He Jianping is an award-winning graphic designer, professor and publisher. He studied graphic design at China Academy of Art (1991-1994) and Meisterschule of Fine Arts, Berlin University of Arts (1997-2001), before achieving a PhD in cultural history at Frei University, Berlin in 2011. He has taught at Berlin University of the Arts, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, in addition to acting as a PhD supervisor for the latter. In 2002, He Jianping established his own design studio and publishing house called hesign, which is based in Berlin and Hangzhou. Design China recently spoke with the designer to discuss his journey to date.
Where are you originally from, and where are you based now?
I am originally from Fuyang, a small town close to the Fuchun River in Zhejiang Province. I now live in Berlin.
Tell us more about what you do.
In 2002 I established my own studio, hesign, which engages with publishing, as well as visual design for cultural and artistic activities, communication design and curation. I also devote myself to academia and teaching in various universities and institutions.
How did the name “hesign” come about??
He + design = hesign
How have you benefited from studying abroad?
In graphic design, the education system between China and Germany is very different. In Germany, there is great emphasis on graphic design colleges, whereas in China, there is more of an emphasis on the “academy”. Also, most of the professors in the German schools are from different places – different countries even. They encourage independent thinking and “play”. This cross-pollination across the education system helps students absorb nutrients from multiple sources.
What is the main difference between working in design in China, and working in design in Germany?
Apart from the language, it’s not actually very different. German customers have a very defined time schedule though; the most fundamental difference is that the customer understands what sort of results they want. Chinese customers expect more design options in an attempt to find out what they really want.
How involved are you in China’s design scene?
In the 1990s your interview would have been impossible. I think that I am technically and psychologically very mature in ‘participating in China’s design scene’. Look at China – which cities do not have Western design influences? In fact, the most difficult part is how to determine the suitability of Chinese design.
The important thing to understand is how difficult it has been – China blocked the open door and we saw our own “backwardness”, while internationalisation was accepted without any reservations. But I think this acceptance will reach a point, after which China will need to develop its own design. We should be prepared for this shift.
What are you currently working on?
I have just completed designs for “100 Best Posters, Germany, Switzerland, Austria”, an annual poster competition held by Germany, Switzerland and Austria that selects the top 100 posters from almost 2000 works. The competition has a history of more than 40 years. Last year, I was entrusted as the visual designer for this event where I designed the exhibition and accompanying publication.
Also, for the past 6 months, I have undertaken a range of visual communication tasks – from poster design, to catalogue and exhibition design – for the Wilhelm Deffke exhibition, which took place in Essen Folkwang Museum, Germany this past September. I am also designing catalogues for 3 other artists, too.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
I hope to continue working in this way, gathering more experience as I go along.
This interview is part of an exclusive Cross Post Series and collaboration between Design China and EightSix. Please do not use any of the materials shown, whether in part or in whole, without prior permission from the editors. All images are copyright their respective owners. We would also like to thank EightSix for translation assistance with this piece.