Yiyang Hei founded SenseTeam in Shenzhen, China in 1990, and today serves as the company’s creative director. SenseTeam is a multidisciplinary firm–crossing fields as diverse as graphic design, contemporary arts, advertising, architecture, city development, and social design–and works on everything from the promotion of brands and the creation of cultural publications to space design and exhibition curation.
According to Hei, “huaren design”, or design created for and within huaren (Chinese-speaking) communities, is a label that could be viewed as outdated in the contemporary design industry. In general, international design ‘styles’ like those in the Netherlands, Japan, or the USA have developed based on relatively similar concepts, he says. However, there are still obvious differences in the design work of different designers and institutions. For example, the designs of a single designer may be unorthodox and difficult to define within any current conceptual framework, and as a result, that designer forms his or her own unique style.
“I think every huaren designer is also an independent,” Hei continues. “Their body of work is unique, and the style can be attributed to the life experiences and background of the designer. Since the work of every designer contains distinct characteristics, it isn’t that useful to categorize ‘huaren design’ into a specific school of thought with a unifying philosophy.”
What Yiyang Hei believes is more important is the ways in which individual designers showcase their different approaches to their work. In this way, people can gain a better understanding of the type of design work that is coming out of China or other international Chinese communities at any given time. China’s cultural heritage extends back thousands of years, and has led to huge diversity in social environments and cultural backgrounds just within the country itself, without even considering the influences on the Chinese diaspora. “Because of this, it’s difficult to say what a typical Chinese design might entail,” Hei concludes.
Good design, says Hei, should touch people. Artists like Yo-yo Ma and Guo-Qiang Cai are successful because they understand how to integrate cultural references from both the East and the West. This globalized approach, unrestricted by geographical and cultural borders, is something that Hei believes would work well for huaren designers. “This idea of ‘huaren design’ is very likely a fleeting trend; I encourage young Chinese designers to abandon the label in favor of communication and exchange in the global arena,” he states.
At SenseTeam, design service is based on the needs and wants of the client. It is the client’s ideas that matter the most at any stage of a project. However, within this mode of operation, it is the job of his team to advise the client on the best way to express those ideas. To do this, designers must equip themselves with skills of observation and expression coupled with a keen understanding of the market.
By way of example, Hei mentions three hotel projects in Anhui that are currently underway at SenseTeam. The request from the client was that the unique culture of Anhui be expressed in the architecture and interior design. The design team at SenseTeam put together a three-tiered concept that addressed not only the need of the client, but also referenced Chinese culture more broadly, as well as the way of doing business in China.
About Yiyang Hei
Yiyang Hei is the founder and creative director of SenseTeam, and an active member of the Switzerland-based international design organization, Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI).