UK Designer Goes “Beyond Paper” in 2016 Tang Prize Diplomas

  • UK Designer Goes “Beyond Paper” in 2016 Tang Prize Diplomas
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Having inaugurated its first award recipients in 2014, the Tang Prize will announce its second year of awardees on June 18-21 2016. To honor and give vision to the contributions of the new laureates, the Tang Prize commissioned London-based designer Lin Cheung to create a series of diplomas which will be given to the laureates at the awarding ceremony this September. The set of four diplomas, one per prize category, began in the designer’s mind with the idea to go “beyond paper”—to test the boundaries of paper as a printed document.

Lin Cheung graduated from the Royal College of Art, London with an MA in Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery in 1997. A concern for humanity and the humanities runs through her works, a great example being her design for the London 2012 Paralympic Games medal, which won her recognition from the British Design Council’s Beyond 2012.

From the moment a prize winner is awarded, Cheung said, no matter if it is the Tang Prize or the Paralympics, the physical medal belongs to that person. But as a symbol, it belongs to the whole world. That is what the Tang Prize symbolizes in Cheung’s mind—something that permeates national boundaries and mediates cultural differences. Even more so, it is a common language of achievement which all the world understands.

To incorporate this commonality in her design, Cheung first set aside any idea of the diploma as a written document; instead she focused on the base material—paper. With that commonplace substance, human beings can convey a near infinity of ideas, from groundbreaking research to an everyday laundry list. Using a unique type of paper, and through a special forming process, she gave a gentle curve to each diploma, making them able to stand freely.

Then, to present the four categories, she used fresh, innovative visuals: The diploma for Sustainable Development, inspired by maps and mapmaking, reconfigures the continents of the world to represent a change in perspective, and the hope and opportunity that change can bring. For Biopharmaceutical Science, the inspiration was the underlying molecular structure of paper, hinting also at the structure of life. For Sinology, the eight fundamental brushstrokes of calligraphy. Since all Chinese characters use these basic strokes, these deconstructed figures represent the entirety of the written Chinese language, but also the unwritten possibilities. And lastly, representing Rule of Law are the acts of giving and receiving: of giving a helping hand, and of the values bestowed through our gestures.

The designer was joined at the unveiling by Jennifer Tsai and Leslie Chan in a roundtable discussion. Tsai, Creative Director and President of Proad Identity, has been an active player in the design world for many years, as shown in her being a recipient and a judge of design prizes like the German Red Dot and iF awards. Moderating the discussion was Leslie Chan, an international designer best known for his design of the 7-Eleven City Café logo.

“Paper is ordinary, but it can be used to communicate so many feelings and ideas,” said Tsai of the new set of diplomas. “Spare and straightforward” are the two qualities that one notices immediately from the design. But making it so was no simple feat, added Tsai. “To design a set of diplomas that lets the viewer know immediately what it is intended to communicate shows that Lin has a very deep understanding of the values of the Tang Prize and its categories, more so it shows her humanistic side as well.”

The design “makes paper into something more than paper,” said Tang Prize CEO Jenn-Chuan Chern. From the flat media we see every day in newspapers and books to a standing, dynamic design, Cheung has broken the boundaries we usually associate with paper. As her forte is in metalworking rather than flat media, Cheung used the new opportunity as an advantage. “She looked at paper from a blank slate, starting from zero. But that allowed her a greater freedom for creativity. What was ordinary became extraordinary and everlasting—paper became a symbol for sustainability.”