Exclusive Interview by DESIGN360 / 2021

Design language does not lie in the East and West, but in whether it is modern and future-oriented

Design language does not lie in the East and West, but in whether it is modern and future-oriented. Interpreting local culture with a unique design language, behind which is a higher level of design logic

In today's increasingly globalized world, designers with a foreign education often adopt a unique design language to interpret local culture. But this "cross-cultural" design language is often just a general impression, behind it is a higher level of design logic. Founded in 2019, Pocca Studio's design principal, Zhihua Duan, studied in Australia and works as a partner alongside his brand strategist, Jiacheng Zhang, to provide brand strategy research, visual identity, and visual communication design to clients in a variety of fields.

Pocca's work, such as Dream of the Red Chamber and The Peony Pavilion, can give the impression of a "contemporary or Westernized treatment of traditional Chinese culture" because they reject the use of traditional Chinese styles and calligraphic fonts and instead incorporate traditional elements into a contemporary design language in other ways, but in a way that is not quite The traditional elements are incorporated into the contemporary design language in other ways, but in a less traditional way.

Pocca does not want to emphasize whether the work is designed in Chinese or Western language. He believes that the original intention and purpose of all design today must be contemporary and future-oriented, and that cross-cultural learning and working experience brings more cross-cultural thinking skills and cultural inclusiveness; what Pocca values is how to design results that are attractive, fresh, and inspiring in the current zeitgeist through its own understanding and means.

Pocca also serves a wide range of sectors, with clients from retail, beauty, fashion, food and beverage, technology, arts and cultural institutions, and a list that includes the Norwegian Consulate, the Swedish Consulate, and the World Health Organization. 70% of the studio's projects revolve around brand design, while around 30% of the work is cultural and artistic commissions as well as spontaneous type projects. For commercial projects, Pocca is constantly broadening its collaboration model, empowering brands with different identities, perspectives, and forms. For cultural projects, Pocca draws inspiration from the resonance and conflict between different cultural perspectives, as well as inspiration from the perception of the world.

How did Pocca's unique design language come about? What is the process of creating a brand strategy for brands across multiple sectors? What is it like to work with a multinational organization? In this issue, we talk to Pocca to hear their experiences and insights from several collaborative projects, and learn about Pooca, a design studio that wants “to transform the chaotic surroundings into long-lasting episodes".

What is Pocca like as a studio? Can you tell us about the meaning of the name Pocca and the philosophy of the studio? Your website says: "We transform chaotic surroundings into lasting interludes", what is the meaning behind this statement?

Pocca is a Shanghai-based design studio that specializes in brand strategy research, visual identity, and information design for design-conscious clients, while also focusing on visual aesthetics in cross-cultural contexts and related areas of research and creation. In terms of project types, 70% of our work is centered around brand design, which includes both brand 0-1 construction for start-up brands from strategic research to a visual design presentation, as well as an evocation of existing brands; the other 30% of our work will include cultural and artistic commissions and our studio's own projects.

The name Pocca was born out of our love for music. We initially came up with the idea of Polka, a rhythmic, classical, and reckless genre of music.

In terms of the types of clients we work with, we have worked in retail, beauty, fashion, food and beverage, technology, cultural and art institutions, etc. This probably stems from our own interests on the one hand, and our desire to apply what we think is better thinking and design to life as much as possible on the other.

The studio's philosophy is the same as the phrase we put on our website: "We transform the chaotic surroundings into long-lasting episodes". On the other hand, as a graphic design or visual communication design studio, the output is often iterated more quickly than industrial or architectural design and is more like a burst of inspiration in life, but we hope that each episode will last longer, whether in the physical, in the communication or in the memory.

What was the opportunity for the two principals to create a studio together? How do your different backgrounds divide the work and what is the collaborative working method?

The studio was first launched in late 2019, just before the outbreak, and was officially registered in the summer of 2020. By accident and opportunity, we decided to start our own studio to facilitate our design practice; subjectively, we also wanted to be able to practice what we thought was better through an independent model.

I am in charge of the design work in the studio, while my partner, Jia Cheng, who did not come from a design background but worked in brand strategy research and related consulting before running the studio together, will be in charge of brand strategy as well as project management. He is responsible for brand strategy and project management. Since not all projects include both strategic research and design work, the two of us basically complement each other in our work. Most importantly, we are able to provide each other with different perspectives and voices as the project progresses, and the stimulation that comes from such different perspectives is invaluable and fortunate for us.

PoccaWhat is the current composition and structure of the Pocca studio? Can you tell us how the current structure supports your multinational and multi-threaded operations?

We are currently practicing at a small, flexible scale and just completed our first official hiring since the studio's inception in early June. We currently have six members, two of whom are focused on brand strategy research and the rest are designers. The rest are designers, including those who studied abroad for their undergraduate and graduate studies, and those who grew up in China or postponed their studies due to the epidemic, as well as a few freelancers who are regular collaborators at home and abroad. We can adjust and coordinate according to the situation.

