Chinese Calligraphy: Typography, Design & Illustration

"Nanxum's Calligraphic and Typographic Tradition" by Itamar Medeiros
"Nanxum's Calligraphic and Typographic Tradition" by Itamar Medeiros

Calligraphy has a long and respected tradition in China, swirling around history and myth: some legends attribute its invention to a man called Cang Jie, around 2,600 b.C.

Nowadays, Calligraphy has become a symbol of erudition, and has a strong influence on Chinese design. I’d dare to say that, with its strong repetition and reproduction practice drills, Calligraphy has modeled the Chinese world view. Let me explain why:

Recently I took part of the Scholarship Review Board of Raffles Design Institute, in which I had to analyze the work of 400 Chinese students that apply to the Visual Communication Program, coming from several art academies and high schools of Shanghai, as well as far out provinces of China. The work submitted by the students should portray their abilities regarding two specific skills: Rendering and Illustration.

For the rendering examination, several batches of students were asked to watch a slideshow of celebrities (tv stars, pop artists, politicians, etc), still life, and landscapes. The students were asked to — within a 5 minute timeframe — to reproduce in an answer sheet the images they saw in the slideshow. For the illustration examination, the students were asked — again within a 5 minute timeframe — to illustrate concepts, like “happiness”, “flexibility”, “honesty”.

During the analysis of the students’ rendering skills, I was astonished with the overall quality, precision, confidence, and speed. Some of the drawings had the potential to be mistakenly attributed to some professional illustrator.

In the other hand, during the analysis of their illustration skills, I was surprised by their difficulty of illustrating the concepts (including the students that had performed well in the rendering part): the large majority of the students approached the concept in a very superficial way. Even their style changed: candidates who had portray mature and confident strokes during the rendering exam started drawing like children, using stick figures.

Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Senior User Experience Designer at SAP and promotes User Experience Design as visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design. Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar Medeiros has helped truly global companies in several countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, United Arab Emirates, United States) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he championed the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai

4 Responses

  1. william Kong says:

    Chinese Calligraphy have a great effect the formation of Chinese Culture and its history.

    I have work on this fields for many years and I attempt to work it out in a practical approach rather than in theory.

    For more detail

    http://www.alivenotdead.com/william111kong

  2. Amanda Kelly says:

    Hey!! I am thoroughly impressed with your knowledge of Chinese Invention. Your insights into this article about Chinese Invention was well worth the the time to read it. I thank you for posting such awsome information. Signed Amanda Kelly on this Day Sunday.

  1. May 14, 2008

    […] previous post in which I discussed chinese calligraphy, I talked a little bit about chinese calligraphy’s history, and my impressions of its […]

  2. May 19, 2008

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