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Design in China

Cecilia Chan, Johnny 2016-05-23 15:23

“They asked me why I wanted to go down this road, and I said that there were many facets to my reasoning. Firstly, when I was young I struggled through hunger and death, I saw society from a certain perspective. So being a designer is a specialty and more importantly an occupation. To me, it is basically an occupation, then a career. I have to rely on it as being a livelihood and an income, to use my own labour to make an exchange with society and ensure my own survival. I think this is very basic.” Known as ‘the pioneer of Chinese modern design’, the former Vice President of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts Yin Dingbang recalls his beginnings in the world of design. 

If we want to discuss how China’s modern art and design took shape, China’s reform and opening up is something that cannot be missed out. Starting from the 1980s, industrial design was introduced and popularised. In the late 1980s designs were created that penetrated deeply into societal issues which eventually led to the emergence of phenomenona such as digital and green design in China. This succession of developments in the area of modern design is closely aligned with the rise in living standards as well as the development of modern China. However the pressures of the market led to a period where most Chinese designers were using Western ideas which resulted in poor Chinese imitations with little understanding attached to them. However this should not mean the progress made in this stage should be discarded. On the cultural level, the key isn’t what’s inherited, it is whether progress was made through the inheritance. 


When looking at the changes in Chinese design, it can be characterised as the urgent transformation from labour to creativity. Take the OEM business Foxconn that everyone knows it is the producer of Apple technology. According to the research organisation ISuppli, the company receives up to 50% of the profits. Behind Apple’s glossy exterior is hidden an intertwinement of labour though blood and sweat along with profits on a massive scale. This is closely linked with China, where thousands of young Chinese workers work most of their fleeting youth in a high intensity production line for minimum wage. 

So China needs to transform, particularly in an intelligent way. More and more local designers are beginning to understand this. The creator of the independent design brand Maxmarko, Beijing designer Chen Darui, advises caution when branding one’s designs, “Designer branding is a complex system, and a designer cannot survive on designs alone. You want a brand that can support a product’s designs as well technology, manufacturing, the entire system. It should be a system of based on equality, where each part complements each other and adds to the whole, rather than takes from it.” This year Maxmarko will focus on keeping its products refined, as well as ensuring good design and product quality, reveals Chen Darui. 

Now that the ‘Third Generation’ of China’s designers have taken the stage, a new wave of design begins. The support of local city governments has also been important with launch of events such as ‘Design Fairs’ and ‘Design Weeks’ leading to the dissemination of Chinese design as more and more people begin to understand its significance. Compared with the previous period of borrowing from others, our exceptional designers have steadily becoming more prominent, with Chinese philosophy and way of thinking re-examining design concepts anew. Today, after this new wave, China’s ability for original designs has become a force to be reckoned with. 

Which City is the "Design Capital" of China?


Many say that designer Rossana Hu is very hard working and perseverant, and she admits as such. After finishing her undergraduate studies in Architecture at University of California, Berkeley, Hu went on to pursue her graduate studies in Architecture and Urban Planning at Princeton University.Hu has lived in many cities; she once owned a design studio in Princeton, New Jersey, but she eventually chose Shanghai as a destination to settle down in because she thinks Shanghai is a great place for designers to start a business. “I came to Shanghai in 2003, it felt very strange in the beginning, but the truth is that Chinese are quite open-minded; Shanghai has a very open environment now that is beneficial to creative people - it allows you to try something bold.” 


Thomas Dariel

In 2006, the then 23-year-old Thomas Dariel,with a deep passion for Chinese culture, left his comfortable home in Paris and headed to China to start his own career. Heroes are not bound by age, he used 10 years and quickly grew into one of the most popular designers in Shanghai. 

Design Shanghai


The exhibition was categorized into three themes and was held respectively in the Modern Design Hall, The Classic Design Hall, and the Limited Edition Design Hall; it attracted more than 300 international design brands and works from some renowned art galleries. It created a communication platform among brands, the most influential architects and designers from Asia,and individual buyers. 


Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower looks like a guitar’s pitch; going up each floor twists by one degree, the design slows down wind. The building has 118 floors and a total height of 632 metres. 


Long Museum

The Long Museum is located on the West Bund of Huangpu River. The museum kept the original bridge that carried coal carts in the past. 

West Bound Art and Design Fair

With a theme under “Change of Design” this year, West Bound Art and Design Fair has been pursing innovation and showing differences in designs. 


