Icograda (the International Council of Graphic Design Associations), the world body for professional communication design, held its biennial World Design Congress 2009 and General Assembly 23 in Beijing, China from 24-30 October. Hosted by the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) and the First Beijing Design Week, this first ever large-scale design event in China was an opportunity to promote design industry and served as a public forum to exchange ideas on advancing design education in China. The World Design Congress examined contemporary viewpoints and presented challenges in the visual communication field. The General Assembly, led by the Icograda Executive Board, officially put into effect a model for best practices in sustainable development, and was attended by delegates representing member organizations from over 40 countries and regions.
The main focus of the Congress was the international conference. Under the theme Xin, (an ancient means of communication), the speakers discussed four topics in lateral sessions: Access, Balance, Communicate, and Define. A distinguishing feature of the Congress was the series of Pre-Conference Workshops, which were held in cities around China. The workshops were led by international designers and design educators, and the student work created at the workshops were collected, exhibited and printed during the Congress in Beijing.
As part of the Icograda Congress, I conducted a cultural concept book workshop at School of Arts, Soochow University. I arrived in Suzhou bearing items representative of my hometown of Boston including photographs, postcards, stamps, newspapers, assorted sports paraphernalia, including memorabilia from the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the world famous Boston Marathon.
Thirty-five students participated in the weeklong workshop. To carry out the assignment, the students scanned and photocopied the Boston material and combined them with their own drawings, paintings, and digital photographs of their city of Suzhou. They also integrated text from the historical Boston narratives and poetry. The students were encouraged to explore alternate methods of visualizing narration: continuous text, typographic expression, diagrams, timelines, map construction, and text/image combinations. The students were allowed to use either English text or Chinese calligraphy or a combination of the two. The students also focused on the cinematic aspects of multi-page design, unity, pacing, contrast, and rhythm. I demonstrated different working methodologies, for example, experimenting with multiple images at different sizes and collage techniques.
The objective of the workshop was to compare and contrast the Western and Eastern cities of Boston and Suzhou by taking a closer look at these two cities’ personalities. Although Suzhou, located 32 miles northwest of Shanghai, is a large modern city, one can find a network of 16th century canals, bridges and classical gardens. I challenged the students to think about how living in or visiting a city influences how we think and how we see. I asked them to create short, multi-page books integrating images from both Boston and Suzhou that would visually communicate the similarities and differences in the visual culture of the two cities. I asked the students to think about how to convey visually the mood and temperament of the subject matter and their experiences in Suzhou from their point of view and conversely, their impressions of Boston. I call this approach a cultural concept book study.
The final designs comprised a variety of books that included famous Chinese water townships, expressive typography, postcard images, statues and architecture of Boston, and Chinese 'stamp' motifs. The students spent the first two days of the workshop working through preliminary ideas and drafting rough sketches. The second half of the week was spent creating the books and completing the project. It took them a while to understand the concept, but about halfway through the week they just took off. The results were truly remarkable.
The solutions combined Eastern and Western imagery with English text and Chinese calligraphy to form a unique and unusual juxtaposition of design elements. The two class critiques enabled the students to get instantaneous feedback, critique their classmates’ design solutions, and articulate the ideas behind their own projects. It was an excellent collaboration and cross-cultural dialog in the graphic arts.
The 5,000-year-old artistic traditions of China, including strong calligraphic and graphic arts, make it an exceptionally fertile area for cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration in the graphic arts. I look forward to further involvement with students and artists in China in the coming years.