As a graphic designer with over twenty years of professional experience, Shen’s most prominent achievement is his work on the visual identity design for almost all of Shanghai’s recently completed landmark buildings and spaces. These high-profile projects include the Long Museum, Shanghai Tower, Fosun Art Center, and Power Station of Art, all well-known among Shanghai residents and visitors alike.
Shen notes that his clients for his visual identity design work fall into three categories: first, the client commission the design without much in the way of requirements (they trust Shen’s abilities); second, the client has rather nebulous requirements that only become more specific once the design is submitted; and third, the client has very detailed requirements and a clear direction for the design.
The Long Museum project, for example, fell into the first category. “When I received the commission to design the visual identity for the Pudong Long Museum, I drew from several sources in my design concept: the initials L and W of the Long Museum’s founders, Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei; the initial L of the Long Museum; the rectangular form of the Pudong Long Museum building; the floor plan concept of the exhibition space; and the characteristics of traditional Chinese culture,” Shen explains.
From these elements, he created several design proposals, which eventually became the institution’s current logo and visual identity system. The system was later extended, with changes to the typeface and color, to incorporate the museum’s branches in the West Bund and Chongqing. “The Long Museum’s headquarters uses red as its official color, both as an homage to the Chinese seal and because general director Wang Wei started her collection with art depicting the Cultural Revolution—red became a symbol of the museum’s beginnings,” notes Shen.
Shen’s work for the Shanghai Tower falls into his third client category. “Even before I accepted the commission, several design firms had already worked on the project, but none of their proposals were able to satisfy the client,” says Shen. “When I took on the project, there were already many specific requirements. For example, they wanted the design to incorporate elements such as the building’s appearance, eco-technology, the Huangpu River, and even the concept of the [Chinese] dragon.”
The logos of new buildings in China often feature the outward appearance of the building in their logos, and in this design, Shen decided to stick with tradition. He chose to feature the bird’s eye view of the Shanghai Tower as the key element in the visual identity for the distinctive skyscraper. “The dynamic and beautiful spiraling lines of this particular view evoke the spine of a dragon and represents the concept and spirit of the building. The design is also a refraction of the ripples upon the Huangpu River, giving a distinct Shanghai flavor to the pattern of these lines. The logo has an Eastern sensibility combining awe-inspiring impact with gentle elegance,” he notes.
The above two projects demonstrate the ways in which different clients often have very different needs and goals, but still want to represent and connect with local culture in their identity. As Shen explains, if you used the same thinking processes for every project, and use local or huaren elements (elements taken from Chinese culture) in a simply decorative way, then you will end up with “a shell of a design that has an unconvincing sensibility, repetitive visual elements, and no vitality.” Shen, for example, used graphic elements inspired by huaren culture in the visual identities for very “Chinese” projects such as the Shanghai Art Museum, the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, and the Power Station of Art, “but these designs were not Chinese only for the sake of being Chinese,” he explains. “I don’t want to be too calculating when using huaren cultural elements.”
Despite his steady use of huaren elements in his design work, he believes Chinese designers are still a long way away from laying out a philosophy of ‘huaren design’ as a defined concept. The formation of such a philosophy, Shen says, needs a broad swathe of to be aware of the importance of design, and there also needs to be a strong commitment to the idea from the design community. “Huaren design will only reach the level of a philosophy when designers are able to achieve stillness of mind and a disdain for money. When material desires go unfulfilled, it’s pointless to talk of pursuing spiritual wealth,” Shen says.
Chinese brands, Shen stresses, must be created by local designers as they are better able to understand how to build a local brand. More importantly, local designers have a better understanding of China’s traditional culture, business rules, market characteristics, and general aesthetics. China is an enormous market and there is huge demand for good huaren designers. Huaren designers should have confidence; the facts show that few celebrated international design firms are able to achieve success in China. Many are unable to adapt, particularly those working in the graphic design field.
“I’ve been in the design industry for many years, and I’ve always found that huaren designers have undeniably strong foundational skills and creative capabilities,” notes Shen. “But we tend to be too focused on the design itself, and we are not good at organizing and expressing our own thinking in regard to our work.” In this respect, he views Western designers to be far superior to huaren designers as they are generally better at using logic to persuade their clients of the correct path to take and seeing a problem from the client’s perspective. “No client would refuse a designer or a design that thinks from their perspective,” Shen concludes. “A good designer is like a movie director: they need to tell a compelling story while incorporating their own ideas.”
About Haopeng Shen
Haopeng Shen is the current creative director of Hopesun Design in Shanghai, a member of the board of the Shanghai Meishujia Association, and a member of the Art Design Committee, China Industrial Design Association, Shanghai Young Artist Association, and the Shanghai Graphic Designer Professional Committee. He is the founder of Homeidea magazine and was an editor of the Creative Encyclopedia of China, a judge for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo poster, logo, and slogan design competitions.
His designs are held in museum and private collections in Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and the US. He has been featured in the French design magazine, étapes, and the Japanese magazine, Kohkoku. He has authored, edited, and featured in numerous books, including 1000 Examples of Design, Us Illustrations, and Design Living: Shen Haopeng.