Revamp of Taipei shop is worthy of the award-winning designs it sells
Yu Yamada runs one of the most acclaimed retail design firms in Japan, but he doesn't think of himself as a designer. "I'm a buyer," he says.
Since founding his Tokyo-based consultancy, Method Inc, in 2007, Yamada has worked on multifarious projects, from exhibitions and pop-up shops to a brand of fireworks in minimalist packaging. He prides himself on his ability to put himself in consumers' shoes, not just during the design process but after its completion, too.
"For interior or graphic designers, they basically do their task until the opening of the store," he says. "But it's just a start for the store." Yamada keeps tabs on his creations as they evolve, tweaking them as he sees how customers interact with the space and its merchandise. "Adapting to the reality of retail is very important to me."
Yamada's latest effort is a complete overhaul of Design Pin, a Taipei design shop that stocks winners of Taiwan's Golden Pin Design Award. The revamped space, which opened in April, is Yamada's first retail venture outside Japan.
It wasn't an entirely foreign experience, though - Japan's roots in Taiwan run deep. Design Pin is housed inside the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, a sprawling design hub that was originally a tobacco factory, built by Taiwan's Japanese colonial administration in 1937.
Yamada relished the experience of working inside a historic structure. "Tokyo and my country tend to build new structures much more than renovate or keep them, especially in the centre of the city," he says.
Yamada wanted to evoke that heritage in Design Pin, so he swapped the shop's glass display cases ("too futuristic") for spindly, gold-hued wooden shelves and shipping pallets. The effect is vaguely industrial, while avoiding the rustic loft aesthetic that has become so popular in recent years. "I wanted it to feel like a storage place," says Yamada. "The concept is very simple, direct and easy for people to understand."
Space was only part of the equation. Yamada also redesigned the shop's logo ("It was blue and yellow, a bit too much like Ikea") and reconfigured the way products are displayed. "I didn't understand why the existing products were displayed in the way that they were," he says.
Shoppers are now greeted by a clear hierarchy of three types of products: Golden Pin winners, products that have won foreign awards like Red Dot, and worthy Taiwanese products that have yet to win any prizes. Yamada says the new rules are meant to make it easy for staff to select products in the future.
It seems they will have an increasing number of options from which to choose. Yamada says the quality of Taiwanese design still lags behind that of Japan, but it is catching up quickly: "In five or 10 years' time, who knows?"
He is especially impressed by the distinctiveness of Taiwanese design, taking into account lifestyles, habits, customs, traditions and identities. Among his favourites are the Plastic Classic chair by Pili Wu - a Ming dynasty-inspired take on the ubiquitous plastic stools found in neighbourhood restaurants - and lamps by KIMU Design, which reflect the metal lampshades that are Taiwan's answer to Hong Kong's famous market lamps.
Yamada won't be able to keep tabs on Design Pin as easily as he does his projects in Tokyo, but there may be plenty more opportunities for him to do business on the island. "When I started my career as a buyer in Tokyo around 15 years ago, design was in a boom," he says. "When I came to Taipei last year, I felt the same feeling that I'd felt 10 years ago in Tokyo."
Design Pin, Songshan Creative Park, 133 Guangfu South Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei, tel +886 (2) 2745 8199 ext 279