Shi Zhenxing aka Liu Bai is a graphic design renegade when it comes to branding
The Chinese designer – who also works with L3branding – thrives off a good brief, during which he’s able to construct an identity that’s unique, refreshed and based off the client’s core values.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 December 2021
What does it mean to produce a good piece of graphic design? Shi Zhenxing – a graphic designer based in China who also goes by the name of Liu Bai – believes that design has the power to influence how we feel, and it can also determine our views and actions. What constitutes a solid outcome, then, is a project that places the brand or client at the centre. “Now, people are paying more and more attention to brand and aesthetic value,” he tells It’s Nice That. “So I will dig out the core symbols that really chime with the soul of the brand in my design work, consider the malleability and let the brand form a visual ecosystem.”
In this regard, Liu Bai isn’t too picky about the projects he works on. But if he were to refine his practice in the future, then he’d like to dabble more in commercial projects and “break the way people think about it”. He’s a rule-breaker; a renegade in graphic design form and someone who strives to do something out of the ordinary. This ethos can be viewed throughout the entire breadth of his practice, having sprinkled his unique (and personalised) method of working across a medley of branding and identity projects, plus client work for companies such as Coca-Cola, Tencent, Toutiao Mengniu, Uni-President, MarkingAwards, Baicao Taste, Mengdong and Qiaojia Courtyard. He's also currently working at the brand experience design and consultancy company L3branding.
Speaking of his recent accomplishments, Liu Bai begins walking us through the project he designed at L3branding for Baicaowei, one of the top three Chinese nut brands and a snack that boasts more than 200 product categories in its packaging archive. The very first project he worked on, he stumbled on a fair few challenges – this includes how to make the package design consistent as well as developing something that was appetising for consumers. “Later,” he notes, “we found a good solution of returning to the ingredients and to design from the perspective of photography.” Proceeding in this manner, Liu Bai took inspiration from the food itself and incorporated it into the design through a geometric pattern display, “to form a unique visual language that shows the deliciousness and diversity of the food.” The result sees nuts, treats and fruits placed systemically on the packaging and paired with punchy colours in the background. The design has been a great success and, not only did it increase the sales of the brand, it also won the Pentawards gold prize.
In another project for L3branding, Liu Bai was tasked to work on the identity for Jetlag books, a bookstore located in Beijing Sanlitun’s core commercial district that’s also home to a mix of lifestyle, travel, art and design stores. In this project, Liu Bai plus his boss and the owner of the book store, worked to a flexible brief and therefore tested out all possibilities for the design. The outcome is a stretched, spliced and warped depiction of the bookstore’s name, Jetlag; “a combination of words that are not visually ‘neat’,” says Liu Bai. However, despite the ‘J’, ’t’, ‘l’ and ‘g’ extending into different negative spaces, the lettering works utterly in the brand’s favour as each is pulled across the various iterations of the brand – the packaging, signage and printed materials. “We took advantage of this feature to fully stretch the letters to divide different sections neatly, symbolising different time zones,” adds Liu Bai, stating how the sky-tinted colour palettes further emphasised this. “The height and weight of the words are full of time and rhythm changes, and the lines stretched lengthwise look like bound edges and pages.”
The third project that Liu Bai pulls out with great significance is one recently completed for a music education institution, Cadd9. Having learned through his research that most institutions of this kind are somewhat “conventional”, Liu Bai decided to work up a different aesthetic. This was achieved by visualising Cadd9, which is “one of the most common chords in music” and makes up a “C major triad with an additional note of D.” By looking at the method of handwriting music chords – by using the chord tone of ‘3512' – this inspired the design of the logo. “In other words, Cadd9 is a symbol that already speaks for itself in numerous ways, like 1523, 1325 and so on; putting its chord tone in different orders would create different colours and sounds.” The entire identity appears unified and representative of its music-inspired context, which is at once dynamic, but equally embellished and rhythmic.
Evidently, Liu Bai has gone beyond the expected when it comes to creating work for brands. He knows how to work a brief and twist it into something original, making sure to adhere to the brand and construct an identity that’s devised from its core values. Next up, he admits that he has a “couple of big cases” on his hands, and, like his previous projects, he hopes there will be plenty more room to play and experiment.
Shi Zhenxing aka Liu Bai: Cadd9 (Copyright © Liu Bai, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.