Your clients come from all over the world, how did such a multi-regional cooperation feature develop?

First of all, because of our own previous experiences and connections from living and studying abroad, we have access to some overseas opportunities. Secondly, we also expose ourselves appropriately on some international platforms, and our past works have been included in design titles such as Gestalten and Niggli. During the first half of the epidemic in China, we received some surprising commissions, such as a band from California, a fashion brand from Jordan, and a tech startup team from India. projects are working with designers from Australia and New Zealand.

You provided a complete branding service for both DULi and Tang Ting Chang, two restaurant brands you worked with. Can you tell us about your working method and design logic in these two projects? What was the process from pre-conceptualization, to brand strategy positioning, to final visualization?

DULi was the first restaurant project we worked on, and it was founded by a Dutchman who had lived in Chengdu for many years. We worked directly from the conceptual and design level of the brand's visual identity to the design of the front door, art direction of the food photography, menu editing, and design, production supervision of all physical materials, and editing and touching up of the bilingual copy.

The branding of a restaurant should come from the experience of the overall environment during the dining process. The visual design needs to be organically integrated into the overall environment without causing interference, so the overall design tries to use sophisticated text design with high-quality images and materials and present them in a more restrained and minimalistic way. For example, we assisted the restaurant in defining its attributes as "plant-based cuisine" to correspond to its English definition of "plant-based", as well as in creating a bilingual restaurant introduction and brand story. These textual works also came from our desire to practice typography not only in terms of visual styling but also in terms of the "readability" of the text itself.

SOUPOTER is one of our design co-creation programs. The Design Adventure Program is a business model for our design practice in which Pocca participates as a shareholder in the operation of startups, building them from the inside out and from the outside in as an internal brand think tank. Inside-out means that we work together as part of the brand consignee for the external market and users, simplifying internal communication costs and devoting better energy to the external market. From the outside to the inside because as a design studio, we have more access to external information than the internal startup team, so we can apply these external brand insights and design thinking across borders to the startup process, bringing insight and observation.

For SOUPOTER's project, we worked together to complete the business model planning, overall financial modeling, dish profit, and pricing planning, brand strategy and positioning, brand naming, brand visual identity design, packaging, and product design, image art direction, product supply chain consulting, product and packaging production, online channel cooperation and design operation, etc. We were completely involved in the whole process of brand 0-1. After nearly 7 months of planning and preparation, in May 2021, SOUPOTER was officially launched for business and received good results and reputation in the first month of operation, meanwhile, we have been working with Tang Ting Chang's main manager on the 1.5 phase of brand iteration.

Pocca now has as many as 7 models of collaboration actually in use, and we are empowering brands in different capacities, perspectives, and forms. At the same time, we deliberately do not create our own standard workflow, because we believe that each client, each brand, and each product faces different targets and timing, and each project has a different resource base, goals, and challenges. So working with the same operational mindset is not always the most appropriate. Therefore, in each project we customize our working methods upfront, using our flexibility to empower the brand's possibilities.

You have worked for many cultural institutions and events, can you tell us about your experience with such projects and share the creation of cultural institutions and events? What is the experience of working with multinational organizations such as the Norwegian Consulate, the Swedish Consulate, and the World Health Organization?

What excites us about art and culture commissions is that they are more conceptual and abstract, based on the fact that they are mostly academic or artistic in nature, and the purpose of the design becomes a visual translation of the representation, meaning-making, symbolism and communication of these abstract concepts. For example, we have been collaborating with Polar Light and Shadow, an organization that focuses on cultural and artistic exchange in the Nordic countries, on a number of events, including the most recent Norwegian Film Week in Shanghai.

Norwegian Film Week was the first official screening of Norwegian contemporary cinema in China. In order to make the image of the event inclusive of eight different films with a recognizable identity, we interpreted the letter N as a symbolic representation of both the initials of Norway and the common symbol for the North; the two rays of light, one upward as a distant view to the Nordic countries and the other downward as a projection of the films from the Nordic countries. This design makes for a clean and crisp campaign identity, with some of the semantic expressions we prefer. We took a still image from each film to represent its atmosphere and blurred it, echoing the atmosphere of each film while presenting the suspense of wanting to see what is going on, making each film have a unique poster.

The collaboration with the Norwegian Consulate is currently mostly based on the design of a series of Nordic cultural and artistic events; the collaboration with the Swedish Consulate is part of the graphic design support for the visual promotion of the Swedish National Day reception in Shanghai, and the collaboration with the World Health Organization is the visual identity design for their "Global Strategy on Digital Health" project. In these types of collaborations, most of them are based on cultural or social projects, so it is very straightforward that communication and understanding based on different cultural perspectives can create both resonance and conflict, which also brings us a lot of inspiration and self-improvement in our perception of the world that is difficult to get from commercial projects.

