After a tough competition between design studios, ad agencies and design schools in China, CAFA won the bid to design the prized Olympic medals and a series of thirty-five pictograms for the Paralympics.

“We were lucky we won most of the projects we competed for,” said Wang. “We had thirty students working on the core graphics, then each group was divided into subgroups, each working on a different project.”

“Students have fresh ideas. They have no bounda-ries or baggage – or experience. They do what they like, whether it’s realistic or do-able or not. They don’t think about things too much; they just come out with interesting concepts.”

“We worked together and narrowed our selection from a large number of ideas and submitted them to the Beijing Olympic Committee. The committee then narrowed the field further and we put together a team of the best students, postgraduates and faculty members to finalise the design.

"This process was much more complicated than in a commercial design studio. It was a big team and I was just a small part of it.”

Wang said his role as design director for the games came about in October 2006, after a lot of the design work had already happened.

“For a long time, the 2008 Beijing Olympic committee didn’t have an art director or a design director,” he said. “When I became the director the first thing I had to consider was how to unite everything.

"Our slogan – One World, One Dream – is a very good one and in an ideal world the slogan and images should have been developed together as one region, one voice and one image.

"They should all speak one voice, from beginning to end – the venues, the streets, the uniform and the publications – and the message should be very clear. But, unfortunately, from the beginning
there were different voices.”

“The best I could do was to create one image family. The images for 2008 are not consistent in style or idea, but the thing that connects them is that they exhibit something uniquely Chinese.”

“The jade in the medal design demonstrates how we have included a traditional element. For the first time in the history of the games a material other than metal has been used in the medal. Jade represents honesty and good value, and the emperor used to give jade to generals and heroes. The jade is a traditional element but in terms of form the medal still looks contemporary.”

Wang said the pictograms reference classic Chinese writing that was originally carved in stone. “When we started developing the pictograms we had over twenty-five students working on them. The students used paper-cutting, stone-carving, brushes, watercolour.”

According to Wang, the Olympic Games are stimu-lating Chinese design industry. “We have close to half a million people in our design industry at the moment and the Olympics are giving China an opportunity to rebrand itself with the slogan ‘One World, One Dream’. Chinese people want to be a part of the international family, the contemporary international community.”

Wang also said that design education is changing in China, as students are encouraged to explore China’s cultural identity – both traditional and contemporary. “We realised that we needed to let our students find their own voices and language,” he said.

“From elementary school level, students in China are taught to memorise things – they always listen to what the teacher tells them – and have hardly any time to find themselves.”

“In the CAFA curriculum we encourage students to learn Chinese traditional art such as watercolour and calligraphy and through this experience they usually discover something or find a language that suits their needs. And slowly I think this will become something unique and uniquely Chinese.”

“And I encourage students to learn from ordinary people. We have done research projects where we send students out onto the street and into the countryside to document what people put on their front door or in front of their small restaurant; they look at the signage, the advertisements.

"These are very ‘low end’ approaches to design, but they are fresh and sometimes very lovely, with no influence from the West. These projects help students to build up their own design vernacular.” 

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