Kan Tai Keung is undeniably and unequivocally one of the most prestigious designers in the huaren design world. Kan, also known as ‘Uncle Kan,’ has created classic, ubiquitous designs in Hong Kong and beyond, including the logo of the Bank of China; the image design for the Airport Express services of Chongqing City and Hong Kong; the annual newsletter for the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation; Hong Kong’s Chinese zodiac postage stamps; and the school emblem for Hong Kong Baptist University. Behind these famed designs is Uncle Kan’s profound understanding of huaren culture and community.
Kan believes that true huaren design should be specific to and summarize the huaren lifestyle, thoughts and philosophy, and attitude. Genuine huaren design must be a fine creation that is congruous with the needs and demands of the huaren community. The style of huaren design should not be manifested by the aid of typically huaren imagery and patterns; instead, designers ought to be concerned with the content of huaren culture itself.
Even in the early 1970s, Kan believed that thoughtlessly embracing Western design trends was not a sustainable design method for huaren designers. Therefore, he shifted his focus and began to pay attention to huaren culture and the daily lifestyle of the huaren community.
When speaking of the commemorative silver sculpture he designed for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, Kan notes that the occasion was more than a ceremony or transference of sovereignty. The occasion contained the emotions of the huaren community, a community that had longed for a reunion ever since the historical events that divided them. As such heavy emotions cannot be expressed by imagery and patterns that simply stress a nation’s characteristics, Kan designed a silver sculpture–concise and contained with modern lines–of two serenely placed hands: the larger hand of a mother and the smaller hand of a child. The simple lines of the hands rise and fall gently alongside, embodying a scene of a lost child who, after being reunited with his mother, speaks to her serenely yet joyously about love. “This [work] conveys Confucian morals and ethics. The traditional huaren ideal of ‘building yourself before governing a country’ is in line with my attitude towards huaren culture and my philosophy concerning huaren design,” Kan says with sincerity.
As the conversation moved onto the subject of how huaren design originated from practicality, Kan shared an anecdote from a former Chinese industrial design graduate student of his. This student was researching ways to incorporate Chinese characteristics into car design. He thought that by incorporating traditional elements and imagery of ancient chariots into the design, he would be able to create modern cars infused with huaren style.
However, Kan states, true huaren design should be more than the mere expression of Chinese elements and traditional imagery. Vehicles are practical, daily use machines, and in order to design for daily life, a designer must first understand the living conditions of his target customers–in this case, the living conditions of the huaren community. The structure of modern huaren families in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan has changed over time as values have shifted. Families with a single child, or even families with a double income and no children, are increasingly prevalent. As a result, there are more elderly people and fewer children in today’s huaren families.
Kan believes designers should consider these conditions when designing, and that the designs they create should exemplify the core ideal of ‘help the old and lead the young.’ Designers should design vehicles that are both convenient for the elderly and safe for children–they should create family friendly designs. For example, the design of the doors of a vehicle should allow the elderly to step in and out easily, the seats should be highly adjustable to avoid discomfort for all ages, or signs that state ‘Elders and children in car’ should be installed. A car design that incorporates features of this nature would be able to satisfy the different needs of all demographics and the vehicle could serve multiple purposes. Such a design would also better empathize with the morals of the huaren community. “A design such as this is modern in style, yet it contains the huaren spirit. It’s an example of excellent huaren design that truly embodies huaren thinking and reflects huaren demands,” Kan says.
As Kan emphasizes, good huaren design should not superficially recreate huaren imagery and patterns. Good huaren design should be an expression of Confucianism, Taoism, and the various traditional huaren philosophies, and it should reflect huaren society, its people, and its emotions.
About Kan Tai Keung
Kan Tai Keung–a master of graphic design who is known fondly in design circles as ‘Uncle Kan’–is the founder of KL&K Design and a member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale). Kan is also a lecturing professor at leading regional universities including China Central Academy of Fine Arts, National Tsing Hua University, and National Taiwan Normal University. Kan’s works have garnered innumerable national and international awards: among other honors, he was selected as one of Hong Kong’s inaugural Ten Outstanding Young Persons (1979) and he was the only designer to receive the Urban Council Design Grand Award (1984). He was the first Chinese designer to be included in ‘Who’s Who In Graphic Design’ (Switzerland, 1995), and was also named among the most outstanding artists and designers of the 20th century (United Kingdom). Kan has participated in numerous international curatorial projects and has held solo exhibitions in countries such as China, Finland, Germany, Korea, Japan, Singapore, the UK, and the USA.