Since 2005, Chinese magazine Design 360° has undergone three re-designs while continuing to provide Asian demographics with contemporary design content. Acting as a bridge between the Chinese design circle and the rest of the world, each bilingual issue focuses on a different theme, most recently, illustration and media. Lauren Luo, the editor of the publication talks us through this 79th issue and gives us an inside perspective into China’s unique illustration scene.
“Illustration is often perceived as a niche interest in young people in China,” says Lauren. As a discipline, it’s somewhat underrated in China receiving “much less support from the government than other domains like design. Also, there are few illustration organisations while there are design associations in almost every province in China,” says Lauren. Despite this, however, there are “a large population of illustration lovers considering the country’s large population” and events like Shanghai Art Book Fair exist to regularly show illustrator’s work.
On today’s internet culture, Lauren remarks: “One thing worth mentioning is that a type of ‘depressed culture’ or meme culture (known as 喪文化 in Chinese) has spread subtly amongst young people.” More and more black humoured illustrations have become popular nationwide, sometimes “receiving millions of retweets and comments” on Weibo. “Joan Cornella may be a good example,” she adds on the subject. For the editorial team behind Design 360°, they predict that this is how many Chinese people interact with illustration these days; on the internet and through social media.
As a result, the latest issue of the publication also focuses on the media as it acts as a vehicle for the discipline in many respects. “Digital media has changed the way illustration is viewed and spread, and thus brings more opportunities for such a niche market.” In China, as you can imagine, “it is not easy for us to talk about the arts” says the editor. The media is crucial in transporting ideas, in any country let alone China, but for this country in particular, “the evolution of media will help illustrators find more diversified ways of development” says Lauren.
As more and more brands adopt illustration’s “expressive and infectious essence” as its main visual image, the discipline seems to be making gains for its amiable, yet memorable attributes. Lauren cites the famous Chinese tea brand Heytea as an example, a brand utilising illustration as a means of promotion. “It wins huge popularity amongst young people with its fresh, cute and joyful impression,” Lauren adds on the subject.
But regardless of culture, in the latest publication, Lauren and her team feature a variety of international illustrators from the West and East, paying more attention to their personal style. As well as publishing a number of portfolios, the magazine also sees long-form interviews with the likes of famous Chinese illustrators such as Jun Cen, Tianhua Mao and Inkee Wang. These interviewees reflect on how illustration has progressed their careers and proved to be a development opportunity, despite the fact that it is often and mistakenly, perceived as graphic design’s inferior.
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