文字無價，說來動聽。在講求包裝的年代，利用書籍設計將文本商業化。吸引讀者購買，是否貶低了文字的價值呢？ 本地書籍設計師陳曦成坦言，書本是商品，當書本被買回去閱讀，其價值才得以發揮，但書本不只是商品， 更是「文化的傳承，知識的載體。」
曦成認為「做靚本書」是設計師的基本責任，「但更重要的是，要透過書籍設計為文本add value（提升價值）。」 曦成習慣先消化整本書的文字，然後萃取最重要的部份，再構思最合適的方式表達，而非單單為書籍「包裝扮靚」。
Book Design Intelligence in Cultural Inheritance
Words are priceless. How true is this from the reality? We live in an era that outer-beauty always comes first. There is no exception when it comes to books. Using book design to attract consumers is said to be a commercialisation of books. Does this degrade the value of words? Local book designer Chan Hei-shing believes the value of words can only be recognised when a book, as a commodity for sale, was read. However, he uttered, “a book is not only a commodity but cultural inheritance and a medium for knowledge.”
Hei-shing, majored in Visual Communication Design at university, has always been regarding Les Suen as his idol. Knowing his idol was the Art Director of Enrich Culture, Hei-shing was dying for a job at the same company and succeeded at last as a freelance book designer for it. Unfortunately, by the time he got in, Les had left the company. The editor-in-chief had been very helpful to give him a chance to design a book called “Shaping Japan” by Tong Ching-siu of which Les was the design director. Hei-shing said he had learnt a lot from the experience, “This is so amazing! Les Suen’s design is a breakthrough from routine and this inspired me that books can have boundless possibilities.”
Integrating book art into design
Shortly after he started working, Hei-shing decided to become a designer specialising in book design. “People thought I have limited myself too soon but I believe that book design is an area which can be explored endlessly.” Hei-shing went all the way to the UK in 2007 for a master programme in book art in which he learnt to use different structures, forms and materials to make books. “There is no difference between books and other art forms such as sculptures and paintings. They are all art pieces created through the sensational experiences of artists. The only difference is the medium.” He has gradually become a book artist and continued to deepen his understanding of book art so as to unearth every possibility. The most common question that goes to Hei-shing is the difference between his two identities. He thinks that book artists have more room for creative ideas as they can involve in the creation process from brainstorming ideas to crafting the actual pieces. Book designers, however, may not enjoy this freedom as they are bounded by the content of books and need to take care of requests from authors, editors and publishers.
In one of Hei-shing’s books “POPUP LONDON: exploring the secret of Book Arts” published in 2009, he mentioned his doubt, “Do we have to draw a clear line between design and art?” As he explores more, he realises book art can be integrated into book design even if there are fundamental differences between the two. Through aesthetic presentation, the book content can be solidly developed and emphasised by pop art, the new medium.
Design to add value
It is a basic responsibility of a book designer to “make books beautiful”. “Yet, most importantly, a book designer should add value to the content.” Hei-shing has developed a habit to digest all the words of a book, extract the essence and find the most suitable way to present the book content. He does more than an ordinary packaging task, which is making the books “pretty”.
Among all his commercial works, The Death of Lao She, awarded Merit (book) in HKDA Global Design Awards in 2013, is Hei-shing’s favourite. It is a book that records the oral history about Lao’s suicide at Taiping Lake, reported by people surrounding him. Through the series of interviews, Lao’s mentality of his last stage of life is explored.
Black, white and grey are used as the main colour tone. Through sequence of paper, he leads readers to the Lao’s sentimental life. “Turning into the first page, it shows a black and white photo of Taiping Lake where Lao committed suicide. By shrinking the pictures of the Lake in the next three folds, visual images from Lao’s perspective of approaching the Lake from closing his eyes to actually jumping in are shown. This is further comprehended by other photos of the famous writer, flashing back his life including birth, marriage, his children and moments with his friends. This introduction is concluded with a red double page spread and the content of interviews follows.”
Role model in promoting book design
During the preparation of “BOOK ARTS TAIPEI”, Hei-shing interviewed many Taiwanese book designers and book artists. He admitted that compared to Taiwan, Hong Kong’s book design is lagging behind. Worse still, potential elites are not attracted to the industry due to the low pay, which developed a vicious cycle. This stimulates Hei-shing’s sense of mission to improve the current situation as he said, “It all starts from myself which I always enhance my own designs. This shows how much I love the industry and when you love what you are doing, you will do a great job.”
Apart from that, Hei-shing also spends half of his time on educating people about book design and book art though lectures and talks. He teaches book design courses and book binding workshops in various local education institutes. The works from his students often surprise him as he said, “Among those, there are unconventional designs that provoke your thought.” He enjoys teaching as he believes it is not only about passing on skills and knowledge but also a good opportunity to explore the value of books with students.
_ Hong Kong Design Institute Interview