Both "Dream of the Red Chamber" and "The Peony Pavilion" present traditional Chinese culture in a contemporary, Western-oriented design language. Can you tell us about the balance between modern visual language and traditional Chinese culture in the context of the examples? How do you combine the two in your work?

In fact, in our design practice we don't want to emphasize whether the work is designed in Chinese or Western language. We believe that all design today must be contemporary and future-oriented in its original intent and purpose. In the era of "globalization" with the explosion of information and easy flow of information, our professional development comes from a mix of domestic and international education, and we focus more on how to design through our understanding and means to create results that are attractive, fresh and inspiring in the current fashion.

Dream of the Red Chamber" is the poster we designed for the British gallery Pilar Corrias' exhibition at this year's Beijing Gallery Week. The two exhibitors are both artists in Western contexts, and the title of the exhibition "Dream of the Red Chamber" actually comes from the painting of the same name created by one of the exhibitors, inspired by "Dream of the Red Chamber", not the story we see in Cao Xueqin's writing. Therefore, the theme of the entire exhibition is a contemporary interpretation of traditional Chinese culture inspired by Chinese culture in a Western context, with a sense of exoticism and alienation.

In terms of design, I first selected an exotic and oriental English font for the exhibition's English title "Dream of the Red Chamber", which is itself a font based on traditional Armenian calligraphy. In addition to the suitability of the typeface itself, the unexpected relationship between the intention of creating the typeface and the intention of being used seems to be somewhat similar to the intention of the artist in the exhibition in creating the work and the result of being viewed and interpreted. After the English title font was determined, the Chinese character "Honglou Meng" was designed according to the font characteristics of the English font and the fantasy of the artist's work. For these reasons, the poster does not go to the traditional Chinese style or calligraphy style but has some fusion and contemporary.

Another project, "The Peony Pavilion", is a visual identity design to transform the classic work of The Peony Pavilion, a traditional Chinese culture, into a contemporary cultural IP image. Although "The Peony Pavilion" is a completely classical work and traditional opera, many of its fragments and lines convey sentiments that are so close to everyone's life today. Therefore, whether from the perspective of being an IP brand to face young consumers or being able to find contemporaneity in traditional culture, the visual identity design of such a brand must also be delivered in a more contemporary design language.

Therefore, we can see that in the logo, although the three characters "Peony Pavilion" have a calligraphic structure, the strokes are shaped in a more geometrical way; in the extended text, we have rejected the use of Chinese calligraphic fonts and used the common black font in today's life; in the extended graphics, we have not created a series of patterns based on traditional patterns. Instead of creating a series of patterns based on traditional patterns, we extracted the icon of the pavilion from the Chinese font logo itself and the arrow symbols for the guidance system.

Can you tell us more about your research and creation within the scope of "visual aesthetics in a cross-cultural context"? How does the cross-cultural study and work experience in Australia and China, as well as the difference in cultural backgrounds between the two principals, affect the studio's design thinking or design vision?

In today's context of the Internet, globalization, and intertwined cultures, it is increasingly difficult to discuss visual culture within a single culture, so "cross-cultural context" is often necessary in our view, which makes us pay more attention to the cultural context and evolutionary possibilities of the times in which the design objects are located. The cross-cultural learning and working experience also bring us more cross-cultural cultural thinking ability and cultural inclusiveness. For example, in our exhibition "Catherine Griffiths: SOLO IN [ ] SPACE", we present and discuss the practice of Catherine Griffiths, a renowned New Zealand designer who has been traveling between New Zealand and Australia and European countries for a long time in a cross-cultural context.

In addition, the perspective on viewing cross-cultural contexts as every day comes in part from my experience of studying, working, and living in Melbourne. Melbourne itself is a city made up of immigrants from various countries and native Australians, and it is a city where various cultures intermingle and coexist on a daily basis, and where designers and artists are nourished by multiple cultures. The city's designers and artists are also nourished by many cultures, and we generally regard "multicultural influence" and "cross-cultural context" as a normal thing.

What are your plans and visions for the future direction of Pocca?

We will continue to practice "to transform chaotic surroundings into long-lasting episodes through visual communication design and strategy research" and maintain the current team size for some time to come. Rather than expanding in size, we want to focus on quality improvement and face the future with an orderly pace of development. Secondly, we are aware of our limited time and energy, and will further screen our collaborative projects to get the depth and granularity of our design collaborations right, so that our interludes will reverberate in designs with a more futuristic view and positive impact. We believe that most studios are hoping to promote the diversified and positive development of the design industry through their own attitude, and we hope to be one of them.

Rational and orderly, this is the most important experience of the dialogue with Pocca, as the studio's manifesto "transforming the chaotic surroundings into a lasting interlude". In today's "cross-cultural context" where the Internet, globalization, and culture intertwine and merge, Pocca's design is to intervene, organize and translate this chaotic world of information overload, adapting to the present and even more to the future. All existing operational ideas are only a means to serve such a design.

©POCCA. 2020–2024