On a recent trip to Taipei we had the opportunity to sit down with the designer of the 2015-2016 World Design Impact Prize trophy, Kevin (Yu-Jui) Chou. The trophy was eventually awarded to Warka Water, at the World Design Capital® signature event gala.

After studying mechanical engineering, Kevin already knew he wanted to be an industrial designer. He studied in that field for two years before starting his career. Later, he completed his Master of Fine Arts with the 3D Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in the United States, an experience he says allowed him to put more emotion into his work.

The contrast between his crazy Cranbrook artist friends and the friends he made in the engineering course was pretty clear. But he believes that both disciplines have their place and bring a useful perspective and necessary skills.


I think design is about finding out the issues, finding out what the problems are in our lives… It’s more about ideas. And mechanical engineering is about finding the solutions to make it work.

If Kevin’s student career was a study in contrasts, so is his subsequent body of work. We asked him a few questions about Bambool, the bamboo stool that one a “coup de cœur” award at the 2008 Maison&Objets Paris furniture, design and lifestyle trade fair, as well as about his bubble sofa before talking about his work with Philips Design and other projects with his studio, KEV Design.

Q: Before Bambool, you say that you did not even have a single piece of bamboo furniture in your home. What made you decide to design for bamboo?

I was learning how to mass-produce working with plastic injection, so when I first came across those craft skills I thought it was quite interesting. I can do a lot of things on a computer and send that to a factory, but those skills were something I had never experienced. It has a lot of upsides: it’s hand made, one by one. Also it’s an environmentally friendly material. And I really liked to see bamboo and the relationship with our culture, as well as the possibilities of the material itself.

I think people had stopped thinking about the possibilities of bamboo. The material might have good possibilities if you have new ideas, and make it more modern. Otherwise bamboo products look dated, and I don’t like it.

I think we should not look to the past for the past’s sake. But if the past still has something valuable, then we can think about how to make use of it today.

Q: Since Bambool you have worked again with master craftswoman Su-Jen Su to create the bubble sofa. What inspired that design?

After the stool, we got a lot of good feedback. The biggest problem came from the fact that we don’t have the capacity to produce that stool. Su-Jen Su could just make one stool at a time, so if I received an order of one hundred stools, I would not be able to cope in a reasonable timeframe. If I rely only on Su-Jen Su to produce the objects, it doesn’t make any sense if I create more designs like the stool. So I thought about which craft elements were simpler, easier, but with which you could still feel value. Not something that just anybody could make and where you might think “ah, that’s cheap”.

The bamboo ball, the weaving ball, is quite easy to make. I could teach you right now and you would know how to do it. So the idea was to teach people who were struggling, people in jails, people with disabilities, or people with less formal education who had no steady income, how to make these balls. Su-Jen Su trained them and would pay them for their work. The goal was to start training people, and little by little, maybe three years down the road, they would be able to make other objects, like the stool.

Q: Was that the plan when you designed that sofa? I’m going to start a social cooperative, and employ people who traditionally have a hard time finding employment all while resuscitating the bamboo furniture industry in Taiwan?

That was a very important part in the process of deciding to go for this design idea. And it’s going very well. Although Su-Jen Su is now very famous—and very busy—when she has time she trains people. Right now there are two young students who are learning the skill from her.

Now when I receive an order for the stool or the sofa from one of my clients, I can just ship them. I don’t have to wait two or three months.

Q: In contrast, your work at Philips and other designs are very much not craft products. Do you have a preference for either manufactured products or craft products? Or do you feel it is beneficial to work in both worlds?

As an industrial designer I’m very much interested in different kinds of products, different kinds of experiences, different kinds of materials. I don’t limit myself, like only working in crafts. I like industrial design, I like new smartphones. I think it’s a coincidence that I started working with bamboo, or craft. I designed computer monitors for five years, and that’s still interesting, I enjoyed it! But I would be limiting myself by focusing on just one field, one product.

Right now because of new tools and technologies people can design by themselves or produce by themselves. You can easily use a 3D printer to print your designs. So I think it’s very important for me as a designer to have a variety of experiences and maybe one day all the different things I have learned will cross over together.

Q: Does one influence the other?

Yes I think so. I know about the design process and new materials, about new machines that can make things easier. I can use my knowledge in craft. And I know the possibilities of bamboo so I might bring bamboo and use it in industrial design or into a more mass-produced process. Or I could combine half craft made, half mass-produced.

Q: As for the World Design Impact Prize trophy, you make use of stainless steel, wood, and marble. What guided your choice of materials in this case? Do the different materials represent anything in particular?

I think this award, the World Design Impact Prize, is unique. It’s not like a traditional design award where you pick out good products. It’s more about the relationship with people and the environment, so I think the trophy needed to somehow represent this.

I picked out the three different materials. I picked iron wood to represent nature, the environment. In the World Design Impact Prize a lot of the concepts have a deep consideration for our environment, so I think that’s really important. Then I picked marble. Marble is like our civilizations, or societies. It’s about culture and people. Then I picked stainless steel, which is more of a modern material. I feel it represents progress… or an upgrade, or evolution. It’s polished and modern.

I used a burr puzzle to assemble these three elements together without nails. That’s design! Design holds these three very important elements—environment, society, and evolution—together tightly. I think that represents the World Design Impact Prize well.

Q: You state that the trophy represents how through design, the people of the world will help each other and be connected wisely. How does this represent the principles that guide your work as a designer?

When I started in industrial design it was to solve problems, and to make things beautiful. I think that’s fundamental for industrial designers. But I think society has changed a lot in the past 10-20 years. So the designer right now is not just making things. We find the problems, we find the issues, but when you look at the issues deeply, they might be about the relationship with the people about different cultures clashing.

I think we have enough good products in the world already. Maybe too many. As a designer I want to look for a different angle, I want to discover cultures more deeply, dive into how people think and how people feel. I think that’s really interesting.

Q: We wondered if that was something you thought about generally when you design—how to connect people.

I think that is a very important part of the bubble sofa. The stool, I like it, but in the end it’s just an object. So I discovered what happened to the bamboo industry and I found out it’s not about design… it’s very much about the economy, it’s about a whole cultural change, a whole society change. That was something I didn’t think about much when I designed objects, but when I got to the bubble sofa I found all this information very valuable for me. Since then I think about the other issues and I have a more open mind and a broader perspective.