Surprise Everyday Life with Creative Placemaking

The role of graphic design in everyday life may not be as obvious as that of architectural design, but just think about how we are surrounded by traffic signs, transport maps, signboards, advertisements, newspaper, posters, banners, etc. Graphic design is everywhere in the urban environment. It is essential for telling us what is going on, guiding us through the city and helping us make sense of it all. It is also instrumental in shaping the personalities of a place. As one of the first programmes of Design District Hong Kong (#ddHK), a 3-year creative tourism project, One Bite Design Studio was engaged as the creative engine behind #ddCreativePlacemaking and various local creatives and graphic designers were invited to create visual surprises in Wan Chai.

The biggest surprise from #ddHK is probably the typography project in collaboration with Kong Wan Fire Station. It became an instant social media hit. The red gates at the fire station were spruced up with artistic typography designed by 5 local designers. Many people were surprised to find a disciplined service chic up in such a cool way. The 5 designs played with different local elements. Adonian Chan’s “Hong Kong Beiwei” type, a calligraphic style widely used in the past, surprisingly matches the masculine image of the firefighters. Mak Kai-hang combined his custom-made font “Mechanical Mincho” with stencil printing which was commonly used on wall signage, folding iron gates, etc. By transferring familiar visual vocabularies to an unexpected context, both designs created brand-new visual possibilities.

Renatus Wu’s and Choi Kim-hung’s designs accentuate the unique bilingualism in Hong Kong. The former is an elegant crisscross of Traditional Chinese and English texts while the latter playfully overlaps the two languages, hiding the Chinese behind the English font. The most contrasting one is probably Calvin Kwok’s funky design. Seeing the red folding gate as a stage curtain, he took cues from old Hong Kong film posters and adapted the typography into the fire station sign. As a whole, the typography project is not only Instagrammable, it also changes our perception of the Fire Department by appropriately softening its stern image.

Another #ddHK surprise lies on the pavements, a ubiquitous urban element. To get the public to discover the extraordinariness of everyday life, One Bite has picked something extremely ordinary — pavements. “Pavements are an essential part of the urban environment but it is not common in Hong Kong to use pavement design to brighten up a public space,” said One Bite. As a first step to expand the public’s imagination on pavements, they worked with 4 Hong Kong Art School alumni to create pavement paintings at a few road junctions in Wan Chai.

The pavement designs reflect the characteristics of the locations and incorporated some ideas collected from the workshops with community members. For the painting at the intersection of Queen’s Road East and Stone Nullah Lane, Yao Cheuk-ni used a dining table to express the homey vibe of the nearby Blue House. At the entrance of the Southorn Playground, Loiix Fung captured the hustle and bustle surrounding of the playground with his distinctive design vocabulary, the stick figures, and occupied them with urban activities. Maggie Wong created an abstract representation of the architectures in Wan Chai North to accentuate their subtly diverse qualities for the entrance of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Antonie Li cherrypicked symbolic elements of Lee Tung Avenue, such as The Pawn shop sign, to evoke our collective memory.

All the 4 designs also incorporate a way-finding function, pointing out the directions of nearby streets and heritage spots. “The pavement paintings combine function and beautification. We hope they can prompt people to look at some of the neglected elements in our public space. Things as basic as the pavement can contribute to a place’s identity and sense of belonging. With nicely designed pavements, walking in the city can become more fun and enjoyable,” said One Bite.