Submission # 6
Student – Ākonga
Identity – People & Culture
Identity – People & Culture
Wellington, Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara
I grew up behind the counter of my parent's Chinese Takeaways and started working since I was 10 years old. Since growing up I have noticed the use of ‘ethnic lettering’ in the signage of Chinese takeaways/restaurants and questioned the authenticity and reason as to why it’s been used as a visual short cut for an entire culture. As the same lettering is applied in a different context - to mock, stereotype and mimic Asian culture. So then, why do Chinese takeaways and restaurants continue to adopt these lettering types to prove the authenticity of their takeaway/restaurant?
With coming to design school and getting the tools to understand this act of appropriation and how the semiotics of type work. I have researched that typography serves as valuable social science data. Aesthetic association and learned connotations are factors in which people have been seduced by the cultural connotations in the letter shapes. The images in peoples’ minds can be created by the repetition of fixed ideas. This utilises type as a visual short cut.
I have learnt that communication design has the power to inform and educate a person or audience. This gives us the power to perceive culture through visual forms, which can also lead to misrepresentations of culture through stereotypes and racist intentions.
The objective of ‘STEREO[TYPE]’ is to enlighten the morals of designers about the responsibility of visual communication. ‘STEREO[TYPE]’ is an exploration of typography and culture. Unpacking the link between the dish and the lettering categorised as ‘ethnic’ known as chop suey lettering. Using this critical thinking, my project investigates key ideas surrounding its origin and use. Discussing the discourse around cross-cultural appropriation and those unexpected places where cultures meet.
To achieve my objective, ‘STEREO[TYPE]’ is packaged inside a takeaway order with the contents left for the viewer to unpack and understand. By using the material forms familiar to Chinese Takeaways - the takeaway container, it plays on the metaphor where the term ‘Asian’ in type - is reduced and packaged into mimicry fonts that merely represent the rich culture. The contents in ‘STEREO[TYPE]’ presents my research of the typeface and its origin, history and use. Exploring the idea that there are many different paths taken by a typeface from its creation, to its status as a visual shorthand for an entire group. The case studies use critical thinking to situate the typefaces and show products that hold cultural commodity, to sell the culture and to define its authenticity through the stereotypes they’ve used. This discusses the broader issues about cross-cultural communication and comprehension.
STEREO[TYPE] has enabled a voice to be heard and has made a statement - to enlighten the morals as a visual communicator. This project has allowed me, to further understand my responsibility as a designer. It has enabled an audience to have a critical observation and analysis centric to the value that design holds. To further this project there are more design lead issues that arise from the power of design to explore and discuss - such as cultural, political and environmental issues.
This project shed a light on cultural appropriation in the popular and everyday culture through type (thus design at large). It is a very contemporary concern and part of a more global awakening.
A deeply personal subject that can act as a universal call out to designers to be mindful of the complexity of identity and cultural representations.
Credits & Collaborators: Designer - Kimberley Zhou
More by Kimberley Zhou