Though books are a staple part of our everyday lives, here at It’s Nice That, they still have the ability to insight awe whenever a beautifully-designed one comes our way. For Hong Kong-based designer Kai Tang, who has made a name for himself with his distinctly artistic approach to book design, the practice represents a “timeless” piece of design that also bears the responsibility of lasting for aeons.
While working full time at the design studio Trilingua design which focuses on Hong Kongese culture, calligraphy and type design, Kai takes on additional freelance jobs predominantly in book design. He tells It’s Nice That: “Compared to book design, most other design such as poster design and advertising is usually temporary. They will be bygones in a short period of time. But book design is timeless and more valuable.”
He cites the “selection of paper” as his favourite part of the whole design process. “I like to use textures of paper to represent the writer’s feeling,” explains Kai. Combining thoughtful attention to materiality, with simple yet highly crafted graphic design, Kai believes that “readers can have a rough idea of a book from one glance”. His designs are uniquely individual as he creates around the writer’s voice and the book’s content, rather than focusing on his personal design expression.
In a recent project, Kai designed Salt to the Sea: Interviews of the post 90s generation. The book features 29 stories from people in Hong Kong from 1990-1999. These people are likened to “salt of the sea” as “they’re hard to be discovered or understood in chaos.” For Kai, this analogy formed a powerful basis for his design concept. “My idea is to create a sea wave pattern in the book cover, so I picked a special paper which has a sea-wave texture to it.” Kai also designed a subtle wave pattern which was printed in metallic silver across the jet black cover. And if you look at the book from certain angles, “it’s like light reflecting off the sea”, says Kai.
Through this conceptual vein of thought, Kai asserts how “the sense and mood of anything can be expressed effectively and visually through the right typeface”. Influenced by the emotive movement of Chinese calligraphy as well as the precise type design of the Chinese character, Kai’s cover designs are typographically intriguing as well as narrative-based. And when asked about the differences between designing books in Chinese and English, Kai comments: “I don’t think there any difference between the two. The most important thing is to understand the whole story before designing the book.”
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