Font of Knowl­edge

On the eve of the Am­bas­sadors of De­sign’s 10th an­niver­sary ball, Oliver Giles meets Ado­nian Chan, a ben­e­fi­ciary of the char­ity, and Marisa Yiu, who is lead­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s big­gest ini­tia­tive yet

Hong Kong Tatler - - October -

On the eve of the Am­bas­sadors of De­sign’s 10th an­niver­sary ball, meet Ado­nian Chan, a ben­e­fi­ciary of the char­ity, and Marisa Yiu, who is lead­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s big­gest ini­tia­tive yet

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morn­ing? “Most peo­ple open What­sapp,” graphic de­signer Ado­nian Chan claims con­fi­dently. “So even if you’re not aware of it, we en­counter fonts and ty­pog­ra­phy from the mo­ment we wake up.” And af­ter you’ve no­ticed one font, oth­ers jump out at you. The font on In­sta­gram is dif­fer­ent from the one on Face­book. Text on road signs in New York is skin­nier than that in Hong Kong. Pub­lisher Vin­tage Books chose dif­fer­ent type­faces for War and Peace and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fonts may be easy to over­look, but stud­ies show that they al­ter our read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, af­fect our be­hav­iour and, says Ado­nian, even de­fine cul­tures. “Ja­panese graphic de­sign has a very dis­tinc­tive style, but I didn’t think Hong Kong did,” Ado­nian ex­plains. “Then I be­gan to re­search cal­lig­ra­phy and dis­cov­ered there is a re­ally dis­tinc­tive style called Bei­wei Kaishu that is used on tra­di­tional Hong Kong street and shop signs. It did not pass on to Main­land China or Tai­wan, so it only ex­ists in Hong Kong and Ma­cau.”

Ado­nian was ec­static at the dis­cov­ery. Here was some­thing unique to Hong Kong, a lit­tle slice of de­sign his­tory that lo­cals can be proud of. But there’s a down­side. “Bei­wei is in danger of be­com­ing ex­tinct,” he says. “In the past, shop­keep­ers hired a cal­lig­ra­pher to draw char­ac­ters for their shop signs. But now they tend to use fonts from com­put­ers. Most fonts on com­put­ers are de­signed to be used at un­der 12 point size, not for shop signs.”

The clock is tick­ing, so Ado­nian has em­barked on a mis­sion to save Bei­wei. In­stead of fighting against peo­ple’s ever-grow­ing re­liance on tech­nol­ogy, Ado­nian is in­stead de­vel­op­ing Bei­wei into a mod­ern type­face that can be in­stalled on phones and com­put­ers. If his dream be­comes re­al­ity, you might one day be able to send your early-morn­ing What­sapps in Bei­wei.

Ado­nian has also in­cor­po­rated Bei­wei into a va­ri­ety of projects he has worked on with Trilin­gua, a graphic de­sign stu­dio he co-founded in 2010. For De­tour 2015, an ex­hi­bi­tion or­gan­ised by the Am­bas­sadors of De­sign char­ity, Trilin­gua de­signed an in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tion made up of eight

“The De­sign Trust is re­ally in­ter­ested in award­ing grants that not only re­late to the her­itage of our city, but that are also about in­no­vat­ing with her­itage” — Marisa Yiu

neon Bei­wei char­ac­ters that buzzed louder and glowed brighter the closer a viewer got to the in­stal­la­tion. When Trilin­gua de­signed a tra­di­tional bam­boo the­atre for the West Kowloon Cul­tural Dis­trict in 2014, Ado­nian made sure it had Bei­wei signs.

The graphic de­signer has also launched on a re­search project to trace Bei­wei’s his­tory from its birth on the main­land dur­ing the tu­mul­tuous North­ern and South­ern Dy­nas­ties (more than 1,500 years ago) to the mo­ment it was brought to Hong Kong by two Guangzhou cal­lig­ra­phers in the 1880s. Here, Bei­wei changed dra­mat­i­cally into the font it is to­day, be­com­ing “more ro­bust, even bolder” and com­pletely unique to Hong Kong.

