows and on the market. That's made it a whole lot easier to convince people of what we can do.
So at Gixia, we get the spec from another company and turn it around for them, but over the past five years, our team had accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience – about materials, new technologies, about the challenges of moving designs from the page into the manufacturing process. So we wanted to use that knowledge to create our own spec, explore something new, see what was possible in a given field. And we decided kitchen products were a good fit. We have a very materials-oriented approach, which is a facet of design that hasn't gotten a lot of attention in this field, so we think there's a lot of room for improvement and innovation.
Which of your products would you consider your big breakthrough?
“Breakthrough?” Well, if you mean my masterpiece, I think I'm still waiting on that. Technology keeps changing faster than we can keep up, and even our lifestyles are a moving target, but there's huge potential for design not just to complement the way we live, but to shape it and enhance it, and I've always got my eye on that.
If you mean milestones, though, sure, I've got a couple of those. There was this baby scale, you know, like the kind you would use in a hospital, except it was inflatable. It looked like a little air mattress, and when you put the baby on it, it would sense the difference in air pressure and use that to calculate the baby's weight. We really invented a new scale from the ground up to accommodate the needs of a specific kind of user – maternity ward nurses – so that they could take a reading with a baby on a soft, comfortable surface.
And that was a Gixia?
Actually, that was before Gixia.
So how has the process changed for you in all this time? Like, does designing for THAT! feel different from designing for Gixia?
Well, at both places we maintain a strong focus on simplicity. That's one of our most important values as a design team: we identify simple problems and seek out simple solutions.
Part of that goes back to my college days, when I studied computer science. When you're writing a program, fewer lines of code means faster performance, fewer crashes, fewer bugs, and less demand on system resources. So that's something we carry into everything we do.
But the main difference between the two is that at Gixia, we work with our client to produce the design, and the client handles everything else. Unlike Gixia, THAT! has to deliver products to market, meaning we need people who understand the manufacturing process inside and out. On top of that, we need the logistics, the supply chain, the quality control, and so on and so on. And so I'm very lucky to have not just a design team that has matured and sees all the aspects of the business that most designers usually have no concept of, but a marketing and operations team to complement them.
So what's next?
We've got our eyes on a few different things, but you know how it is with R&D – we can't say too much. For now, let's just say we're looking ahead to smart homes and connected kitchens.
Alright, well I guess we'll have to take what we can get. Thanks for your time!