To most people, "Made in Taiwan" means microchips, reliable if dull laptops and huge Taiwanese companies in China making anonymous components for Apple.
The strength of Taiwan's manufacturing sector is the rock on which the self-ruled island's economy is built. But as competition intensifies within the region, especially from mainland China across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan's thoughts are turning to design and innovation for the future.
"For the past 30 years, Taiwan factories have been OEM [original equipment manufacturer] plants. There are less original brands that are well known," says Xiao Qing-yang, a graphic designer who has earned four Grammy Award nominations for his work on albums.
"But now things are different, all my teachers, classmates, friends, especially the young ones, all they talk about is brands. We've seen … the profit a brand could bring to a business from the western world, and now it's the time to build up our own brands and let them go out into the world," says Mr Xiao.
Taiwan is pushing hard to move up the value chain, and industry and the state are sponsoring design institutes to boost the country's innovative output and upgrade local brands. This means a strong focus on product, and industrial and graphic design.
China still considers breakaway Taiwan - population 23 million - a renegade province, but under Ma Ying-jeou, the Taiwanese president, the island's business links have prospered. There are 2 million islanders living on the mainland, many of them business people who have moved their manufacturing operations there.
The changing nature of industry means Taiwan has had to start to think of ways to gain a competitive advantage.
"In Taiwan, all major high-quality, high-price goods have been made here. But no matter how strong we are in manufacturing, the factories are moving to China. It's just like in Europe, they saw their manufacturing move eastwards," says Linber Huang, the deputy chief executive of the Taiwan Design Centre.
"In Taiwan, we decided to think about how we would create what we call intangible culture," he says. "Design helps products look beautiful, and it also helps lifestyle. More and more, products must deliver something that helps with the lifestyle. Everyone knows Louis Vuitton, for example, but it shows that it is about more than being useful or high-tech.
"At the National Design Centre, we look at all aspects of design. Design is not just about exports, design is for life."
With this in mind, the "Made in Taiwan" label is becoming a more exciting concept, and the country's design institutes are starting to make a wide range of goods including shoes, clothes, furniture, computers and software.
Asus, one of the world's largest manufacturers of portable PCs, has focused on enhancing its competitive advantage by opting for some high-end design. It teamed up with the Egyptian industrial designer Karim Rashid for a series of fashionable netbooks, while the Asus NX90 laptop was planned in conjunction with the audiovisual company Bang & Olufsen and its chief designer, David Lewis.
A current classic is the WX-Lamborghini - trimmed with leather side panels, cut angle lines, and of course, the raging bull on the front. It is not a car - it's a mouse.
The track wheel is replaced by what looks like the tread you would find on a real Lamborghini's tyres, and the front fascia mirrors the rear-vents design of the Italian car maker's Reventon model.
"I had a dream when I was very little, because at that time Taiwan was going through the transformation from an agriculture-based economy to the industrial economy," says Mr Xiao. "But it was too early to talk about the importance of cultural expression. But I saw a strength coming from the people and tradition, and I thought the combination between this and design could help boost Taiwan's future economy.
"This is the future of design in Taiwan. Until now, Chinese brands were not strong enough, so we need to do more to build up brand value. We also need to look at our ability to be creative and original. We need to make sure design gets enough oxygen," he adds.
Taiwan won 92 international red dot awards for design this year, including six "best of the best" awards for products of the highest design quality. The awards programme, based in Germany, receives about 11,000 submissions annually. This year, Taiwan came in ahead of the regional giants Japan and South Korea.
Among Taiwan's winning products were the QPT231 portable projector, the Coral Reef LED lamp created by Qisda Corporation, and the Slide iPad Stand developed by Just Mobile. There was also Penpower Technology's WorldCard Ultra plus business card reader, the EVO 4G mobile phone by HTC and an ultra-light wrench made of a special compound by the Metal Industries Research Development Centre.
Meanwhile, at the iF Product Design Awards, which were announced at the CeBIT electronics fair in Hanover in March, seven of the 50 products chosen overall for the gold award, known as "design Oscars", were Taiwanese, behind only Germany and Japan. Overall, these awards are important to Taiwan's design industry. Taiwanese designs are creeping into the global consciousness, although we may not always be aware of them.
A Taiwanese designer came up with the pedestrian crossing lights that feature a countdown and an animated "little green man" who walks faster when the light is about to turn red.
This has since spread to the US, Germany, Japan and parts of the UAE.
According to data from the Taiwanese Council of Cultural Affairs, there were a total of 2,470 design companies in the country in 2009, with a combined annual revenue of 71.2 billion new Taiwan dollars (Dh9.12bn). This year, Taiwan will host the Taipei World Design Expo as part of its Year of Design.
Vivian Wu, the head of strategic planning at the Taiwan Design Centre, believes the island's creative strengths are growing.
"There is plenty of talent in the design field in Taiwan, and they are increasingly appreciated by the international community. As this strength in design grows, design and innovation help traditional industries find new opportunities and challenges," says Ms Wu.
"The power of design and innovation is also changing the management model, not only of product manufacturing but in the services sector too."
Ms Wu says the government has acted quickly to integrate designers into industry, giving them a platform to push through new ideas.
"The importance of design is being recognised more and more, especially in the last four or five years," she says.
Crucially, consumers are showing they appreciate better-designed products.
"But business people in Taiwan also recognise how important design is to their products," says Ms Wu.
The Design Centre has been busily promoting "brand Taiwan", and the design-service and design-brand industry is growing, trying to sell Taiwanese identity internationally.
"Although this is a small island, it is really international now. I can see the design industry will have a brilliant future," says Ms Wu. "Plus we already have the technology base, the design talents, and the heads of industry have accepted the concept of design as important and are backing us."