01 May 2008
Richard B. Doubleday and Stephen Goldstein
Richard B. Doubleday and Stephen Goldstein

This introduction is the first of a three part Feature on the Design Director for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Min Wang, who is also a member of the Icograda Executive Board and the Head of the Preparation Committee for the Icograda World Design Congress 2009 in Beijing. This article originally appeared in Baseline Magazine, issue 53, Autumn 11/2007 and has been reprinted with permission. Read the continuation of this article, an interview with Min Wang, in next week's Feature.

In the sumer of 2008, the eyes of the world will turn to Beijing, China, as the city becomes host to the spectacle that will be the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. Hosting the Summer Games will be one of many firsts for the fastest-growing nation in the world. One of the leading programmes in China's debut at centre stage of global tourism and sports is the development of the Beijing Games pictographic symbols, identity programme and applications. Designer Min Wang is the creative force behind this extraordinary undertaking which began three years ago in a country that just 30 years ago had no word for graphic design.

Min Wang is the Design Director for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, a position to which he was appointed in 2006. Since 2003, he has also been Dean of the School of Design, at China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. At that time, he created a unique working group in the Art Research Centre for the Olympic Games (ARCOG) at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. Under his leadership, the centre's design teams, including CAFA students, have developed an elegant and comprehensive design system for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Their work includes the athletic pictographic symbols, the Beijing Games emblem and their applications. All of these efforts address design planning through the development of extensive design standards manuals for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and reaffirm the Olympic spirit and significance of this international multi-sporting event.

Wang's efforts, and those of his design teams at the Art Research Centre, follow in the tradition of Olympic pictogram designs developed by art director Masaru Katzumie, who invented the first system of pictograms for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Katzumie, working with his graphic design team, was concerned with the social importance of graphic design and focused his research efforts on an internationally standardized signage system.[1] Their unique system of icon-based signage became the model that influenced Lance Wyman for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and the Otl Aicher for the 1972 Munich Olympics. A noteworthy event occurred in 1966 when Aicher met with Katzumie and collaborated on underlying design standards and a more streamlined pictogram design based on the 1964 Tokyo Olympic pictograms. The Olympic wayfinding efforts since Katzumie have also become landmarks in the advancement of design systems for major international events and universal public visual design systems.[2]

The Beijing Olympics and the spirit the Chinese government hopes to create are not without controversy. Few Olympic Games, certainly none since 1936 when Jesse Owens won four track and field gold medals in front of an irate audience of Third Reich leaders, has been free of socio-political issues. In the United States at least, the atmosphere has already been heated by articles on China's human rights record, and its investments in Africa, to name a few issues. At stake for the Chinese in 2008 is nothing less than the opportunity to be perceived as a full-fledged member of the world community. To that end, China has invested heavily in the Games and its identity - from architecture to graphic design - and surrounded it all with sophisticated public relations.

The Olympics design programme has been developed in a relatively new design education and business environment, as China rapidly expands and begins to blend Western design with its 5,000-year-old artistic traditions. The designs of the Olympic emblem and its applications, athletic pictograms and Olympic colour scheme standards are elegantly presented in three large-format, white, perfect bound design standard manuals: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Emblem Usage Manual, Pictograms of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and Dancing Colours: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, The Colours. The design and writing, created by ARCOG teams, is equivalent to any multinational corporate branding effort in the West. Each manual elaborately presents a facet of the standards management process. In the Emblem Usage Manual under a positioning statement entitled 'Core Design Concept of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Emblem', the Olympic emblem is named 'Dancing Beijing' and is declared to be 'the seal of the nation', 'the signature of Beijing' and 'the spirit of the individual'. In conclusion, it is stated that 'Dancing Beijing is an invitation - a hand extended to welcome the world to China for a celebration destined to unite humanity as never before'.

Min Wang arrived at Yale University in 1986 after studying at the Yale Summer Programme in Brissago, Switzerland, in 1985 under graphic designer Armin Hoffman and industrial designer Richard Sapper, and after completing his art education at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Fine Arts).

While a student at Yale University, Wang attained a pivotal design position at Adobe Systems in late 1986, just as the digital revolution came to the desktop with the introduction of the first-generation of Macintosh computer. Wang, along with fellow graduate Brian Wu, had the task of digitizing Kanji typefaces (Japanese fonts) using a beta version of Adobe Illustrator on the first-generation Macintosh computer.

Shortly after graduating, Wang joined the faculty of the Yale University graduate graphic design programme where he taught a typographic workshop. He joined a graphic design studio in New Haven, Connecticut, and continued in his many roles as Graphic Designer, Senior Art Director and Design Manager in the Creative Services division at Adobe Systems. In 1998, Wang left Adobe to form Square Two Design with design partner Eddie Lee, establishing offices in San Francisco and Beijing. Square Two Design clients include Adobe, IBM, Intel, Netscape and Stanford University.

Wang's work at Adobe and Square Two Design illustrates the influences of his Eastern and Western design education and his fusion of elements of contemporary Western design and traditional Chinese arts. For example, his typeface Mythos, based on legendary mythological beasts from Eastern and Western cultures, includes both the unicorn, which has predominantly Western roots, and the dragon, which stems from East Asia, united within the Roman letterforms. Other examples include his logo design for the US & Korea Trade Association - where he merged the stars and stripes of the American flag with the Taegeuk symbols of the South Korean flag - as well as the Adobe Stone calendars, where he integrated Roman letterforms into the design reminiscent of a textural Chinese brush painting. Some of Wang's work, such as his Bird House logo, a bird symbol merged into the counter of a Roman letterform, are reminiscent of his Western education, while other designs, such as the freehand calligraphy on his Forbidden City T-shirts, appear entirely Eastern.

Wang has been a visiting fellow in Germany at the Akademe der Bildenden Künste, Munich, and the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, and was appointed Honorary Professor by Shanghai University Fine Arts College. Wang's work has been exhibited internationally in showcases such as the Biennial of Graphic Design, Brno; the Graphic Design Show in Beijing; the Type Directors Club Exhibition in New York; the International Poster Biennial, Lahti; the collection of Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg and the Museum für Gestalutung Zürich.


[1] Graphic Design: A Concise History by Richard Hollis, Thames and Huston Ltd. 1994
[2] Otl Aicher by Markus Rathgeb, Phaidon Press Ltd., 2006

Images from Baseline Magazine online.