what about Taiwan?

I am in a transitional part of my life, in fact i am sending out my portfolio to companies around the world, however, due to personal reasons, one option may be to try to get a job in Taiwan.

I have been there once and I am aware that mainly design studios there are focusing on the design of electronics (unfortunately not my favorite type of products).

I would like to hear from people who have a some info about the design scene in Taiwan from the perspective of a Western. I mean, how Taiwanese may treat a western applicant? Is it feasible for a western to get a job in Taiwan? What could be the salary like for a designer with 2 Master degrees and 2 years of work experience? Could someone be based in Taiwan and maybe work as a freelancer there (although i guess it would be 100 times more difficult).

My concern is (but i may be wrong) that Taiwan in the past was THE place where of manufacturing in Asia… however, today, China is already attracting big part (the majority maybe?) of the production (Chinese also get more experienced and CAN offer quality today) countries such as Singapore and S.Korea are getting more advanced design-wise… so… what’s the role & future of Taiwan ?

Any input really appreciated…

well, here’s my take on the bigger picture of taiwan’s situation/future:

they are still surviving on engineering/technology/manufacturing, but seeing margins shrink as china, india, even vietnam improve capabilities and quality. meanwhile, korea has advanced from the same eng./tech./mfg. base to building global brands. and of course japan still has the high quality perceptions. so, it looks to me like taiwan’s position/value proposition is increasingly unclear.

taiwan keeps trying to squeeze more juice from the ever-shrinking contract manufacturing and “china middle-man” roles…but china doesn’t really need a middle-man anymore.

as for more specifics, i think in much of east asia, the reality is consumer electronics. also some disposable/cute gift items, soft goods, point-of-purchase displays, exercise equipment, and of course graphics and advertising. i would say your opportunities as a relatively inexperienced westerner in taiwan are limited. salary would be low - very low as you are competing with young locals who live with parents, and this is an especially tough time to be asking a company to hire a westerner over a local. you might even try the low/no pay internship route - against my religion when you already have degrees, but up to you and your situation.

singapore market, particularly for id, is tiny. tiny.

i would think your chances in korea are best, but this would be consumer electronics with the majors - need a focused portfolio and/or big school/brand names on your cv. again, tough time to be job searching…but at least the korean majors often have rotating westerners on contract, so if some are finishing up and going home, you may find your spot. i think few other east asian nations are as open/set-up for routinely taking westerners as korea.

finally, with 2 masters (assuming they are relevant to design), teaching might be your best option. some schools are on a different economic cycle, so not suffering financially. with limited experience, you probably won’t get a real gig at a respected university, but there are hundreds of little design diploma/certificate factories all over east asia who like to hire white faces with degrees to babysit teenagers who couldn’t get into good schools.

consider that your entry point, add a little english tutoring on the side, and build from there…that’s the most optimistic picture i can paint for you right now!


really appreciate your time, effort and the amount of info you shared! you really seem to know facts and figures about design in Asia. are you located somewhere there?
i think i can see and understand your point for every single pixel of the picture you painted for me… :slight_smile: i do find that my two biggest drawbacks are the lack of significant prof. experience and the fact that most likely companies/studios would rather hire a local than me (salary, even language/culture issues etc).
as for korea i am not really considering mainly because of the focus on consumer goods as you already mentioned.
singapore, for id may be tiny as you say, but there are 1-2 interesting studios the country is really really interesting, they are trying to promote design and business spirit & entrepreneurship are really high (i quite value the last one as you never know… creating your own business one day may be a really creative option).

as for teaching, lately i do consider it as an option in fact as one of my grad. schools is networking with asian schools. i do know that universities require either phd or at least quite many years of successful hands on experience on design… you never know though…


It is very difficult to tell shortly and reality has many different faces.

I have been in Taiwan for 2 years now, working with an ODM (P##A), and know designer working in A##S. None of the foreigners on these 2 companies are happy for many different reasons. (avoid these 2 if you can).

