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JIA Inc.: A Modern Spin On Chinese Design

Taiwan- and Hong Kong-based home- and kitchen-ware brand JIA Inc. strikes a careful balance between traditional and contemporary elements to create thoughtful products for the Chinese-speaking community.

JIA Inc.: A Modern Spin On Chinese Design

The Prep, Rolling Mortar

Spencer Hung believes in the value of doing. “Only through doing can you find out what’s wrong with something,” says Hung, Design Manager at JIA Inc., the Taiwan- and Hong Kong-based home- and kitchen-ware brand. “If you only work on computers, you’re never going to find out what’s wrong with things – you’ll just be making cosmetic changes.”

At JIA Inc., Chinese culture is the foundation of their designs, infused with Eastern and Western ideas, and both the old and the new. For the brand, ‘doing’ is a vital part of the designing process: for it’s only by cooking, by testing tools and by using them themselves that they will understand where the problems lie.

“Designers are great at solving problems, but not all of them are great at finding the problem in the first place. I think finding the problem is the first step,” explains Hung.

Perhaps it’s this attitude that has seen JIA Inc. gain recognition repeatedly at the Golden Pin Design Awards over the past few years. The Golden Pin Design Award was established in Taiwan and it celebrates designs created with Chinese-speaking communities in mind. The annual award covers product design, visual communication, spatial design and packaging, and this year, the Design Award judging panel was chaired by Oki Sato, Founder of Japanese design studio nendo.

At the 2016 awards, JIA Inc. won a Golden Pin Design Award for The Prep, Rolling Mortar, a modern take on the ancient mortar and pestle. Inspired by ceramic tea mortars from the Tang Dynasty, this ceramic pestle and oak mortar is designed to be extra-efficient at grinding spices, Chinese medicines, tea leaves and more, using a rolling motion rather than the traditional bashing and beating technique used with mortar and pestles.

Another modern take on a traditional Chinese cooking product is JIA Inc.’s Steamer. The Steamer’s terracotta base – which replaces the usual bamboo steamer base – absorbs excess liquid, ensuring dishes have just the right moisture balance when they’re done.

“Terracotta has existed for a long time, but with the Steamer, we found new meaning for it, and this has changed the way we look at steamers,” says Hung.

The Steamer received a Design Mark at the Golden Pin Design Award in 2010, and its careful balance of old and new contributed to this just as much as its problem-solving efforts. And this is something JIA Inc. does so well; this marriage of the traditional and the modern.

“It’s a struggle every day to find the right balance,” says Hung. Luckily, however, the brand works with experts in Chinese history, and with master chefs, and tea and coffee masters, to achieve that balance and get the facts just right. “A lot of our design is about a real collaborative process, much more so than other brands,” he adds. “One thing we always do is go back to our departure point. We constantly ask the question, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

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