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Saturday, August 19, 2017, 17:56
Tone and texture
By Xing Yi
Saturday, August 19, 2017, 17:56 By Xing Yi

Chinese designer Sun Xiaoxi wins Red Dot award for book design. Xing Yi reports.

When Sun Xiaoxi bought a collection of poems in high school, he didn't like the book cover at all - the title was in regular typeface atop a portrait of the poet. He found the cover "stiff and dull".

It is a collection of poems by Zha Haisheng, or Hai Zi as known by his pen name. The renowned modern poet committed suicide at age 25.

Sun felt the book cover didn't convey the personality of his favorite poet: romantic, passionate and free. So, he drew a new one himself. On a white paper, Sun wrote the different poems in black ink again and again until scratches filled up the whole space, looking like a black-and-white graffiti. He then wrapped the paper around the book as a jacket.

"That was my first book design," the 35-year-old designer says. "It still stands out on my bookshelf."

But it is Sun's latest book design that has won him this year's German Red Dot Design Award in the "best of the best" in the communication design category.

Sun Xiaoxi’s book designs usually feature simple elements but are able to convey emotions. His signature works include Che Pi, which won him the German Red Dot Design Award this year. (PHOTOS PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On Aug 10, the award jury announced the winners from more than 8,000 projects submitted from 50 countries.

The book is a collection of media interviews with musician and artist Wu Hongjin, or Zuoxiao Zuzhou (his stage name), who's known for his unconventional songs, poems and art.

The characteristics of the renegade are represented in Sun's design, and, in some ways, resemble his first design.

Titled Che Pi, the palm-sized book is wrapped in paper printed with the musician's prologue, and readers need to tear it away to open the book. That pun on the book's name, which in Chinese means "peeling off the cover", refers to the interviews (chat).

"That also fits Zuoxiao Zuzhou, as he once told his fans, 'Don't believe a word from me'," Sun says. "So you can just throw the prologue away after reading it."

Murmurs of Earth (left) and director Wang Xiaoshuai’s book (right) Bobo De Guxiang (Flimsy Hometown). (PHOTOS PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The book contains his interviews published in newspapers, magazines and websites in the past decade. Each left page in the book has a question on it, with the answer on the right. Sun adjusted the fonts in a way that the length of an answer didn't matter - it never goes beyond a page.

Especially in this digital era, if a printed book doesn’t provide something more than the content itself, then why bother to buy one?

Sun Xiaoxi, book designer

Short replies are in bold fonts and the longer ones in stylish fonts.

"One day or two, sometimes a year," Zuoxiao Zuzhou had said in answer to a question about how often he changed his T-shirts.

Sun says the book's layout conveys emotions. "Good designs use simple elements."

When Zuoxiao Zuzhou asked Sun whether he needed photos for the book cover, Sun said, "No."

"I wanted the text to stand out to emphasize the power of words," says Sun.

No colors or photos - just words running through pages.

After graduating in visual communication from the Capital Normal University in 2004, Sun started to design for websites, then moved to magazines, and in the past three years into books.

In 2015, his design for director Wang Xiaoshuai's book Bobo De Guxiang (Flimsy Hometown) won him the Most Beautiful Book in China award, a top annual prize.

The book includes letters and old photos of Wang, so Sun decided to include Wang's handwritten editing traces on the page. This has intensified the nostalgia about the town and brings to the readers a personal touch of the director.

Sun Xiaoxi, book designer (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In 2016, Sun designed the Chinese edition of the popular science book Murmurs of Earth, which is about a 1970 US space mission to look for life in space. Sun inserted the book in a disc package and printed a photo of a laser disc on the cover representing the lonely journey of the spacecraft.

Sun designs only two to three books a year.

Many publishing houses don't respect design, he says, because he sometimes receives requests to produce a "cheap" book cover but very quickly.

In his view, design is an indispensable part of a book that gives it the right texture and tone.

"Especially in this digital era, if a printed book doesn't provide something more than the content itself, then why bother to buy one?" Sun says.

"People can always get the content online."

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