The Kuala Lumpur-based Ejin Sha explains why graphic design “can be anything”
With a love for visual metaphors since childhood, the designer now works across identities, art direction, as well as book and exhibition design.
- Jyni Ong
- 20 February 2020
“Focusing on graphic design is a decision I made with no regrets,” explains the Kuala Lumpur-based graphic design Ejin Sha. Having studied in both her birth country of Malaysia and the Netherlands, the designer also expressed an interest in interior design and motion graphics. But when she eventually dedicated herself to the discipline in which she now works across identities, art direction, as well as book and exhibition design, Ejin was glad.
Starting out by sketching logos while watching TV, Ejin found joy in telling stories with visual metaphors. From there, she developed a particular interest in visual identities, enjoying the visual exploration of how to represent a concept through iconography layered against type of illustration. She tells It’s Nice That on the matter: “I find it exciting to see how visual language has the ability to reinvent one’s identity.” For the Malaysian designer, the beauty in graphic design is in its breadth. “It can be anything,” she adds, “from something small which fits in your pocket to something as large as a room.”
Translating thought into an experience, through design, Ejin is concerned with the relationship between media, and the way it can inform our understanding of the environment. “It is even more exciting now,” she points out, “with more commissioned jobs encouraging graphic designers to have authorship and to take hold of self expression and explore the artistic dimension of a medium.” She measures the success of a functional piece of design by considering its ability to provoke thoughts, spark conversations or create alternative voices in public spaces; something she is constantly asking herself while immersed in the design process.
Socially and culturally engaged, Ejin strives to shed light on any person, story or issue that would otherwise appear hidden. She aims to bridge the gap between accessibility, functionality and the aesthetic all at the same time, while concept-wise, she looks to the stories around her to inform the themes of her work. An example of this, is Ejin’s work for Urbanscapes, an annual arts festival in KL in which she has participated in twice now. The first year, she created a site-specific photo installation capturing the diversity of the local area in a series of self portraits where she “borrowed” the identities. When she participated in the festival last year however, she collaborated with visual artist Max Jala to create an art piece responding to a street in the Malaysian capital.
In other projects, she created the exhibition and publication design for the solo exhibition of Leon Lang at the National Visual Arts Gallery. Echoing the artist’s work about a recently demolished 1960s public housing complex, through design, Ejin hinted to the materials of the building used contrasting paper textures “alluding to the disjunction between old and new” explored in the show. In another project, she design directed a photography exhibition titled Merdeka State of Mind, highlighting the artists who fought for major change in Malaysia. The exposure of political corruption and the fight for the rights of the Orang Asli, a Malaysian indigenous community, for instance. For this, she wanted to visually represent themes of hope and light, emerging from a dark past. And after ample consideration, she successfully communicated this through the use of two contrasting typefaces; handwritten and serif.
With typography at the centre of her practice, she deeply contemplates the visual nuances of letterforms before incorporating them within a design. “I always keep in mind to let the message speak first,” she finally goes on to say, “it’s a methodology that I strongly believe in as a designer. I often imagine myself as an actor in a movie, and put myself in the shoes of the character I am playing, in the case of graphic design, it is the subject matter.” Then, with copious doses of research and a hint of that gut feeling, ultimately, she trusts that the visual concept and style will come through, naturally.