Media mogul Hung Huang has many identities, and each of them carries a resounding title: Publisher of the iLook magazine, women’s rights author, TV host, ex-wife of the film director Chen Kaige, and now she can also add founder of the Brand New China concept store to her list. Born in 1961, Hung left China to study in the United States when she was 12, a path that has since had her living a cross-cultural life. When talking about Beijing, Hung, an outspoken woman, says she has gained “a sense of clarity” from her experiences there. 


Hung says Beijing is tu - meaning provincial or unsophisticated. It is truly “too tu to begin with” therefore the environment in Beijing is not ideal for the development of the fashion industry. “Because of the insufficient infrastructures, it is hard for new designers there.” But Hung also admits jokingly that when viewed from a different perspective, Beijng has its own set of characteristics: “It is only a city like Beijing that can attract the world’s renowned architects, without established designs, to gather together and turn an ancient city into a museum of modern architectures.” In Hung’s eyes, Beijing is “tu” but real - a no frills urban jungle. “Compared to the Moganshan Road art district in Shanghai, the 798 Art District in Beijing appears tu.” Hung remarks that because Beijing is tu, it in turn has far less unnecessary worries compared to Shanghai. 


About her fashion retailer, Hung says that BNC (Brand New China) was born because as a media mogul, she truly wanted to create a platform for China’s own designers. After years of exploring, she increasingly understood the importance of brand: “All the fashion magazines [in China] put their focus on the foreign fashion industries to the negligence of our own designers for a long time. We think the most attractive place on Earth now is China, and China will have powerful designers with their own brands; they will not only create sensation in China but also throughout the world; our mission is to find them.” 

Chen Darui 

Darui Chen, a designer; his passion for wood resulted in MaxMarko, a Chinese furniture brand’s establishment in Beijing in 2010. Surprisingly, in all his designs, there are no visible “Chinese elements”. Chen integrates his background with his artistic tastes into his overall design for furniture, and the designs turned out to be memorable. 

Ju Bin 

Beijing designer Ju Bin’s unique works imply a rich Chinese culture. Though he appears gentle and calm, his designs are actually bold. He is good at rooting his design language in tradition while also applying modern techniques to refine and interpret his design language. 



Opened in 2010, the store’s design followed Chinese traditional medicine and its related concepts-“Medicine.” Triple-Major has become a platform for new Chinese design force in China. 

Design Beijing 

Design Beijing was formerly called “Art Beijing.” Since its establishment, Art Beijing has successfully held nine exhibitions. 

Art Your Life 

“Art Your Life” is a festival that combines creative art and consumable fashion—it integrates creative designs into the public’s daily fashion. 


Last year, the Forbes Chinese edition released the list of “the top 30 most influential Chinese designers,” and Jamy Yang proudly made the list. Born in Hangzhou, Yang studied at Zhejiang University and China Academy of Art before getting his Masters in Industrial Design in Germany with a full scholarship from the Germany WK foundation. Upon graduation, he worked at the design headquarter of Siemens. His designs have won nearly one hundred awards since he started, including the prestigious Red Dot Design Award, iF, G-Mark from Japan, IDEA from America, and Silver Award for Asia’s most influential designs. 


A journalist once asked Yang: “What is Chinese design?” and Yang answered: “Chopsticks; chopsticks can be used to represent Chinese design, but not modern Chinese design.” From his works, one can subtly spot characteristics of Hangzhou - neither too fast nor too slow, and with very clear logic. “10 years ago, I left Siemens, carrying the hopes of my academic mentor and returned China to found Yang Design Consulting,” Yang says, “My mentor hoped that I could take what I had learned and use them in China to contribute and make changes to China’s design industry.” When passion for design transformed him into a figure of authority, Yang felt that it is his social responsibility to promote China’s product design. “I believe the fundamentals of design are still to solve the relationships between people and objects, between users and products; a good design must follow sustainable design strategy and principles, only then can a design convey inspiration messages to our society.” 

Cheng Taining 

He participated in some major designs including Nanjing Yangtz River Bridge’s abutment; he led more than fifty domestic and foreign designs including Hangzhou’s New Railroad Station, National Theatre of Ghana, etc. 

Liangzhu Museum 

The Liangzhu Museum, located in Yuhang District, Hangzhou, is a design piece of British architect, David Chipperfield. The white and grayish walls are kept to their original colors. 