Ado­nian’s ef­forts to pre­serve Bei­wei have in­volved a lot of work, and he is the first to ad­mit he couldn’t man­age it with­out help. His big­gest sup­porter is the De­sign Trust, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that awards grants to de­sign­ers and schol­ars work­ing in Hong Kong and around the Pearl River Delta. Since it was set up by the Am­bas­sadors of De­sign in 2014, the trust has awarded more than HK$5.5 mil­lion in grants, in­clud­ing a sum for Ado­nian to fur­ther his Bei­wei re­search.

“The De­sign Trust is re­ally in­ter­ested in pro­duc­ing pro­grammes or award­ing grants that not only re­late to the her­itage of our city, but that are also about in­no­vat­ing with her­itage,” says Marisa Yiu, who is the co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the De­sign Trust.

“Ado­nian’s project is a good ex­am­ple of study­ing lost his­tory, in this case a ty­pog­ra­phy, and bring­ing it to a dif­fer­ent scale. If you look at Cal­ibri or Arial or Hel­vetica, they all come from a cer­tain his­tory. Maybe Ado­nian can pro­duce a very in­ter­est­ing font that can then live on in other ways.”

The Am­bas­sadors of De­sign board was so im­pressed by Ado­nian’s work that they’ve asked him to be co-creative di­rec­tor, along­side renowned Hong Kong ar­chi­tect An­dré Fu, of their an­nual fundrais­ing ball, which takes place this year at the Kerry Ho­tel on Oc­to­ber 14. The pair are de­sign­ing every­thing from the in­vi­ta­tions to enor­mous, thought-pro­vok­ing in­stal­la­tions in the ball­room.

“For the Am­bas­sadors of De­sign Ball, we’ve pre­vi­ously had very es­tab­lished, pow­er­ful names be the creative di­rec­tors—vivi­enne Tam, Alan Chan, Stan­ley Wong,” ex­plains Marisa. “But now we’re run­ning the De­sign Trust, which is about fos­ter­ing younger de­sign­ers, the ball presents a great op­por­tu­nity for emerg­ing voices to work with more es­tab­lished de­sign­ers, like An­dré. An­dré is so fa­mous now, and has done so much for life­style and in­te­ri­ors and lux­ury. I think this is when it gets ex­cit­ing—when we can bridge dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and dif­fer­ent ap­proaches and al­low an­other layer of di­a­logue and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.”

At the ball, Marisa and Am­bas­sadors of De­sign board mem­bers will re­veal their plans for the future and re­flect on their suc­cesses, and there’ll be plenty to cel­e­brate from the past year. Among many projects, the De­sign Trust has sup­ported an ex­hi­bi­tion by artist Si­mon Denny at the OCT Con­tem­po­rary Art Ter­mi­nal in Shen­zhen, and has funded a team from the MIT Me­dia Lab to con­duct re­search around the Pearl River Delta. The lat­ter group is work­ing to rev­o­lu­tionise man­u­fac­tur­ing by unit­ing ground-break­ing de­sign stu­dios with stuck-intheir-ways fac­to­ries.

“One ma­jor thing we’re very ex­cited about is our new­est fel­low­ship, in part­ner­ship with the Royal Col­lege of Art,” says Marisa. “We’ll be an­nounc­ing the fel­low at the ball.” The fel­low will study de­sign cu­ra­tion at the academy in Lon­don for a year be­fore “com­ing back to Hong Kong to ben­e­fit the cul­tural ecosys­tem.”

Build­ing a “cul­tural ecosys­tem” is, in a nut­shell, ex­actly what the Am­bas­sadors of De­sign char­ity has been do­ing for the past 10 years. “We con­nect the pa­tron com­mu­nity with the maker com­mu­nity, with the non­prof­its, with the govern­ment, with the pub­lic,” says Marisa. “There’s now a spirit of dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers com­ing to­gether to build new com­mu­ni­ties around de­sign.”

Long may it last.

Pho­tog­ra­phy nic and bex gaunt

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.