Creating Meaning for Society Through Design Thinking – Takeshi Lin

Takeshi Lin has an interesting way of describing himself: “I am known as the service designer with the most versatile defensive range in Taiwan.” He assuredly expresses his thoughts, viewpoints, and opinions on various topics, including UI/UX design and user experience research; service or experience designs of corporate organizations; the use of design thinking to promote social innovation; and even placemaking issues that have been closely followed in Japan and Taiwan in recent years.

Lin is a not a very “typical” humanistic designer, and the degree of “slash” and “unorthodox knowledge” shown in his personal Facebook profile is really quite impressive. He is a service designer as well as an experience innovation consultant, a university lecturer, and a columnist. He describes himself as a “street observer, regional regeneration missionary, mascot researcher, and modernologist,” all of which are unusual identities that make people wonder what the person described by all of these keywords is really like.

From Bookstore Employee to Service Designer

The road Lin has taken as a service designer is completely different than the development path taken by those generally considered to be “designers.”

Lin did not study design in university, which is the usual career path for designers. Instead, he majored in statistics and economics. He then earned master’s degrees in religious anthropology and Taiwan’s cultural history before becoming a researcher and investigator at the Academia Sinica. Later on, the Eslite project exhibition store opportunity arose. As Lin already had a deep interest in books and reading, in 2005 he renounced the opportunity to study for doctorate degrees at famous British and Japanese schools and began working at Eslite against his family and teachers’ wishes. He started as an intern, and also worked at service counters and in retail sales. He was involved in important planning work for the opening of Eslite Xinyi Store, and was responsible for the planning and operations of the humanities and social sciences book sections.

Lin’s decision to suspend his doctorate studies to work in a bookstore was neither supported nor understood. He smiles as he says this period was about receiving “social education.” He adds, “I accumulated a lot during this process, which is actually quite related to what I’m doing now.” When discussing his experiences as a bookstore employee, a job which appears to have nothing to do with service design, Lin mentions that bookstore work is actually highly repetitive, and it would become quite tedious if you spend all day only placing and removing books from shelves; handling purchases and sales; and managing inventory. He therefore used this time spent in bookstores to make observations in order to find better ways to interact with readers.

Bookstores are commercial places, as well as one of the few places to display knowledge content. Lin says, “If bookstore employees can develop their own judgment abilities, the resulting impact will be significant.” He regarded bookstores as places to conduct experiments, and book sections as display spaces. He used his expertise in reading, humanities, and social sciences to pass on knowledge and even convey viewpoints through book displays and themed exhibitions. He says, “This was the value I gave to myself as a bookstore employee.”

Lin only formally came into contact with the knowledge fields of “design thinking” and “service design” after he moved to Scotland to study for an MBA. However, this exploratory experience in the front line of bookstores allowed Lin, who had only focused on research up to this point, to discover that business can also be used to create different types of interaction and value with people. Many of the things he is doing now are nourished by or have their origins in this experience.

Lin became a consultant after returning to Taiwan. He spent three years and four months at this job, just like with his two previous jobs. He says this career development plan was actually intentional, because “three years and four months” were the amount of time apprentices needed to learn a skill in ancient times. As a result, he accumulated exactly 10 years of experience as a researcher, bookstore employee, and industry consultant. After integrating these three fields and experiences, Lin slowly approached the service design work in which he is currently engaged. In 2015, he established “HAYASHI Office,” and has worked actively since as an independent consultant in the fields of humanities, social sciences, business, art, and design. Lin has a precise explanation when asked about the road he took: “This is called ‘taking 10 years to sharpen a sword.’”

A Profession to be Vanished

For Lin, service design is a method that “starts from observations, links empathy, and uses context as a backup.” He says, “I have always felt that observations are very important.” This sentiment is not only a result of Lin’s training in anthropology and the intuition he developed. It also stems from his time as an industry consultant, where he interacted with many companies and made the discovery that “the biggest problem is usually that a problem cannot be found.” He also found inspiration in the street observation discipline that has developed in Japan for four decades, and in 2013 he formed the “Taipei Street Observation Society” to share his anthropological observation techniques and exchange observational experiences from everyday life with others.

In addition to study groups, Lin also occasionally organizes themed observational activities called “walking onto the streets.” For example, on the fourth day of the first lunar month, he always organizes the “Worshipathon” activity, where important temples in all of Taipei’s 12 administrative districts are visited during the course of 12 hours. He hopes this type of action method will encourage participants to switch on all five senses and discover people and objects related to the theme, or observe and analyze differences between similar objects. Lin says, “The most important thing is to cultivate everyone’s power of observation starting from street observations, and then achieve the ‘insight’ of appearance or context.”

[en] Takeshi Lin occasionally leads the Taipei Street Observers Club on outings to discover all the fun things that can be found in daily life environments.

How would anthropologists describe the profession of “service designer” after observing 100 types of jobs? Lin believes service design is usually about making intangible and integrated strategic plans. It is not like product design or visual design, because they are tangible and it is relatively easier to assess their value. The value of service design often cannot be seen in the moment, because feedback may not be immediate. Instead, observations and assessments over long periods of time are needed to determine the synergy and significance. Lin smiles as he says, “Perhaps from a realistic perspective, service designers appear to be simply puttering around.”

