Putting the Chinese in ‘Made in China’

An article in the New York Times Arts section looks at the nascent graphic design industry in China by profiling one designer who is hot in Beijing:

Sitting in the Colibri Cafe (home of those pricey cupcakes) Mr. Liu seems to be as perfectly cast to represent the new Beijing as Sanlitun Village North is to act as its set. A lithe 35-year-old with a wispy goatee and oversized spectacles, he is in the forefront of a new generation of graphic designers who are trying to define a visual language for contemporary China.

One way he does so is by using vernacular motifs familiar from daily life in China or its recent past. The mint, rice and leek in BNC’s identity are typical. An earlier design was based on the ubiquitous logo of CCTV, China’s state broadcaster. Another was a map of Shanghai made from neon lights, which glowed across the city before the 1949 Chinese Revolution. He is also fond of using traditional Chinese printing techniques and paper treatments.

You can see similar allusions to everyday life in the work of contemporary Chinese architects, fashion designers and filmmakers, but Mr. Liu identifies other, subtler qualities that, he believes, make his designs “Chinese.”

“An important difference between China and the West is that we respond to things instinctively,” he said. “Westerners often want to understand things by rationalizing them, whereas we just feel and know. Our relationship to visual culture is intuitive and fluid.”


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