Book List of the Week

Intertwined Entities: Freeman Lau’s Book List—A Conversation with Zara Arshad

By Steve Kroeter March 12, 2013

Freeman Lau

Zara Arshad

Product and graphic designer Freeman Lau: Kan & Lau Design Consultants (Hong Kong)

Profile     Book List

Design writer Zara Arshad: Design China (Beijing)



Internationally renowned product and graphic designer Freeman Lau (Lau Siu-Hong), with more than 300 awards to his name, has designed everything from posters and books to prize-winning water bottle packaging and a series of intertwining chairs and stools. He is also recognized for his work as an educator and curator, and in 2011 was a curator of the Beijing International Design Triennial. Lau’s book CMYK (2012) was just released in Hong Kong and Beijing this past December. Design China’s Zara Arshad, in an interview for Designers & Books, sat down with Freeman Lau recently to talk about reading, writing, designing, and publishing books in Hong Kong and mainland China. (The conversation appears in Chinese at the end of this post.)

Zara Arshad: How have books influenced your design career?

Freeman Lau: Books have impacted greatly on my understanding of Chinese culture and, subsequently, my design work. It was through books that I learned about the interconnected relationship between design and culture.

Intertwined Chairs from Freeman Lau’s “Chairplay” series, 2008

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, books played a vital role in providing a glimpse of what life was like in mainland China. Back then, China was still a closed country and we had no photographs or visual reference points as to what life was like there. It was through publications like the Wuxia novels (traditional Chinese fiction centered on the martial arts) that we imagined the mountains of China, the scenery, and how people dwelled there. It was immensely fascinating for us. The Wuxia novels raised an initial curiosity about Chinese culture, and design as a bridge between culture and creativity, an idea that has influenced me ever since.

The very first design book that influenced me was written by the artist and design educator Wucius Wong. It was a fairly simple publication that had been translated into many languages and discussed the principles of graphic design. It encouraged me to take up the subject (rather than fine art) at the university level and, consequently, initiated my design career.

ZA: You have mentioned that design and culture, for you, are two intertwined subjects. Can you tell us more about how books have shaped this way of thinking?

FL: Another book that influenced me fairly early on in my career was concerned with Chinese paintings. It was written by a teacher who focused on the theory and the principles of design and design thinking, and composed during the Chinese ink painting movement that was taking place in Hong Kong at the time. The book focused heavily on culture and its impact on creative practice. Hong Kong was a very interesting place during this period since many designers were also creating art: paintings and installations. There were no boundaries, and crossing between disciplines was a very natural occurrence. Books like this one sparked a personal interest for me in creating work of a more conceptual nature.

Tolerant from Freeman Lau’s “Fancy of Ink” poster series, 2011

ZA: What are the more notable differences between the publishing industries in Hong Kong and mainland China?

FL: In Hong Kong, English books were more widespread and readily available. Of course, this was not the case in mainland China until very recently. However, I feel that the publishing industry in mainland China is still better developed, though the style is very different. Technology and material choices in China are also improving, enhancing the industry even further. When I visit Beijing, I always try to stay in the Wangfujing area for easier access to the local bookstores, which carry a great selection of books. Even if you browse these stores for a short amount of time, you are able to find great publications (in terms of content). Additionally, the book design industry is losing its market in Hong Kong; however, it still has a fairly strong presence in cities like Beijing, where some of China’s most famous book designers, such as Lü Jingren, currently reside. Many in the industry have started to consider related aspects, like Chinese typography and fonts, more seriously now, too.

Freeman Lau, CMYK, 2012 (China Renmin University Press, Beijing) 

ZA: Which books do you recommend to other designers?

FL: My advice to young designers is not to read just design books alone. Although these may be visually stimulating and good points of reference, they do not help much conceptually. Design is a means of expression—it is a way of thinking. Within the design world, we are happy to be creative, but content is also important. Young designers should fall in love with another aspect of society like music, culture, or even ecology, and reflect back on their own lives in order to contribute to world development through their creativity.

ZA: Books have played a huge role in your past. How do you anticipate they will impact your future?

FL: I recently released a new book called CMYK, and hope to publish more in the coming months. Some of these will relate to my work, but I want to reveal in more detail the real impact of culture and heritage on previous projects. I also plan to curate more books in the future. In 2011, for example, I collaborated with Professor Hang Jian (then Vice Dean of the Arts and Design department at Tsinghua University, Beijing) to co-curate an exhibition called “Re-thinking Bamboo,” which analyzed the potential of bamboo as a sustainable and culturally significant design material. I want to design a publication that builds on the themes we touched upon in that exhibition. Overall, my plan is to start curating book content that aims to stimulate and provoke design debate on more current problems that have recently started to emerge in Asia.

All images courtesy of Freeman Lau.

View Freeman Lau’s Profile     View Freeman Lau's Book List

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國際知名產品和平面設計師劉小康曾獲設計獎項三百余項,他的設計包括海報、圖書,獲獎作品水瓶包裝,以及一系列相互纏繞的椅子和工具。同時,他在設計教育和策展方面的工作也廣受認可,2011年參與策展北京國際設計三年展。劉的著作<<設入點: 劉小康的CMYK創意學>> (繁) 和 <<从创意到产业 : 刘小康的CMYK创意学>>(简)(2012)去年十二月在香港和北京出版。Design China的阿颯受Designers & Books委托,採訪了劉小康,聊讀書、寫作、設計和中國內地與香港的出版業。













劉:我最近出了一本新書,叫作《設入點 : 劉小康的CMYK創意學》,還有另幾本書準備出版。這些書有的和我的作品相關,有些是關於過去項目的文化影響,希望未來可以參與更多書籍策劃。比如2011年,我和杭間教授(清華大學藝術與設計學院副院長),共同策劃了展覽『知竹』 ,分析了竹子作為設計材料的可持續性和文化價值。我希望設計一本出版物,延續展覽涉及的主題。總的來說,我準備策劃一些鼓勵、促進亞洲設計對話的書,就亞洲當下設計問題展開討論。


Chinese translation by Lynn Zhang.


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