Mak Kai Hang’s darkly minimalist works are designed to make you think
From an identity for Chinese publisher Sandu to a typographic convenience store for deTour; Mak Kai Hang fills us in on five years helming his eponymous design studio.
- Liz Gorny
- 29 June 2022
Maximalism might be in, but it’s impossible to deny the appeal of negative space and clean-lined traditionalism. Yet, while these pleasantly minimal projects still catch our eye, they don’t scratch quite the same itch as the cold, dark, enigmatically understated work of Mak Kai Hang. Ever since we spoke to the Hong Kong-based graphic designer back in 2018 – a conversation revealing his specialisation in Chinese typography – a lot has changed for the designer. For one, Mak departed from his career as an in-house book designer at Joint Publishing, establishing Makkaihang Design. In the following five years, Mak has applied his considered approach and newly established autonomy to a serious roster of experimental projects. Amongst all this evolution, one signature remains: Mak still produces work to make you think.
“Being experimental is our core design philosophy,” Mak tells us during a recent catch-up. Makkaihang Design, currently running as a small team allowing for “instant and daily idea exchange”, often rejects boundaries to create nourishing, complex designs. Yet, the studio is still rooted in “traditional culture and craftsmanship”, Mak adds. It’s an ethos that has bought Makkaihang Design a fascinating list of clients, even within its relatively short lifespan. For one, the studio has built up an ongoing collaboration with Guangzhou-based Sandu Publishing, which reached out for an avant-garde visual identity for its major annual design archive, Asia Pacific Design (APD). As a publication Mak frequently poured over in book stores during high school, it’s safe to say the designer was “thrilled”.
Still, it was a project not without its design challenges – namely, having to remake an “obsolete brand image” which had been affecting publication sales. For Asia-Pacific Design No. 16, Makkaihang approached things, of course, typographically. Instead of relying on image, Chinese, Japanese and English characters were meticulously choreographed to form an Asia Pacific Map, finished with fore-edges in nine colourways. For the next edition, the aforementioned cold, clinical stylings can be seen at their best. Responding to the theme “Design Reboots Future”, the publication merges metallic futurism with a traditional archival document. The depiction of modernity is a lane in which Makkaihang Design clearly flourishes. In a recent brand identity for specialist roastery Coffeeology, the design studio evoked the company’s proficiency and quality with laboratory-like layouts.
This all leads us to Mak’s work this year, titled T-11. Invited by deTour, Hong Kong’s most renowned design festival, to curate an exhibition based on the theme “Use(ful)less”, the resulting work is as exciting as you’d expect for such a union. Teaming up with typographer and design educator Keith Tam and psychologist Dr. Cheung Sing Hang, Mak created a convenience store to explore how typography functions in our daily lives. In all, the showcase investigates how seemingly minor design decisions influence communication and readers’ perceptions. Exploring everything from value, legibility, style and readability in Chinese typography, T-11 actually reflects much of Mak’s approach. His expanding practice has managed to fuse commercial projects with research ideas and reflection, encouraging new ways of seeing and problem-solving – what design, ultimately, is all about.
Makkaihang Design: Coffeeology (Copyright © Makkaihang Design, 2021)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.