‘An interview with PolyU Design (Keith Tam)’, in Design 360°, issue 51 (the type issue), June 2014, pp.26–33 (Chinese version)
Design 360°: School of Design has just moved into the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, the latest landmark of Hong Kong. Congratulations. The building looks spectacular from outside, and I am more curious to know its way-finding system in the inside. Since it’s your expertise. Any insight?
Keith Tam: Thank you! It has been exciting to move to such an iconic building designed by Zaha Hadid. I believe that the new building will bring new inspirations to the School and gradually transform its culture – it is a space that is of much higher quality their our previous premises, and all programmes of the School is now housed under one roof, which is a good thing.
In terms of the building’s wayfinding system, the Information Design Lab (IDL) has taken on the responsibility, and the project is still ongoing. Our team has been prototyping and testing various design ideas to ensure that the system works for our users as intended. The most important aspect of the project is to consider a typical user’s journey in finding destinations within the tower, and to provide relevant information for them at strategic locations to ensure that they do not get lost. We provide a clear mental model for our users to understand the various activities and organisation within our School. The keyword for such a project being ‘system’: we are not designing disparate artefacts but a coherent and consistent set of principles that help people navigate around with as much ease as possible. Since the building is already an iconic architectural statement in and of itself, our design approach for the signage is therefore a rather subtle one. We did not want to create a sweeping aesthetic statement that might be at odds with the architectural language. The building is unusual in that no two floors are the same. Unlike more conventional buildings, it does not have a predictable and repeatable architectural pattern. Our thinking was that the signs should not be obtrusive nor unnecessarily draw attention to themselves, but yet should be immediately apparent when needed. more
Extracted from an interview with Keith Tam, Design 360°, issue 51, June 2014
What’s your guiding principle for typography?
I believe that typography is situated at the intersection of language, culture, technology and aesthetics. First and foremost, typography rests on the foundation of language, this is the most important. After all, typography cannot exist without language, and language is a cornerstone of civilization. Technology on the other hand, has to do with how we render, reproduce and disseminate written language. Writing implements, paper, typesetting technologies, the book format, the internet, all the way to the now ubiquitous digital screen – they influence what letterforms or characters look like and how content is arranged, interacted and comprehended by readers. Under this context, culture comes into play. How we connect with others, how we connect with information and knowledge, our behaviour and ways of life as a result of the communication as mediated by written language and communication technology, form the cultural aspects of typography. It defines who we are as groups of people who share common visions and sets of values. And last but not least, aesthetics is of course an important part of all this, but not as a pure form of artistic expression. The aesthetic value of typography is sometimes very difficult to define, and evolves over time and place. Typographic aesthetics concern readers’ emotional responses and have associative qualities that can be very powerful. more
Just wrote an essay on Hong Kong’s neon signs for M+, Hong Kong’s museum of visual culture. Titled Architecture of communication: the visual language of Hong Kong’s neon signs, the essay traces the influences and development of neon signs in Hong Kong, exploring their connections with architecture, urban design, typography as well as production processes. It also introduces a typology of Hong Kong’s signscape, and profusely illustrated. I hope that this essay will spark an interest on the study, preservation and continuation of this unique part of Hong Kong’s visual culture. more
Our signs in Hong Kong are considered world-famous. They dominate every corner of the city, creating a distinctive and unique urban landscape. Before, shops were often independent family businesses that have been passed down for several generations. Shop signs traditionally stand for the reputation and goodwill of a business and have always been considered an important element of a business’s image. Names of businesses on traditional shop signs were often inscribed by calligraphers. If the business is owned by someone powerful or with a broad social network, they would invite a well-known calligrapher, literati or community leader to inscribe their signs, with the signature of the calligrapher proudly displayed on the sign. A more economical option would be to get a sign-writer to make the sign, also most likely to be rendered in calligraphy. The materials used for shop signs were mostly durable and long-lasting, such as brass, iron, wood, set in plaster, or more recently stainless steel, resin and acrylic sheets. Durable materials connote stability, reliability or good reputation. The expression ‘gold-painted sign’ is used figuratively to refer to a reliable and honest business to this day. With the skyrocketing rent and large-scale urban renewal projects in recent years, traditional calligraphic shop signs are dwindling in numbers, and in their place are cheap inkjet banners used for shops that change as fast as the volatile economy.
This has been circulating around in social media today, and I find it necessary to put things into perspective.
I work at the Hong Kong Polytechnic Unviersity. Every time we have visitors, the first thing they say is invariably: ‘I got lost! It’s really hard to find’. This blogpost investigates why.