Inside the intricate multi-lingual world of Wanwai Shum's typography and graphic design
Now working with Studio Dumbar, the graphic designer’s technical skill has greatly refined since her time at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
- Joey Levenson
- 12 August 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Rotterdam-based graphic designer Wanwai Shum first spoke to us back in 2019 when still studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven in Rotterdam. Now graduated, she proudly works as a visual designer at Studio Dumbar, a studio she happily describes as her “dream team,” and a life goal achieved. “It was a huge changing point of my life as well as my design practice,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Because of this, I am very grateful that more cultural projects have reached me, and I have the chance to develop more works with experimental typography.” Wanwai’s typographic work has always been excellent, sharp, and crazily creative. It’s what drew us to her a few years back. Now, her sights are set on visualising the differences between Chinese typography and Latin letters, in what she calls a “sensitive and emotional” design language. “Besides this, I keep my personal projects questioning current society,” she adds. “For me, discussion among the audience becomes more important than the artist’s statement.”
This genuine gratitude and open-armed nature towards audiences of her work is what propels Wanwai forward. “As everyone will read things differently, I think every designer more or less has their own style that changes when translating material concepts into a visual outcome.” Such a belief keeps Wanwai looking for rhythmic visuals, obsessing over intricate and poetic, more conceptual, content. “These qualities in visuals have enriched my design language,” she states. Certainly, her work feels intricate, laden with detail and typography that ventures beyond the expression of letters. There is something overwhelmingly beautiful about Wanwai’s hand that transmits a wealth of visuals, ideas, and technical detail.
“Research is always the beginning of every commission project,” Wanwai explains on how she achieves such aesthetic refinement. “My research process could be random and chaotic in a way, but it is nice to expand my view on a commission brief, and find out different entry points to make connections with the project.” Additionally, exchanging ideas and thoughts with her colleagues at Studio Dumbar is an important part of approaching any commission for Wanwai. “They always find out the nice angles I miss,” she says. Most importantly, Wanwai believes in keeping things simple in the process of creating art out of a brief. It’s surprising, considering her final products are often rich with detail. “Sometimes, the most simple and original picture in my head can be the best solution.”
In 2020, Wanwai made a calendar titled The chaos under the system with her friend and working partner Cheng, which allowed her to flex her multilingual typographic skills to the fullest extent. “In a calendar design, there is only numbers as information we can work with,” she explains. “Therefore, we brought in the numbers in Chinese characters as an experimental part of typography, together with Arabic numerals in the calendar grid.” In blending these two, Wanwai explains how she was able to capture the Chinese language as a hieroglyphic character, “an image to deconstruct.” Additionally, Wanwai is particularly proud of her work on the art book released by Antwerp-artist Zhang Yi. “Her works are about collecting and presenting the daily emptiness and negative space, so the first idea I had was to ‘hide’ all her images behind the folding pages,” she explains. As usual, it’s a witty and technically impressive idea from Wanwai. “As the paper is thin and light, her works can still be seen, then audiences can unfold it and discover all her works from the inner side of the pages.”
Moving forward, Wanwai hopes to maintain her position at dream workplace Studio Dumbar. “There are still a lot of things I need to learn from people around me,” the recent graduate says optimistically. “I am ultimately interested in a different creator’s way of storytelling, and I would like to try with different media to expand the possibility of my design practice.”
Wanwai Shum: Unknown Arts (Copyright © Wanwai Shum, 2020)