Graphic design to display an unending love of pizza? Meet Chaoqun Wang and her playful projects
Currently studying at SVA, Chaoqun brings her experiences of various countries and cultures to her work.
- Ruby Boddington
- 12 October 2020
The work of visual designer Chaoqun Wang is a fascinating hodgepodge of influences, gleaned from the designer’s equally fascinating path to where she is now. “During my undergraduate education at RISD, I was heavily influenced by my professors to adopt a well-structured and bold mid-century Swiss design,” Chaoqun tells us. “In addition to the Swiss-inspired qualities such as the precise use of typography and grids, my work also draws inspiration from the improvisational qualities of Dada photomontages and Japanese ukiyo-e prints.”
This combination is the direct result of Chaoqun’s global experience and design education, being born and raised in Shanghai until the age of 15 before moving to the States. She then studied graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design and, after graduating, moved to Tokyo for three years where she was an in-house designer at Rakuten, working alongside Kashiwa Satō, “who I still think is a design legend,” she says. “After growing and learning from Sato, I was ready to experiment with something exciting and new again – I went back to school.” Now, she’s currently in the second year of the School of Visual Arts’ MFA design programme and has a portfolio fit to bust with playful, idiosyncratic and experimental projects.
On this topic, Chaoqun adds that her personal experience of moving between countries and cultures has massively influenced her as an artist. “Having been born and raised in China, living in the United States for a few years, and moving to Japan has taught me a lot about perspectives and how they vary from place to place. I struggled with my identity and always made an effort to live as the locals did,” she tells us. “Ironically, my pursuit of living authentically has only made me more diversified. I saw a strength in my diverse background with my ability to assimilate subjects of opposites and aim to project this unification through my design.” In turn, her practice embraces contradictions and opposing ideas. “I find joy in merging off-track concepts in harmony,” she says.
When it comes to mediums, Chaoqun describes herself as versatile, working in both print and digital. “With digital projects, I bring knowledge from my print background, which retains a sense of the physical world, specifically the tactile experience,” she explains. “In my experience, the two subjects compliment each other well, so I tend not to clarify what I want to specifically focus on.”
A project of Chaoqun’s which straddles both these worlds (and which initially caught our eye) was made in collaboration with Harbor Bickmore, Eunji Kim and Catreen Yoon, and sees the group designing the identity for a pizza festival in New York City. The identity is fun, using illustration at its heart to convey a simple concept: the unending love of pizza which has traversed youth culture, while pretty much everything else in it evolves and changes. “From the Ninja Turtles cowabunga-ing to a pepperoni slice to Bart Simpson riding on a pizza shaped skateboard, decades of pop culture references have immortalised pizza as cult icon status in the US,” Chaoqun elaborates.
For the NYC Pizza Festival, the team therefor reimagined the experience around this iconic dish, “moving away from the pseudo-Italian aesthetic and instead celebrated the youth counterculture surrounding it.” They took visual cues from psychedelia, skate culture, and acid graphics meaning the typography, colour palette, patterns, characters, and tone of voice are catered to “the Kidults, the Stoners, and the Skate Rats. Here’s to the other kind of pizza lovers.” Chaoqun adds, “Every element of the visual identity screams, ‘this is not your grandma’s pizza festival.’”
In another project, an album artwork for Pharaoh Sanders’ Elevation, Chaoqun displays her love of combining juxtaposing elements. It’s an album which “opens a new chapter for jazz in which he reinterprets traditional jazz by including instruments often found in more religious performances.” As a result, Chaoqun’s typographic choices respond to this approach by introducing elements which are supposedly polar opposites. “By merging visual cues of Jazz’s Dada and heavy expression with Surrealism’s subtlety and precision, between the boldness and the quietness, the album design creates a gratifying balance between two seemingly conflicting subjects.”
Clearly Chaoqun is a designer who brings their day-to-day experiences and learned knowledge to their practice, and it’s exactly this which makes her so exciting to keep an eye on. As our world becomes all the more bizarre, nuanced and multifaceted, so too it seems with Chaoqun’s works. For now though, she has her sights set on 3D and IRL pieces: “I hope to play more with scale. When it comes to storytelling, there are now so many tools out there, but I think spatial design still has its own place. I am constantly searching for opportunities to push concepts even further, in a 3D or maybe even 4D realm.”
Chaoqun Wang, Harbor Bickmore, Eunji Kim and Catreen Yoon: New York Pizza Festival (Copyright © Chaoqun Wang, Harbor Bickmore, Eunji Kim, Catreen Yoon, 2019)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.