Zhejiang Art Museum 

Zhejiang Art Museum’s design is a representation of Southern China culture. The black roofs are like paint brush stokes; the materials used - no matter if it is steel, glass, or stone - all demonstrated quality; the roofs are shaped into varied pyramids, their connections with the building’s flat surface made the Museum full of sculptural and modern touch. 

Wang Shu

Wang Shu was the first Chinese to win the Pritzker Prize. He frequently reuses recyclable materials in his designs; he is a strong advocate of reducing material waste. His work Brick Garden started a Chinese-style trend on the stage of international architecture. 


Chen Yaoguang 

Chen was among the first graduates of Environmental Art Major from China Academy of Art. His works include Shutong Li Museum, Zhejiang Art Museum, Hanmeilin Art Museum, ZheJiang Concert Hall, Zhejiang Jiaxing Theater, Gad Architectural Design and Research Institute of Hangzhou. 

Hong Kong     

André Fu, founder of AFSO Design Studio, rigorously pursues new Asian-style fineness that he incorporates into his interior design: clear and transparent space with emphasis on the details of life. His studio’s concept is reflected in the design of space, proportion, lighting, and the quality of the materials used. 


Born in Hong Kong, Fu has become one of the representative designers there. Having gone to the UK at the age of 14, Fu went on to attend the University of Cambridge. After graduating in 2000, he founded AFSO the same year with a focus on creating distinct design projects. In 2004, Fu returned to Hong Kong where his studio has since created a series of projects with distinctive sensuous beauty and are internationally recognized. His notable projects include The Upper House in Hong Kong, the Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore, the Piacere Italian Restaurant, the Nadaman Japanese restaurant of Tokyo Shangri- La Hotel, and the Garcia restaurant of Singapore Capella hotel. His other projects all vary, across a relatively wide range of size and type. For instance, one of the world’s largest shoe stores: the Lane Crawford Shoe Library, and actress Michelle Yeoh’s private residence. Fu spends a lot of time conducting research in order to understand the stories behind a project. “In my design, anything that appears modern are most likely an innovation based on understanding of historical events,” Fu says, “As a designer, I hope to see more designs with soul rather than being completely driven by some unsubstantiated idea.” 


Steve Leung 

Known for his modern style, Steve Leung specializes in using Asian cultural elements in his designs. Over the past 16 years, Leung has won the Andrew Martin Interior Design Award made for world-renowned interior designers eleven times. 


One of the latest representative buildings on the Hong Kong island cityscape. The new wing is an expansion that was built on reclaimed ground with three floors enclosing a large auditorium and several exhibition halls; it has one of the world ‘s largest exhibition halls. 



CL3 was founded in Hong Kong in 1992. In 2012, it was selected as the largest exhibition hall designer during the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Architecture. 

Bank of China Tower 

BOCHK ‘s headquarters, designed by the famous Chinese American architect I.M. Pei. 


Alan Chan

Though he only studied design for less than a year in an evening school, he has won more than 500 domestic and international design awards. In 1989 he was awarded “Designer of the Year” by the Hong Kong Artists Association. 


Designer Jeff Shi believes that the beauty of bamboo represents China’s national character and sentiment; it is hidden with Chinese philosophical thoughts. Shi’s techniques combine traditional Chinese craftsmanship and design, which brought him numerous Red Dot Design Awards. “Today we appreciate humanities, the most valuable thing should be human’s creativity and aesthetics of art - these are the highest values of design,” he said and paused, “So I need to find a material that can not only represent China but also echoes with human emotions.” During material application, Shi explains that traditionally, hard wood has been regarded as strong, solid, and valuable because of its scarcity in China. On the contrary, bamboo has been neglected. And in his eyes, this is a mistake. 


“My roots are in Chongqing, my parents moved to Taiwan in 1949 and I was born there. I received a very rigorous traditional education, my grandma even had bound feet… so our family was very traditional Chinese.” As a child, Shi disliked restrictions and longed for a new way of thinking. “Later I went to the New York to receive a Western education; I benefited a lot from there. But there is still an invisible exclusiveness, people are judged by their skin colour and race, so we ought excel professionally.” His design promoted cultivation and utilization for bamboo, and brought Taiwan’s dying bamboo industry back to life. 

Qiu Deguang 

Nine years ago, Qiu Deguang was planning for retirement, but he was given a surprise opportunity to bid for a project in Mainland China. In 2004, Qiu introduced Art Deco into his design for Beijing Naga luxury apartment, which received waves of good reviews. Since then, he has been regarded as the creator of Taiwan’s “New decoration style.” Qiu also became a spokesperson of Taiwanese design. 

