Wanwai Shum: Error Code Dictionary

Work / Graphic Design

Wanwai Shum “breaks physical borders” with her interdisciplinary design practice

Wanwai Shum, otherwise known as ShumWW when it comes to simplifying her name online, is a Rotterdam-based designer who expands her interest in bilingual language through dynamic layouts. Currently studying information design at Design Academy Eindhoven, Wanwai’s extensive education has previously seen her graduate from China’s JiangNan University as well as Antwerp’s Royal Academy of fine arts, in turn cementing her international approach to design.

Her first introduction to the medium however, came in the form of calligraphy. Learning the Chinese art from the tender age of ten years old, she became influenced to this gestural approach to typography from an early age, the bold monochrome strokes evident to this day in her contemporary designs. When she moved to Antwerp the cultural contrast further influenced her style as “the multiple layers of graphic design started building up gradually because I was in a new context," she tells It’s Nice That. Resultantly embracing “the endless possibilities” of graphic design in the current age, Wanwai’s design practice continues to communicate across cultures and disciplines, “breaking the physical borders” in the name of challenging, interdisciplinary design.

“Sometimes, graphic design is my motivation to know more about my surroundings,” Wanwai goes on to say. Through design, she explores her interest in industrial techno music, contemporary art and cult films, extending the way she sees the world by appropriating various visual elements. For Wanwai, “design is not only about making but also about communication and feeling,” an ethos she absorbs into all her projects.


Wanwai Shum: Digital Ruins

Exemplified in a recent project, a lookbook design for her friend Wanting, the designer evokes a playful and surreal tone through print. Collaborating closely with Wanting, she kicked off the design by analysing the collection’s concept. All about deconstructing the elements of the body, Wanwai wanted to create a design that could “read ourselves from a different perspective.” Narrating an alternative storyline by arranging image after image in a new order, then editing the layout in a cinematographic method, Wanwai’s design presents the viewer with a “play on paper” investigating this concept.

In another project 414 language/Error code dictionary, the Chinese designer takes on the almighty dictionary. Just as the dictionary is one way for us to document verbal language, coding is a method of documenting another kind of language; a digital one made up of calculations and numbers. Looking into the liminal space between these two forms of documentation, Wanwai collates then edits these two forms of information into a makeshift, foldable dictionary. “It includes a conversation between humans and devices, orders and responses, a scene on screen,” she says. Combining error code numbers with definition and error images, the document intends to be both a “tangible and poetic” bridge between verbal and digital communication.

In a similar vein, Wanwai takes us through a third and final project, centred around the relationship between a laptop and its user. Beginning by thinking about how far into a digital life we would like to live, and if we relied on a digital world as much as we do our reality, how would the digital world look if its civilisation collapsed, take for example, a digital and futuristic version of Rome. Delving into this digital dystopia, in Wanwai’s project Digital Ruins, she develops a metaphorical series of scenes that depict the end of digital life. Recorded through a multi-disciplinary array of print, recordings and a laptop crash, the designer suggests a reality that may not be as distant as we think.


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