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Design beyond the design lessons—an art lecture about book design by Professor Yingchun Zhu

On October 21, 2020, professor, as well as famous book designer, Yingchun Zhu gave an art lecture about book design in the lecture hall of the Guangyue Building.

Book design is one kind of design work easily seen by people in daily life, and a good design will always catch people’s eyes and arouse their interest in a book. Then, how can designers make good design? Professor Zhu provided his experience and suggestions.

Yingchun Zhu is a famous book designer and the director of the Book Culture Research Center at NNU. Books designed by him have won nearly 100 domestic and international decoration design awards, including the industry's highest international award twice. His personal book design works have been exhibited in Germany, South Korea, and other countries. These book design works helped make international colleagues recognize China's book design and pay attention to China's book design field. "Art and Design", "IDEA", "Frankfurt Report", "Wall Street Journal", "CHINA DAILY" and other well-known publications at home and abroad have published  articles about his experience and work.

Professor Zhu did not talk about his design knowledge at the beginning but instead shared his early experiences. He worked as a student who knew nothing and had no experience. As a student designer, he had little chance to design books, not to mention books he was interested in. The only designs he could do were for teaching guides and exercise books. While he finished his requisite work and fed himself, he did his own design jobs at night. There were no buyers so and he made them for himself and with his own efforts he accumulated experience and saved unused inspirations for later.

Then the lecture turned to his design career. He presented his design works, anecdotes between the design processes, and his suggestions. First, he told the audience a story of a mistake he made when he first got a common design job after his work on exercise book designs. He accidentally typed one more name near the author on the cover, and the books had already been printed when he found his mistake. Fortunately, he was quick witted in this emergency and decided to make holes on the cover. These holes eliminated the name and present introductions inside. This design won him the first award in the design field. "Don't be afraid of making mistakes," he said.

Professor Zhu also mentioned the importance of design integrity. In this part he showed his design works, like Light is a Line(《光是线》),One by One(《一个一个人》),Vigorous Sugar(《元气糖》), and Don’t Cry(《不哭》). Light is a Line is a collection of sketches, which was accomplished by being styled in the form of handwriting. The book title, introduction, and even the dividing line were written by the artist Fang Ding. Professor Zhu told the audience that it was important to keep the design in a unified style. “When you choose a suitable design language to express a book, you should try to use it to the extreme.”  

That’s also what he did in the book design of Don’t cry. For a photography collection of orphans, Professor Zhu didn’t make a gorgeous or delicate design, instead, he collected wastepaper of different colors, and the book was printed with obsolete printers in a closed printing factory. This kind of design was economic and just in line with the theme of the book. It showed the pitifulness of these children and aroused people's sympathy and support.

Near the end of the lecture, Professor Zhu answered students’ questions. For the question of ’is it talent or effort that is most important?’ from a graduate majoring in design, Professor Zhu gave a third answer—it’s sensitivity. It is like a talent but one can improve it through thinking and designing. He attached great importance to the art of sensitivity and recommended to the students to record their inspirations and thoughts.

At the end, Professor Zhu offered his interpretation of the lecture theme. He emphasized that a junior student must learn the basic lessons and different methods of designing. It is through this training that they will be able to express their ideas more easily. But for senior students and experienced designers who have a good art grounding, they can try to get rid of the rules and complicated elements and try to express their ideas from a more integrated prospective.