The local designers are more design engineers that real designers. There is little to no emphasis on research and marketing. Usually they use a “shotgun” approach… many bullets in different directions and maybe one might hit the target.

We have a term for the management… we call it STEALTH MANAGEMENT… you know they are there but cannot see them… it is very hard to impossible to get clear directions from a manager, and nobody knows what to do, but somehow things flow (very taiwanese)

If you come to join the electronics industry in Taiwan, you need to have the mindset to work 12 hours a day, and probably the package you get offered is not good. They don’t really see the difference between an original idea from an un-original (ordinary? or a copy) idea… they same way, I suppose they don’t see the difference between a person that has original ideas from one that prints a lot of pictures grabbed from internet, sticks them on the walls of a meeting room and uses the details to start sketching some concepts… without knowing what they are doing.

I have heard and seen how, for the money they could pay to a high value and skilled designer, they prefeer to hire 2 local designers… again… they don’t know what they do… but they will create more sketches that 1 foreigner… and they are not pretentious and don’t complain…

If you join as a junior, you will have more chances of being accepted by the rest of the staff. Usually Taiwanese are VERY friendly and nice people. If you join as a Senior, there will be a power game, and many juniors will not like to work with you… either for the language, because you are foreigner, because you are an outsider and shouldn’t come to tell them how to do things, etc, etc… Your boss and all the management, in my experience will always support other locals if there is a problem.

If you come to Taiwan you will learn a lot about manufacturing, but you have to decide if that is a skill that will prove helpful in the future. Most designer here use ProE, followed by UX and Catia. I found all these software to be mainly for engineering and will probably affect your workflow and design process.

After crashing against the wall several times, I start understanding the Taiwanese way of doing things. You always have to be very indirect to not make anybody loose face (The boss is always right) and it is very difficult to be proactive (most people will see it as arrogance). You cannot go to someone and teach him/her something… it is better to wait for that person to come ask you. Usually they say that you need to stay behind in order to go forward. It is a hard lesson but seriously requires a change in the mindset to create successful relations here.

Personally I take it as a training… I think that if I can work here, it will be a piece of cake to go anywhere else :wink:

About the language… if you work 12 hours (or more) per day, it will require a very serious commitment to learn Chinese. you better take 2 classes per week and study something in between, other way it goes in and out… The language class is something you can usually negotiate with the employer. If you plan to stay for a long time (at least 2-3 year min, I strongly suggest you start learning upon arrival).

I would say it is not worth to come for 1 year… besides the work experience you might want to create a network of contacts and vendors. I would say 2 year MINIMUM.

About the lifestyle: I know many foreigners that go clubbing every weekend and girls usually fall for foreigners. There is a positive discrimination towards white faces here. All these guys usually have a very nice/crazy lifestyle outside of the office. You might have a better time if you are single… otherwise, after working 12 hrs you still need to spend time with your wife and kids… it can be pretty demanding

One more thing… if you are a skilled and highly educated designer, maybe you will want to backup your presentations with some marketing information. People from Sales, Marketing and Management will not see this with good eyes… in their minds, designers do styling and don’t know anything about business… they will not be receptive to listen to you and will not feel comfortable that you go into their field.

If you have more questions post them here! maybe I’m forgetting many things now.


Something interesting to read:



You made some very good points about working in Asia, especially for larger companies. For western people these companies seem totally confusing. We don’t see the bigger picture because our working attitude is completely different than theirs. Stealth management is pretty much normal and it won’t change in the next years to come.

To designers wishing to come here:

I’m sometimes surprised how western designers come here, think they know it all and think they can change their way of thinking.
If you can’t play by their rules don’t come here, bottom line. You’ll have to adjust and it will take a long time, learn Chinese before coming here and don’t think you’re a design star, cause designers here are very well skilled.
My advise for anyone coming to PRC or ROC, is to check the meaning of the word “GUANXI.”