Lin is asked how he helps people from other fields or professions to understand “service design.” He candidly says that even though he has worked as a social designer for so many years, to this day he still feels that this is very difficult to do. The crux lies in one concept: “First, you have to make people from other fields understand that service design is about making things better and not about looking for trouble.”

On the issue of how he has positioned himself in terms of strategy and design, Lin indicates that service design is a type of horizontal connector, and it focuses on issues that cannot be resolved by a single design field such as product design or visual design. It is about reflecting on service value and system flow from the user side, and creating a “common good” for all stakeholders. He believes service design is a new discipline, and the most important aspect for service designers is the ability to be interdisciplinary, although this doesn’t mean they need to be good at everything. He adds that it is about “the willingness to communicate with people from other fields and help them to understand your value and imagining what you can achieve in the process at the same time.”

Lin says, “Ordinary designers are perhaps more likely to start off from the perspective of an object or aesthetics, and may not necessarily stand in the user’s shoes. Meanwhile, the most important missions of service designers are to start off from the perspective and requirements of people, and protect ‘people-oriented’ value.” After working in the service design field for many years, Lin believes the role of service designers will “vanish,” and he hopes that different fields will naturally integrate the spirit of service design when reflecting on and developing design in the future. He adds, “This is why I have to emphasize service design, why I have to represent this link. Right now, there is a lot of space for improvement.”

[en] Takeshi Lin continues to help a “people-oriented” spirit take root in various topics and fields through lecturing, teaching, and mentoring.

Creating Meaning for Society

Lin established an office that uses design strategies as developmental axes, allowing him to apply the abundant professional knowledge and cross-sector capabilities he has accumulated during the past 10 years. His work as an independent consultant gives him a great degree of freedom and space to develop. Unlike the majority of general industry consultants or those engaged in the field of user experience design that have an area of expertise, Lin has continuously used research, mentoring, teaching, lectures, and columns to forge a “people-oriented” spirit through practice in recent years. He uses service design methods and strategies as practical models to apply to different topics and fields.

In 2014, Lin launched a research cooperative model for industry and academia. He helped a number of well-known domestic health-related institutions to innovate their service experiences and apply humanistic thinking and design methods. He also led a group of university students into the field to better understand the needs of the elderly and observe behavioral context. They used a long-term context immersion model to observe the implicit needs of the elderly in their daily lives, those that are not easily seen or perceived. For example, different age groups have different requirements for their circle of friends, or they may have certain visualizations for their future lives but are unable to express them. There were many service innovation opportunities hidden here, and moving one step forward showed there were a multitude of potential business opportunities everywhere, as well as paths for institutions to follow in the future.

Lin has devoted a lot of time to the issue of regional regeneration in recent years. His interest began with conversations and activities with Japanese friends on a variety of issues from agriculture to trade at numerous locations in Taiwan and Japan. During this process, he began paying close attention to the placemaking concepts proposed by Japanese society in response to social issues. For example, if the issues are an aged society and sparse local populations, how can local industries be effectively transposed to increase the value of agriculture and even identify local appeal to promote regional activation? Lin has continued his exchanges and cooperation with Japan while also writing columns about the cases he observed to introduce them to Taiwanese society. He uses his work as a consultant to the public sector or companies to offer a helping hand to the placemaking initiatives that are currently being developed in numerous regions in Taiwan.

[en] Takeshi Lin is quite knowledgeable about “mascots.” He learned from his exchanges and cooperation with Japan that proper planning and usage can be a way to promote regional regeneration or a great brand strategy.

Lin has continuously expanded this “defensive range” in Taiwan and Japan, in companies and places, and even to issues including medical treatment and long-term care; industry transformation; and regional regeneration. This is not only due to his interest in “unorthodox knowledge.” After he served as a juror in the new “Social Design” category at the 2019 “Young Pin Design Award,” he posted about his understanding of “social design” on Facebook: “It is about getting close to the real world; using design thinking to reflect on, perceive, and construct problems; and finally finding a feasible solution and then returning to the real field to apply it and co-create with the ultimate aim of creating meaning for society.” This passion for putting into practice and popularizing, with its core value, is the best explanation for all of Lin’s actions and contributions.


About Takeshi Lin

Lin holds an MBA from the University of Stirling and a master’s degree from National Taipei University. He has worked for a research organization, a famous Taiwan bookstore, and a corporate management consultancy, and also as a lecturer at a number of universities. He is currently the chief executive and service designer of “HAYASHI Office;” a lecturer at National Chengchi University’s College of Communication; president of the Taipei Street Observers Club; a review committee member/mentor for various Ministry of Culture youth programs; a consultant for the Taipei Bravo the Bear, Art Happening Production, and Cha Tzu Tang brands; and a columnist for “The Affairs,” “La Vie,” and “The News Lens.” Lin has multiple identities and has long advocated the importance of insight, design thinking, and humanistic design.

Over the years, Lin has led over 100 workshops on various design issues. He specializes in planning and designing workshops; analyzing and deconstructing social issues; and developing strategy formulations and trend tests. He tries to carry out case analyses, concept discussions, and content composition of what he thinks and considers in order to construct an interpretation and theory of social innovation step by step. In recent years, he has introduced innovative thinking and methods to various places in Taiwan and Japan. Through industrial transformation mentoring, brand style molding, and placemaking activities, Lin has made contributions to regional regeneration, humanistic design education, and service innovation.

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