Dragon Wang (a.k.a. Zhijun Wang) is a graphic designer based in Beijing. He established his own studio and brand – ZJ Design – in 2008 after working in advertising agencies, and clients so far have included NLGX, UNICEF, NeochaEDGE, Sony Ericsson and Toyota. Since establishing himself as an independent designer, Zhijun Wang has maintained a strong focus on sporting culture, as well as traditional crafts and skills. We caught up with him to find out more.
Where are you originally from, and what did you study?
I am a local Beijinger, and I went to a school that is now affiliated with Tsinghua University. I undertook advertising and communication design at university and graduated in 2005, but taught myself how to use software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. To complete the story, I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi China for a number of years before moving to a local company. I didn’t really like it there though so I set up my solo practice in 2008.
Tell us about some of your projects.
My work covers a broad scope, for example, I completed a project last year with Li Ning on trainers that were inspired by the elements water and wood. When the Beijing Olympics took place, I designed a Peking Opera mask that conceals the Chinese characters for Beijing (in the illustration). I also looked at whale culling in Japan via one of my projects; however, at the time, I wasn’t working as an independent designer and the company I was with forbid me to release the project.
Another project I would like to mention is the Goals for Girls logo. The client was UNICEF and this was my first attempt at typography. For the final outcome, the Chinese character for “girl” (or “nü”) was abstracted to resemble a running figure.
Generally, you concentrate a lot on sporting culture. Can you tell us more about this?
Yes, this reflects my lifestyle. I run marathons myself having, so far, run the Shanghai, Taipei and HK marathons. I plan to run the Seoul marathon this year. I’ve always been interested in skateboarding too so I helped to design exhibition posters for a local skateboard painter. Design for sports is an energetic and lively process, which is much more interesting to me.
How do you perceive the Chinese design industry?
I think the Chinese design industry can learn a lot from Japan. Many craftsmen are based in Japan. They observe carpentry there, for example, and young people prefer to learn skills. In China, however, the industry is a lot more machines-based and the focus is on efficiency. I’m trying to avoid using machines myself, and practice the “making” aspect more.
What are you currently working on?
Last year, I completed a project using a local technique called pyrography, which is usually used on fruit and wood, but I wanted to see how it would work on fabrics and trainers. Currently, only one pair of shoes from this project exists since I made them myself (a process that took 1 month), so I am now looking at ways to expand the project. I want to use more of this technique in other works and expose traditional craftsmanship to a wider audience — to look at the possibility of passing on these skills to the next generation in order to revive them. The trainers are just a medium of delivery.
What are the benefits of practicing as a solo designer?
When I entered the industry, I didn’t really know how Chinese designers work since my working experience was mostly with foreign clients. However, I have found that I prefer to work independently in order to achieve full vision rather than compromise on style. This is one of the main benefits of setting up your own studio.
How do you market yourself?
Some of my friends work in magazines related to sub-cultures such as fashion and trainers, but I really only show mature works to editors. I also have my own website.
Would you recommend this way of working to others?
I think it’s necessary for young designers to intern and gain experience first. I would recommend learning the processes of working before tackling large projects as a solo designer. When young people first start out, they are hungry for fame, and it’s easier for them to fall this way. I was like this myself, but then I started to follow my interests and this is what got me to where I am today.
Many thanks to Lynn Zhang for interpreting.