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Dr. Feng-Tyan Lin, Dean of the College of Planning and Design, National Cheng Kung University >> Design Your Blue Ocean

By Si-min Wu

Photo courtesy of the Department of Architecture,

National Cheng Kung University


In 2012, Taipei City Government began bidding for World Design Capital 2016. In recent years, we witness Taiwanese design students come home victorious from international design contests. Also, the Law for the Development of the Cultural and Creative Industries was adopted in 2010. In Taiwan, design has become a prominent discipline. Driven by stronger market demand, more Taiwanese schools and universities have established new departments for design-related studies.   


As design schools expand their recruitment of students, one topic requiring great attention is the avoidance of red ocean competition with overseas designers and the creation of blue oceans.


To enter blue oceans, young designers must first become interdisciplinary talents. Dr. Feng-Tyan Lin, Dean of the College of Planning and Design, National Cheng Kung University is one of those “T-shaped individuals”, having majored in two academic fields as a student. He earned B.A. in urban planning at National Cheng Kung University and later obtained M.A. and Ph. D in computer science at Northwestern University, US. He specializes in both humanities and electronic engineering and thus has the depth of expertise and the ability to work across disciplines to respond to contemporary demands.  


According to Dr. Lin, design is a type of synthetic thinking training, which differs from conventional education segmenting knowledge into narrow subjects. Design deals with topics on so many dimensions. Apart from basic design skills, a good designer needs to be innovative, integrative and interdisciplinary.


The type of designers needed in the 21st century was foreseen by Apple’s co-founder and trend maker, Steve Jobs. He showed that design was no longer the simple delivery of a concept or demonstration of technology, but the combination of multiple fields of knowledge that resulted in an aesthetic and practical product. That has been a leading trend in design in recent years. The following is an excerpt of an interview with Dr. Lin:


First Step: Audacious imagination is a basic requirement


There are some excellent design departments with a good reputation beyond campus but are attended by students scoring lower grades in academic subjects. That’s because conventional ways of learning don’t work for them. But when these students are put in the world of design, they perform extremely well. When there’s no standard solution to any question and they are allowed to think freely, their creativity is used to the full.


Design training is different from conventional education. Taiwan’s “spoon-feeding” education teaches standard answers and requires only memory, not creativity. Students are so used to giving standard answers that when there isn’t one, they select one of the possible answers as the standard one. But architectural and industrial design doesn’t need standard answers because there are too many ways of presenting a piece of design. There is more than one answer. That’s creativity and should become a basic instinct of designers.


We should give these students confidence. They have the creativity needed to become good designers. But if they believe “creativity wins it all” and only strengthen their creative concepts and skills, and neglect academic subjects, their design could become “limited” and fail to connect with users’ life. This is a common flaw among many design departments.


Take NCKU students for example: Their admission scores are high, which means they perform evenly well in every subject. They have a basic understanding of every subject and thus are better at combining knowledge from different fields. We don’t admit students with a perfect score, as it only shows they’re good at memorizing things and giving standard answers.


(This article does not end here.)