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Don't believe the Shanghai

Karin Langeveld from Trapped in Suburbia gives us the lowdown on the Shanghai edition of their typography festival 'Don't believe the type' which showcased typographic excellence of The Hague and hosted workshops for local designers. 

By No author / 26-05-2010

Last year we (Trapped in Suburbia) organized the typography festival in The Hague, 'Don't believe the type' (DBTT). Because of this, the city of The Hague asked us to host a special edition of 'DBTT' that focuses on the typographic excellence of The Hague. But this time in… Shanghai!

So on the 18th of May, we organized the Shanghai edition of 'DBTT' which of course coincided with the World Expo. We started the day with three different workshops followed by lectures and the exhibition 'Typecal The Hague', which shows typography from designers who studied or work in The Hague. We had about 70% Chinese and 30% international creatives participating in the workshops.

During our preparations we'd heard several worrying stories about Chinese students, that they are really, really shy, not used to being asked for their opinion and that we needed to tell them exactly what to do otherwise not much would happen. Luckily we had the help of my Chinese/Dutch student Fin Zhao and three great Chinese students of international business who volunteered to translate, and over 60 very eager workshop participants.

The workshop of Yomar Augusto, who did a creative calligraphy and bookbinding workshop, started with calligraphy on a small scale but soon got more experimental and bigger. In Yomar's workshop there where quite some expats who took the lead in the experiments, but the Chinese creatives weren't far behind and caught up quite quickly. Most of the Chinese students who participated in this workshop normally work solely on their computer and for them it was an eye opener to make a book by hand.

The aim of the workshop of Rogier Wieland was to make a typographical stop motion music video in one day. Singer songwriter Wotienke wrote a very sweet song about cities for 'DBTT'. For this workshop the students made a video clip for this song. Most of the students were Chinese and started off a bit timid, but as soon as everyone saw the creative possibilities, they let their imagination run wild. There are some real gems between the animations and everyone worked really hard to get the video finished in one day.

The workshop of Underware turned out a bit different than planned because only a few students had brought their laptop. So Akiem and Bas from Underware had to improvise: they did a basic type design workshop, which was, in the beginning, hard to understand for the Chinese students. They are not used to bolds, italics, spacing, caps etcetera, but Underware really had the students working hard (and their translator!) and I think this paid off. The students learned a lot, got really active and Underware made them express their opinion about the designs that where made, which sometimes worked out very well.

During the whole day we had quite some visitors who came to check out the workshops and the 'Typecal The Hague' exhibition. This resulted in a nice creative atmosphere and gave the room a buzz.

In the evening we held some lectures: the room was packed with people and of course, their cameras. I kicked off with a lecture about DBTT, typography in The Hague and what we do with our design agency Trapped in Suburbia and our graphic art gallery 'Ship of Fools'. After this Yomar showed his skills and Underware wrapped it up with a lecture and a first ever Dark Talk in China. What's a Dark Talk, I hear you ask? It's an interview in the dark with a designer about their work. So the lights went off and the interview started between Underware and a local graphic designer Jong Yoon. He spoke about how he grew up in Korea and his father wanted him to be a barrister or doctor, but instead he chose to be a designer. Now after a fulfilling career as a designer he is going to switch careers and be a chef in his own Korean restaurant in Shanghai. His story was about following your heart and making your own choices.

All in all, it was a very successful day, we had a lot of visitors and exciting interaction with the Chinese creatives. DBTT aimed to inspire designers who work with type tradition to experiment, and experimental designers to explore the type tradition and I think this is what happened on that day. We had so many sincere reactions from the Chinese creatives, that I think we definitely inspired them to experiment. We've had compliments, happy faces, our picture taken with lots of students and to top this off there is now actually a Chinese designer living in Shanghai who is called Sami! (This was a student who was so impressed by Akiem from Underware, that he asked Akiem to give him an English name. And of course the first name Akiem could think of was Sami, the third Underware guy who couldn't be there.)

I hope that the Chinese students learned that, as a graphic designer you can come from behind their computer and experiment more and that you can stretch the boundaries within a brief. Because of the chinese students, we've seen design from a different perspective. It made us realise that we are really fortunate to be working in such a good design climate. And it will remind us to grab every change that we get, to create innovative new designs.

After all the stories and the real hands on experience, I think Chinese creatives are hard workers and very eager to step out of the tradition of copying and start creating. I'm very curious to what this will bring us in the future.

All pictures from DBTT, lectures and music video will be online on 21 June. The third edition of DBTT will be held on 5 November in The Hague.

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