Based between Toronto and Beijing, Meat Studio creates work that bridges cultures

The studio’s founding designer talks us through his graphic design practice and how it sits in the “grey zone” between the familiar and unfamiliar.

Date
16 September 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read

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Ronald Tau, founding designer of Meat Studio, splits his time between Beijing, Hong Kong and Toronto, providing a lively amalgamation of visual vernaculars, which in turn informs his creative practice. Having spent equal time between these three cities growing up, the graphic designer has absorbed much of each place’s history and lifestyle and, he tells us, “I identify with all three cultures, their groups of people and sentimentalities, their intricacies and nuances.”

This multicultural celebration of creativity is evident throughout Meat Studio’s portfolio, but it wasn’t something Ronald was taught. In fact, he was trained in what he calls “pretty traditional” design centred on the European and American canon, which laid down a dogmatic foundational approach to the medium. It was moving to Beijing after graduation that “really threw a huge wrench into all my ‘formal’ training,” he explains. And with this move, his eyes were opened to a different mode of design brimming with chaotic energy.

Today, Meat Studio can be seen as a kind of hybrid of cultures. A balancing act between East and West, the studio engages in its cultural and social contexts and aims to create work which is authentic, while also being independent at the same time. “Much like myself,” Ronald says. For him, design isn’t just about the end message of a project – the voice and tone of the work have just as much impact. Something he learned from the term ‘visual communication’ as opposed to the stricter conventions of graphic design.

GalleryMeat Studio: Chinese Protest Recipes (Copyright © Meat Studio, 2020)

“I am very drawn to two pairings of notions that I find I almost always consider when creating work,” Ronald says. Honesty and subtraction is one of them; the second is vernacular and the unfamiliar. Regarding the former – honesty and subtraction – this entails the designer consistently asking themselves: “What can I take away to say something better?” It’s a method used so Ronald does not add to the visual noise and information saturation of the industry. On the other hand, when it comes to the balance of the vernacular and the unfamiliar, Ronald transforms the supposedly “boring” everyday experiences and turns them into an unfamiliar experience that “inspires but doesn’t alienate”.

Highly invested in this “grey zone” between the familiar and unfamiliar, Ronald taps into the art of repurposing. “I still believe some of the best designs are done by non-designers,” he says. “I’m not a big believer in ‘originality’, I’m much more interested in repurposing.” In Chinese Protest Recipes, for example, Ronald takes a deep dive into the racial inequality and white supremacy of the food world.

The personal resistance project was created by The God of Cookery, and acts as a culinary and literary protest through the lens of Chinese food. What started as a social media takeover on Doof Magazine quickly turned into an official recipe book released as a free download, encouraged by a donation to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the project, Ronald adds, “Being able to participate in a relevant and worthy social cause has been great.” An eye-opening experience for the designer, he learnt a lot about the decolonisation of food and how the industry has historically marginalised BIPOC communities.

GalleryMeat Studio: Chinese Protest Recipes (Copyright © Meat Studio, 2020)

Half a year of pent-up energy during quarantine and troubling news stories fuelled the design. Raw emotion and desperation poured into the project, and the result is a pared-back, constrained publication echoing the seriousness of the movement. In other work, Ronald applies equally important issues to more commercial contexts. In Peiping Machine, he brands a craft brewery dedicated to quality, purist techniques. Designing a logo reminiscent of a style of calligraphy (Li Shu, from the Peking era), Ronald’s typography-centred rebrand is both “intensely Chinese while maintaining a cool sense of objectivity”. Allowing Ronald to further explore the complex art form that is Chinese calligraphy, he collaborated with Chinese typographer Julius Hui to create an artistic and typographical brand, harking back to the two ancient crafts of calligraphy and brewing.

The Chinese written form appears elsewhere in the work of Meat Studio, in another branding project for instance, this time for a Chinese brewery called Myth Monkey. Here, Ronald delves into ancient Chinese mythological diagrams blending Asian calligraphy with contemporary Latin-based type design to create a highly original brand identity combining the recent resurgence of ink traps with Chinese characters. This, all in all, encapsulates Ronald’s plans for the future. “Through reconciling Chinese and Latin typography, and through creating more identity work for Asian and ‘Western’ cultural contexts,” Ronald says, he will continue to operate between the disparate influences, consequently making more investigative and culturally rooted work.

GalleryMeat Studio (Copyright © Meat Studio, 2020)

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Myth Monkey

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Myth Monkey

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Pangmei Noodles

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Pangmei Noodles

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Peiping Machine

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Peiping Machine

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Peiping Machine

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.

jo@itsnicethat.com

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