“Highlighting the importance of typography has always been the core of my design philosophy,” explains Wang Zhi-Hong, a Taiwanese art director and designer. Best known for his book design and projects in the cultural and commercial sectors, Wang has a knack for combining text with artful compositions and shapes. To such lengths that it’s enabled him to launch his own publishing imprint and design publications for the likes of Nobuyoshi Araki, Shinro Ohtake, Tadanori Yokoo, Takuma Nakahira and Comme des Garçons.
Typography is indeed the epicentre of Wang’s designs. But over the last couple of years, the art of lettering and characterisation has been elevated even further. After Covid-19 hit, the world closed down and Wang – along with many creatives – underwent a few changes, a slower pace being one of them. With time to think and readjust, Wang noticed that there was an increased demand for overseas collaborations, particularly in the UK, New York, Moscow, The Netherlands, China and Hong Kong. “Cross-country collaboration is always difficult in many ways,” he tells It’s Nice That. “But I think it’s a good opportunity to expand our work overseas as much as possible.” Consequently, Wang’s typographic prowess has travelled across the pond and taken shape in myriad of forms, mostly as books – like the handwritten typeface that features on a new publication for fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, or a long-term publication project for Meters Series, which looks at mountain literature and data readings from Mount Everest (8,848 metres), Chogori (8,611 metres) and Kanchenjunga (8,586 metres).
A common denominator that runs throughout is Wang’s love of function and form. His mission, so to speak, is to search for possibilities in Chinese characters and multilingual environments that are “logical and widely integrated with commercial cases,” he notes. This includes publications, which he’ll use to speak to consumers and raise awareness of the potential of typography. “When I entered the design industry in the late 90s, my initial goal was to provide the market with more quality products that would make typography a valuable element to consumers,” he continues. “Years later, even though the design environment in Taiwan has changed, and the emphasis on typography has increase each year, the idea continues to drive me forward.”
Clever, minimalist and often shrouded in detailed considerations – the sort that goes amiss in the first observation – Wang’s new portfolio is as intricate as ever. Only this time, culture, history and context plays a much bigger role. In Praise of Shadows, for instance, the third book he’s designed for Junichiro Tanizaki. A “masterpiece” for understanding Japanese aesthetics, Wang wanted to bridge the gap between the reader and the content – “both old and new readers, in the East and the West,” he shares. “The atmosphere is particularly important at this moment, when it is necessary to keep a safe distance from traditional impressions and not to be completely influenced by the temporal context.” In this regard, Wang uses a structural mix of lines and type as a nod to the Japanese “spatial contours”, conceived in a monotone palette of grey and black and emphasised in dark paper. This allows the reader to “immediately enter the dark space”, to “feel the texture” and make new discoveries through the subtle markings, and hints of light and shadow.
The typographic form might not be the first thing you notice in Wang’s work, or maybe it is; either way, it plays an integral role in all of his projects whatever the brief or outcome. “I want the viewer to feel that, even though the text is not the focus of the image, it is still recognised as an essential and important part.”
Wang Zhi-Hong: In Praise of Shadows (Copyright © Wang Zhi-Hong Co., 2022)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.