The 10 most inspiring designers in China today

The economic giant is on the verge of being a design superpower. We reveal 10 Chinese talents to watch in 2013...

Designers in China will be the first to admit that the economic giant is still 'catching up to the West' where contemporary design is concerned, with shanzhai (山寨) - 'copy culture' - still prevalent throughout the country. But things are changing quickly, with a burgeoning creative scene that's likely to become more and more influential as Chinese influence grows across the rest of Asia and the world at large.

Back in the early 1990s when China started opening up to international business and commerce, the southern city of Shenzhen - strongly influenced by neighbouring Hong Kong - was quick to develop a reputation for cultivating graphic design talent.

These days, first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are also attracting creatives - those who are looking to develop their experience, clients and commission list via design skills that demonstrate an independent voice and a keenness to break the mould of what 'Chinese design' is and should be.

Here Zara Arshad of Design China selects the top 10 most inspiring designs and designers to come from China yet...

01. Nod Young

Young is reknowned for his accurate contours, rhythmic layout and passionate colours

Nod Young is a Beijing-based graphic designer and illustrator. Widely recognised for his unique creative style - characterised by accurate contours, rhythmic layout and passionate colours - he boasts an impressive client list including Nike, Adidas, Coca Cola, McDonald's, Nokia, Microsoft, Mercedes, FIAT, and Greenpeace.

His client list is impressive, featuring everyone from Coke to Greenpeace

Young is planning to publish a portfolio book in collaboration with Tsinghua University Press, where he graduated, later this year.

02. Lulu Li

Lulu Li's concept-heavy work makes use of everyday items to trigger a reaction

Lulu Li is a Beijing-based graphic designer. A graduate of Fine Arts from both Shandong University and Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, Lulu works "with any parameters of any given situation". Her concept-heavy work makes use of everyday items that act as a catalyst to trigger, intervene or evoke a series of reactions, chain reactions or to change the readings of everyday life.

Her work has been exhibited across the world

She has exhibited at Get It Louder, London Design Week, Beijing Design Week and at Nowhere Gallery in Milan (to name a few), and is currently working with Italian artist, Alessandro Rolandi, on a collaborative, intervention-driven project.

03. Lok Ng

Ng gracefully merges typography and calligraphy with illustration

Lok Ng is a self-taught designer who gracefully merges typography and calligraphy with illustration in order to evoke traditional Chinese spirit via a contemporary visual language.

His work translates the traditional Chinese spirit into a contemporary visual language

Part of artsworthing (awt) Design Inc. (an independent, concept-driven design company based in Guangzhou, south China), Lok Ng has worked with clients as diverse as MTV, Tiger Translate, Suren magazine, Newwebpick, Rvlvr magazine, Kule magazine and Canton radio. He is a graduate of Guangzhou City Polytechnic.

04. Ray Lei

Lei works across multimedia, graphic design, illustration, graffiti and music

Ray Lei is an amazingly talented Beijing-based animation artist. Working across multimedia, graphic design, illustration, graffiti and even music, it’s a wonder how this lone ranger gets it all done.

Now 26, Lei founded his own animation school when he was just 19

Lei founded his own animation studio while still in school in 2005; four years later in 2009, he obtained a Masters in Animation from Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. In 2010, his short film, This Is Love, was screened at Ottawa International Animation Festival and was, subsequently, awarded Best Narrative Short.

05. Kelvin Qu

Qu is known for his minimal and contemporary style

A designer who splits his time between the Chinese city of Changzhou and Paris, France, Kelvin Qu’s minimal and contemporary style results in uncluttered, striking work. He is also the founder and creative director of RONCHAM studios, which has just won the 2013 communication design award from iF.

He divides his time between China and Paris

06. Shan Design Studio

Shan is an award-winning multi-disciplinary design studio based in Beijing

Shan is a Beijing-based, multi-disciplinary design studio that places great emphasis on culture and concept. Founding designers Yao Ye and Lee Xibin, originally from Dalian and Changsha respectively, have exhibited in Milan, Beijing Design Week and Liang Dian Design Center, and were recipients of the 2011 JP TDC award from Tokyo Type Directors Club for their branding of the retail store Triple Major.

Their work is centred around traditional culture and keen use of typography

They are currently working on a variety of projects that span typography, products and conceptual design.

07. G’Day Design

Shenzhen Studio G’Day Design has a broad range of clients

Shenzhen-based G’Day Design is a creative studio that focuses on "reinterpreting concepts through visual symbols to carry out new thinking". With clients as broad as Miluer, Shenzhen Universiade 2011, Tencent and Famous Furniture Fair, these are certainly a group of talents to watch.

They aim to use visual symbols to reinterpret old concepts to stimulate fresh thinking

08. Guang Yu

Over the past 12 years, Guang Yu has gained a wide and varied range of experience in the design world

Born and raised in Beijing, graphic designer Guang Yu graduated from Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 2002.

He co-founded his own studio, TO MEET YOU, in 2008

He worked in various design roles and studios, including one year as Art Director for Surface China, before co-founding TO MEET YOU studio with fellow graphic designer, Liu Zhizhi, in 2008.

09. Been Shen

Shen is a multimedia and graphic artist with a spectrum of design talents

Born in South China but now based in Beijing, Been Shen is a multimedia and graphic artist of various talents. A graduate of Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication, she's one of the first and foremost supporters of the Beijing Independent Visual Art Research Association, and has devoted four years to design teaching in several Chinese universities.

Her signature project Rabbit God is a simple, interactive gamified installation

She is now focused on developing her signature project Rabbit God - a simple, interactive gamified installation for use in public spaces. Clients include OMA/CCTV, the Italian and Belgian Embassies in Beijing, and China’s real estate and property development giant, SOHO.

10. Archer Zuo

Zuo is a guru for fans of contemporary Chinese typography

Beijing-based Archer Zuo - a wizard of typography - illustrates time and time again that there is incredible potential for contemporary Chinese type design. An elusive character, little is known about him, other than the fact that he graduated from Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication in 2004. Instead, he lets his work speak for itself.

Zuo is reclusive and lets his work speak for itself

Words: Zara Arshad

Zara Arshad edits the blog Design China, which covers the latest inspiring designs from China, covering everything from fashion and products to graphics and illustration.

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