The PRC and ROC are a great place for training like you mentioned and a great place to learn Chinese.
I’ve had the same experience like you Cuototo and I know that P³³A Design shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Small design offices are better!!!

Hi all,

Similar situation to the one alexandros described here. Currently doing my homework to put together a portfolio and gathering information on design firms (satelite or in-house).
@cuototo & @lestrock76, you shared great information!
I am somehow puzzeld cause i think i get the atmosphere that you describe as sometime in the recent past i had the chance to visit one of the firms you mention here and i have mixed feelings. The people there, when we were a big group, were a bit “cold” however, afterwards when i had 1 on 1 discussion and was given a walk in their studio people were much more friendly. I noticed also some sort of marketing/mood/inspiration boards (in contrast to what cuototo mentioned about the shotgun approach) that i found quite interesting as an approach but i do not know if they actually use them…
During my visit in Taiwan i also had the chance to meet some people from an independent (5-10 people) studio in the outskirts of Taipei that were very friendly and i felt immidiately as part of them…

I do not know… i mean working for a “big” name like the ones you both mentioned, it is tempting right? But on the other hand, working in a smaller studio with (maybe) more varied projects i may be more involved in different parts of the project and situations and even allow me better contacts within the manufacturing industry?
Another concern is that i am not so proud about my engineering skills as my background is mainly artistic. In a design scene which as you mention is rather engineering oriented and fast paced i am a bit concerned about my chances of penetrating there.

As for the language, in my home-country i have already started some chinese classes but i am thinking that it would be quite useful if i would attend a 3 month intensive course during summer (while i will job-haunting). In this way i hope i will be having solid foundations of the language and then with 1-2 days/week courses and practice i will improve…

I grew up abroad currently working in the US, so I have been making observation on Taiwan (and South East Asia) from a 3rd person’s perspective.

Work environment wise, I think it has already been well described. I just want to add one thing. Taiwanese are very friendly to foreigners. Taiwanese are very friendly to guests in general. They are always welcoming because they don’t get to interact with foreigners often, and have a strong desire to learn. So don’t be afraid to go there. Of course, in a work environment, things can be different.

It depends on what you are looking to get out of your time in Taiwan. Here’s what I think will be valuable to learn from.

Non-methodological innovation.

In the 70s, Taiwan’s society was in a rapid transformation from an agricultural based economy to an industrialized economy. My parents generation grew up on farmlands, but most of them left their hometown for the cities for better opportunities. At that time, Taiwan’s industries was pretty much like a blank sheet of paper. The culture back then was “I rather be my own boss then to work under someone else’s command”. Therefore, Taiwanese economy between then and the late 90s was based on small-mid businesses.

In this unique situation, industries was very diverse because there was no big trend of any sort. People did whatever they were good at. Competition was tough, but they weren’t really competing for local market. Taiwan is too small to have a sustainable local market. They were competing for the international market. The lack of a industry leader means they don’t have a pre-loaded logic of how things should be done. They solve problems as they go, explore opportunities as they see it. This results in very unique ways of innovation from the grass root level. Taiwanese small businesses are therefore extremely flexible and innovative. However, because of the lack of market leadership, there are only very few successful examples of well known brands. Most of the businesses in Taiwan find themselves best at OEM and ODM.

The generation is shifting now. The new generation of work force (the kids of the said parent generation ) grew up in a well-provided environment. They are not nearly as hardworking or have as much desire for progression as their parent’s generation. Everyone now just wants to earn an engineer degree and work for one of the giant IT companies in the dust-free labs. A recent report says that Taiwan has the highest offset between companies who can’t find qualified employees vs people who can find jobs.

Confucius influence

Taiwanese are very much Chinese in culture. In fact, Taiwanese are more Chinese than mainland folks because the cultural root is better preserved in Taiwan. Confucius influence is strong here, so I think it will be good for any foreigner to study Confucianism to have a head start. Among the many things in Confucianism, one important philosophy is the emphasize on respect for leadership, which is the father figure in a family. Applying this to a company, the boss is always right. You will find similar behavior in other Asian countries as well.

