Multicultural and multilingual, Shanghai-based design studio KauKau works across a range of sectors from the commercial, cultural and educational. Founded by the Malaysian designer Kekfeng Lee and Chinese designer Zifei Li from Shenzhen, the designers’ typographic projects draw on their international experience in the industry coupled with a flare for Chinese typography.
Prior to establishing their two-person studio, the design duo worked in Kuala Lumpur, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Beijing and Shenzhen. Citing the founders’ global experience as a crucial benefit to their current vision, Kekfeng and Zifei tells It’s Nice That: “With these different backgrounds and experiences, we always see and think about things from a multi-angled perspective. As a studio, we observe, digest and deliver cultural information different from other studios in China.”
When asked about the benefits of working with Hanzi (the Chinese alphabet) as opposed to Latin, the founders say, “Chinese typography is part of our daily practice. Hanzi is more than type to us, it is an image and a pictograph. Every single Chinese character has so much meaning and emotion behind it.” Also influenced by the multitude of cultures that pass through Shanghai’s renowned financial district, recent projects by KauKau have resulted in awards from the likes of the Art Directors Club Annual Award, a Golden Pin Design Award and a D&AD yellow pencil.
One of which is an ongoing project, Be KauKau Sh, where the studio designed a book of 24 posters made by generating and recontextualising graphic images. Representing the experimental and playful process of the Chinese studio, the publication sees high contrasting colours paired with a font designed in-house and the typeface Kedai-Kedai designed by Huruf. “The project began while we were adapting our new life in Shanghai," explains the designers. “Interested in the contrast between imagination and reality, we designed the set of posters to reflect our impressions and expressions of living in the city.”
In another book, Be KauKau Py, Kekfeng and Zifei reappropriate a newspaper known as Pyongyang Times, acquired on a visit to the North Korean capital in 2014. “In the newspaper, the content and visual language formed a huge contrast to what we saw and felt in the city," says the designers, “and this contrast is what we are trying to communication through book design.” Separating the newspaper’s sensitive words and images, the beautifully bound book hides the sensitive content while keeping the newspaper’s “anger and noise” using an intense red printing ink. With a cover showcasing photos of “randomly peaceful back views” taken by the designers on the trip, the overall book design captures the complexity of information residing in one newspaper.
Lastly, another recent project by the studio saw them designing a series of typographic animations for this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations. Focusing on the Chinese word for “blessing” as well as the symbol of Taoism (which shares the pronunciation) the studio plays on the multiple meaning of the term in their type-based celebrations.