The relationship between design and culture in the Chinese and Chinese American community
Mary Y Yang Assistant Professor Boston University
Radical Characters is a study group and curatorial project that explores the relationship between design and culture in the Chinese and Chinese American community. Each project seeks to decentralize the design canon and to co-build history and community by initiating dialogues through educational experiences. Looking beyond Western design pedagogy, Radical Characters studies Hanzi as a point of inquiry to learn, innovate, and study graphic design from a non-linear approach. Radical Characters looks to projects such as Decolonising Design and the People’s Graphic Design Archive that model methods for challenging practice, pedagogy, and contributions to the design field. The first project was “Radical Return,” an exhibition that draws inspiration from the Chinese character 回 hui, which means to return, to turn around, to circle or to reply. An international call for submissions prompted participants to use 回 as a grid—visually and conceptually—to consider a path they seek to retrace as Chinese or Chinese American designers. Thirty-six Chinese and Chinese American artists and graphic designers were selected to exhibit their graphic work simultaneously at Boston University Art Galleries and IS A GALLERY. The designers’ work accompanied with statements and additional commissioned essays were published in a bilingual catalog. The exhibition opened up a collective space for designers to explore the concept of return through language, typography, cultural traditions, identity, and design history. Radical Characters acknowledges that the works by no means form a complete picture of the multifaceted and complex narratives experienced by Chinese and Chinese American designers, but rather shape an in-progress collection site for building knowledge through the exchange of graphic design and culture. The exhibition presents a framework for a design curatorial process that instigates cultural dialogue among the participants and offers alternative ways for exhibition-making and the exhibition design process.
An open, collaborative index of Chinese typographic resources consisting of typefaces, bibliographic resources, and conceptual terminology
Caspar Lam Assistant Professor of Communication Design Parsons School of Design
YuJune Park Assistant Professor of Communication Design Parsons School of Design
Within Chinese typography, the lack of common reference points and conceptual frameworks have made it difficult for students and designers to understand this area of design. To address this gap, the Chinese Type Archive was launched at the start of 2020 as an open, collaborative index of Chinese typographic resources consisting of typefaces, bibliographic resources, and conceptual terminology. Conceived as a purpose-built resource dedicated to bridging and creating cross-cultural connections between Chinese and Latin typography, the Archive provides easier access to hard-to-find typographic material through linked data, lists of previously unnamed historic typefaces, and tracking of evolving conceptual terminology. In its origin, the project reflects a broader wave of renewed interest in Chinese typography from practitioners over the last decade. The first phase of the project began with a seed collection of data, university and design organization funding, and several rounds of technical iteration before its beta launch.
Now, one year later online, we present our continued progress with the project with reflections on community feedback and the project’s iterative methodology. These have led to new insights on barriers-to-entry, the cataloguing process, and the formation of online communities with networked, crowdsourced knowledge. Beyond the immediate impact on the discussion of global typography, the project has raised new questions on how designers should conceive of typography. In addition, the project has tangible ramifications on our idea of collections as a way of creating new sources of design knowledge that can engage designers at any level: student, professional, educator, and researcher. The insights gained from this case study has direct ramifications on design pedagogy and practice, particularly in how the acts of collecting and cataloguing can be powerful methods for learning, contextualization, and critical making.