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 (opens in new tab) selects the top 10 most inspiring designs and designers to come from China yet...
01. Nod Young (opens in new tab)
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.
Young is planning to publish a portfolio book in collaboration with Tsinghua University Press, where he graduated, later this year.
02. Lulu Li (opens in new tab)
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.
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 (opens in new tab)
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.
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 (opens in new tab)
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.
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 (opens in new tab)
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.
06. Shan Design Studio (opens in new tab)
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.
They are currently working on a variety of projects that span typography, products and conceptual design.
07. G’Day Design (opens in new tab)
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.
08. Guang Yu (opens in new tab)
Born and raised in Beijing, graphic designer Guang Yu graduated from Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 2002.
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 (opens in new tab)
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.
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 (opens in new tab)
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.
Words: Zara Arshad (opens in new tab)
Zara Arshad edits the blog Design China (opens in new tab), which covers the latest inspiring designs from China, covering everything from fashion and products to graphics and illustration.
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Have we missed your favourite Chinese designer off our list? Let us know in the comments below!