2016 World’s Design Capital 

This year, the eyes of the world will focus on Taipei China, because it is the “World’s Design Capital.” In Taiwan, Chinese culture is a belief, a commitment, and faith. Through Taiwanese design, we see the possibility of cultural cooperation between Chinese culture and that of other Asian countries. 


Golden Pin Design Award 

The Golden Pin Design Award has 35 years of history and is the oldest, most authoritative, and influential design competition in Taiwan. 

Taiwan Designers’ Week

Originally was founded by a group of designers, they have inspired a series of collective thinking and discussion on local design. 

The Kaohsiung Design Festival (KDF) 

Under the theme of “Wild Design” that brought out design topics after the earthquake. KDF is leading the design strength of the entire city. 

The Forgotten Glory of Font Design

Author:Reno Yang 

Documents, newspapers, advertising… we have far more contact with typography than we imagine. When you use Times New Roman or Helvetica, do you ever think about the designers behind such icons? 

In Wei Yin Ru’s book Chinese Ancient History of Printing, he speculated: “Our woodblock printing was invented between the 7th and 8th centuries. In the late 9th century it was already quite well developed.” Artisans were using knives and chisels to carve intricate, artistic prints. That was the prototype font design. From the founding of New China to the late 1950s, based on considerations of national publicity, font design was incorporated into the national agenda.” 


During the early phases of type module, the font designer would go through a number of steps like drafting on graphic paper, making a pencil draft, stroke, fill, and retouching. In the past, font designers didn’t have computers, so Chinese fonts and calligraphy were inseparable - font designers had to have good calligraphy skills. Like a Michelin-starred chef’s cooking, where any imperfection during the process would put a frown on the face of a discerning customer, so every step in type design and usage. 

Computer technology has helped a lot in typesetting and font creation. Thanks to vector fonts, PostScript, and TrueType, font design have been standardized internationally. Since then, font designers started to get rid of manual design and use software instead to help overcome the difficulties of designing Chinese’s huge number of glyphs. Since the 1980s, Chinese font design started to realize marketization. Fang Zheng, Hua Wen, Han Yi, Hua Kang, and Wen Ding - over a dozen developer companies have been in the market for over 20 years, and the scale of their font development means that we inevitably encounter them every day. 


Among them, Fang Zheng has occupied most of the newspaper publishing market by their solid financial background, technical capabilities, and systems bundling advantages. Han Yi inroads into the market with the word advertising, while Hua Kang fonts broke the record for selling one hundred thousand floppy disk annually in the Japanese market. 

In recent years, the topic of font design found itself at the center of a heated discussion in the media: the situation of font designing, particularly the shortage of Chinese fonts was worrying. As for Western fonts, just the big companies in America own over hundreds of thousands of them. There are over 16,000 computer fonts but only 400 of those are simplified Chinese. Even with all the models added together, there is about 1,000 with many duplicates. From a commercial perspective, the reason that the industry of Chinese typography is in deep malaise is that font designers don’t get paid well. Fang Zheng, Han Yi, Wen Ding, and Hua Wen are the best known commercial font design companies, in which Fang Zheng being number one and taking over more than half of the market in domestic commercial fonts and media fonts. However even under such circumstances, Fang Zheng admits that they cannot make profit from font designing. They have to use other departments to support the company. However, in such a harsh situation, a group of font designers have emerged as “font fighters”. 


“Makefont” is one of the outstanding ones. They developed “fashion medium black simplify” fonts, which is named after an enterprise. This is the first instance of this happening in China. Not only does this enhance the independence of the media brand but it also initiated the trend of domestic media using original fonts. Ding Yi, the founder of Makefont says: “Let the font form into a more balanced approach to development, and let the font designers win the awareness of copyrights.” 

Since their establishment two years ago, Makefont says they have been doing a good job improving the awareness of font usage. More and more, personal designers and fonts lovers have purchased their fonts products… a step in the right direction in a world where people too often use fonts without proper licenses. 

Other than companies like Makefont, there are some individual researchers that have been ferreting out font design and development in their own way. The author of Story of Latin Font Li Zhiqian led students in 2015 to Shanghai Font Plane do a deep investigation. He believes that only deep understanding of font development would lead to good application in font design, and font design plays a decisive role in graphic design. What we can predict is that, as long as Chinese designers put more attention to font design, then the glory of font design would be lit up again. 

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