Delve into the brilliantly intuitive designs of studio Pay2Play
Fascinated by “anything related to print” and seeing their final products as “pieces of contemporary art”, Sun Xiaoxi and Wang Lang of Pay2Play take print design to a whole new level.
- Olivia Hingley
- 14 January 2022
If, like us, you’re obsessed with the image of Pay2Play’s latest book design, Do it- China 2021, you’ll be interested to know that the lettering on the book’s outer margin is an alphabetical list of the book’s included artists. The intuitive act of putting the book contents page on the physical pages of the book – creating such a striking visual effect – pretty much sums Pay2Play’s approach. It wants to do things differently.
Based in Beijing, Pay2Play is composed of couple Sun Xiaoxi and Wang Lang. Whilst Xiaoxi is the design director, Wang Lang is in charge of client and project management. Seeing themselves as both “very visual people,” they have been immersed in the design world for a number of years. Xiaoxi’s influences began with his teenage love of grunge music and being particularly interested in CD cover design. He then went on to study visual communication at university, after which, Xiaoxi dabbled in photography before beginning his design career by working on posters and brochures for theatres and gigs. Wang Lang, on the other hand, has worked as a project manager for Pro Helvetia and regularly translates and writes about photography for various art magazines. They also feel as though their practice is enhanced by their both being very inquisitive people; their interests in art, culture and films and their love of travel they all see as all directly informing their creativity.
The Do it- China 2021 project, jointly curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Cao Dan, includes the proposals of 108 contemporary Chinese artists. Wanting to “emphasise” its Chinese character and context, the book is a direct reference to Suikoden (Water Margin) “a 14th Century Chinese novel about 108 rebels and heroic bandits”. So, the 108 artists included in the book represent the 108 heroes of the “Chinese art underworld (jianghu)”. The book also looks to its Chinese context in its material; they opted for a “very soft” rice paper and it includes traditional Chinese thread sewing in its binding. Having an “unconventional rectangular format” the book is more than 400 pages long and has a whopping thickness of over 6cm. With such artistry and detail behind the book, it’s not surprising that they view it as a “sculpture” which strongly reflects “the influence of Chinese contemporary culture.” Response to the design has been overwhelmingly positive, and after uploading a picture of it on Instagram it received over 8,000 likes, a number which makes Xiaoxi and Wang Lang “very happy”.
Not only seeking to challenge the visual boundaries of design, Pay2Play also wants to challenge the inner workings of the design industry. Seeing their work as “just like the name of our studio” Xiaoxi and Wang Lang hope that “the relationship with clients could be more interestingly interactive and playful.” This playful and conscious attitude is apparent in their recent collaboration with artist Cao Fei. Wanting to show how “our design concepts merge with the artists work,” Pay2Play wanted to ensure it incorporated the artist’s vision into the design of Staging the Era, a catalogue for Fei’s March 2021 solo exhibition at UCCA Beijing.
Taking into account “the characteristics of Cao Fei’s work, especially in different on-site installations where plastic or similar textures will appear” Pay2Play decided to make the cover of the book PVC. The book’s colour palette – predominantly pink and fluorescent – intends to “express the virtual, contemporary and digital characteristics of Cao Fei’s works whilst strong contrasting colours also bring out the youthful side of her work.” Pay2Play’s intuitive and interactive approach is also displayed within the project. “The pink paper divides the book into three parts – articles, works and dialogues – allowing readers to understand the structure of the book more clearly from a visual point of view.” When you think they can’t have given the project any more thought and analysis, even the font has a specific reference fo Fei’s work: “considering the artist’s works are rooted in Cantonese culture i.e evening dance balls, we exclusively designed a font, which seems to have travelled back to the 90s, but is still contemporary.”
However, while book design might be the means by which most people come across Pay2Play, it has equally as interesting design work in many other areas, including posters, packaging and even clothing. Perhaps its most interactive and varied design work is shown in its project for the exhibition Long Life Design – Thinking and Practice 2000-2020 which includes lanyards, paper bags and even tape. First and foremost, Pay2Play wanted to decide how it could use the “undesigned design” to express the exhibition’s sustainable core concept. Presenting the idea of reuse and longevity, the logo is a “three-layered round circle, the circulation system” which is “flexible and adaptable in different formats and applications.” Allowing the messages of the colourful exhibitions to take precedence, the identity system is in black and white and to replicate the message of recycling Xiaoxi and Wang Lang did not specifically design a font, but chose one they had used before. Seeing how much thought, foreplanning and detail Pay2Play puts into its projects, you can see why clients are fighting for its design work left right and centre.
Pay2Play: Do it–China 2021 (Copyright © Pay2Play, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.