Anyways, I am not trying to tell you what your goals should be. I am just providing some fundamental cultural background for your reference. There are great things to experience in Taiwan, and important lessons to learn from as well. See this as a stepping stone for your career for your bigger and more long term goals.

If you want to work for a large company, coming cold to Taiwan is not the way to do it. Stay in the US and get relocated over to Asia if you can.

On the other hand, Taiwan certainly has benefits for a small design studios and start ups.
There is a great deal of flexibility with regard to prototyping, 3D CAD and generally a low overhead to get started. This is generally due to the low cost of living in Taiwan.

Small company benefits are:

Direct access to manufacturing:
(all good/effective designs are done with manufacturing methodology in mind). Something isn’t simply sketched and manufactured, there are a great deal of steps in between to refine the design. Being an hour away from the factory greatly reduces the development cycle time.

Low cost of prototyping:
Due to the low cost of living and the ease of obtaining RP/CNC/laser cutting equipment, prototyping in Taiwan is generally very low cost. The more you prototype the better you’ll understand your design/product.

Low cost of grunt work labor:
This includes simple 3D CAD. Once the initial designs are complete, the task of producing more detailed designs can be a fairly inexpensive task.

Access to China’s middle management chain:
Taiwan is essentially China’s middle management with regard to manufacturing. When you go into full scale production china is a simple flight away.

A small company with a few smart people at the top could do a lot of exciting work.

That’s the dis-advantange:
Lack of skilled labor. Currently that needs to be imported or discovered (discovering is hard).

So it depends on what you want. If you want to get a monthly pay check and have a relatively small influence over a product, stay in the US. If you want to be part of a potentially exciting small design company and have a large part in the creation of it’s ideas then perhaps Taiwan is an option.

molested_cow , zachz123, thanks for the tips/info.

Due to the fact that i happen to have some good taiwanese friends (who have given me a good overview of what is happening there) and having visited the island 3 times i totaly agree with some parts of what you mentioned.
Definitely by going there i do not plan to setle as a designer inside a bigger or smaller company. I just really want to know as much as i can on how things are prototyped/manufactured by having first-hand experience and being on-site. Therefore, i might tend to agree that by working for a smaller company i may have this flexibility to find myself to different environments. The good thing is that some people i know are very close to industrial plants there, so i would like also to give it a try and establish collaboration with these companies. However, i do not think that freelancing (at least in the beginning is a good idea). Language though is a big barrier and i really should invest time and money in learning Chinese.

As for the mentality, i am coming from a European country where our culture also supports a highly hierarchical system. In general i really find that my attitude/mindset is closer to the one of Taiwanese compared to the one of other European countries. However as you mention, living and working there is a whole different thing so time will tell.


one more question … can somebody can give me some information regarding the salaries in Taiwan for entry and mid-level designers?

Hi all

Firstly, all the people that have replied to this post have been spot on, especially the bits about “guanxi” and studying mandarin. All this aside ,if you are already here, if you are already planning your escape from teaching English as a main income source, what would be the best way to go about it?

Over the past year I have been teaching English part time “this takes care of visa and rent issues” and I have managed to find a couple freelance jobs,which have been good for my portfolio. But ideally I would like these bits and bobs to eventually provided me with a full time job. I am in a similar position education wise but have limited “industry” experience. One of you mentioned the design community in Taiwan. Could anyone shed any light as to how to become more actively involved in design circles or should one just pack up and move to a “larger” design hub?

Any positive/negative response would be appreciated.

you could start working for a smaller Taiwanese design house and still work part time English in order to pay the bills, this way you still get experience or find a full time job. It’s not easy in Taiwan but possible. Stay away from foreign design studios, most of them have a bad reputation, i think someone wrote about this years ago about a Dutch design studio in Taipei. Most of them pay really bad and you can make more just by freelancing. Stay in Taiwan to get experience in Manufacturing and visiting vendors and after a few years move on somewhere else.