Working as a Creative in Taiwan as a Foreigner
Updated: Jan 2, 2022
At All Hands Taiwan’s latest event “Let’s take some design risks”, regarding performing creative work in Taiwan, some of the most interesting comments made by the panelists were about the inherently disruptive nature of the job. “As a creative worker, it’s very easy to make people in Taiwan uncomfortable, because you want to challenge conventions and create something new and different”, mentioned freelance designer Chris Hubbard. “As a designer or marketer, you’re coming to the situation with a fresh perspective, and your customer has the ‘curse of knowledge’ — they’ve spent so much time with their product and company that they think too much about the details of features and technology, which can get in the way of marketing a product in a fun or creative way.”
Chris also mentioned how in a conflict-averse business culture like Taiwan’s, it can be hard to get customers to open up about their misgivings or desires. “You need to gauge the customer and be as communicative as possible from your side. Sometimes, taking a big risk in the design isn’t the answer.”
Digital strategist Grace Yang echoed Chris’ sentiments about not going too big on change with some customers. “When it comes to design work in Taiwan, sometimes you need to pick which hill you want to die on”, she quipped. “One client I had, we’d started by agreeing just to redesign the client’s business cards for a more international market, but my design submissions for the logos on the cards alone took hours and hours of meetings. Eventually I had to bring my designs closer to their original logo to get the project finished.” Grace also agreed how important communication is to the success of a design project. “You need to think about how to manage expectations across the board, both theirs and yours.”
As an example of managing expectations, Grace mentioned how customers may not express dislike for a design until it’s almost finished, even when the design concept has been discussed in depth. To nip this issue in the bud, Grace suggested finding ways to elicit and understand a customer’s thinking, before putting effort into an actual design. To do this for her own work, Grace asks what the customer likes or doesn’t like in terms of atmosphere and look and feel. Then she creates digital “mood boards” of images, videos, and screenshots, cobbled together from other websites, to gauge customer reaction before implementing new designs. Still, even when a designer puts a lot of effort into illustrating concepts for customers, Grace mentioned how hard it can be to get a Taiwanese CEO to spend even just 15 minutes to sit down with a designer to discuss what he or she wants from a new design.
Brand consultant Micky Du also lamented how hard it can be to feel that your time and efforts are valued on projects in Taiwan. “This market is lacking in maturity regarding knowing what creatives do. For example, when I do a innovative or creative packaging design, it’s easy to see the work that went into the result, and the customer will communicate their positive feedback very clearly. However, many clients here don’t seem to show much appreciation for the amount of thought and effort that goes into designing good logos, which is hard work.”
Micky also mentioned having the strange experience of pitching a design to a client’s employee, and then leaving the meeting without the employee asking any questions about the design or providing any feedback. “This made me think, was this employee qualified to be holding this meeting with me? There seems to be a lack of middle management in some Taiwanese companies, where senior employees don’t have time to meet, and the junior employees have the time to hold a meeting, but don’t have the experience or authority to make decisions.”
Brand strategist Guillaume Defer suggested that one way to resolve some of these value issues is by asking for a higher price, a sentiment echoed by other panelists. “When you ask for a higher price, you force the client to value you. They can’t ignore you or your work when they’re thinking about the amount they’ll need to give you at the end of the project.”
The discussion between the panelists was followed by a lively Q&A.
Regarding the topic of how to pitch clients in Taiwan, Micky Du had quite a few suggestions: “A very professional presentation is key, and it needs to be in Chinese if you’re pitching to Taiwanese clients. I recommend you use as many visuals as you can. Review and re-review your pitch for readability and flow, until you’re sure it’s good. Finally, you need to present evidence of how you’ve driven engagement – what responses has the client received because of your design contribution?” Guillaume mentioned that a lot of his lead generation is done via LinkedIn. “If you ‘cold call’ clients like this on online platforms, you need to make sure to write a little pitch to them – How can you help their business?” The panelists also mentioned that it was important to let one’s personality shine through in one’s pitch materials.
When asked what companies in Taiwan are open to doing big interesting designs, the panelists suggested looking to startups and younger companies, as opposed to more established companies in the Taiwan market.
And finally, upon requests from the audience about their favorite creative-work-related books and resources, the panelists quickly compiled a short but useful list:
Branding and design
The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns
The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeyer
Brutally Honest by Emily Cohen
What are you doing with your life? by Jay Krishnamurthy
7 habits of Highly Effective People – Specifically, the chapter on Empathy
Inspiration for designing