In this example “visual translation” means finding Western equivalents
© Rudi Baur
Left: The Chinese “cord-hook diagram”; right: the clock—both are cyclical diagrams
© Rudi Baur
Left: a double spread from the Sancai Tuhui; right: our redesign where we added aspects of the reference system
© Rudi Baur
Contemporary Western (left) and traditional Chinese representation (right). The biggest difference is the presentation of the half skull in the Western representation. In traditional Chinese representations, however, no cut-outs are made, they always pres
© Rudi Baur

The exploration of design methods in the fields of cross-cultural visual communication

Octobre 2012 - Octobre 2015

Chef de projet :  Ruedi Baur
Contact :
Equipe de recherche :
 Sébastien Fasel, Ulrike Felsing, Fabienne Kilchör, Eva Lüdi Kong, Wu Jie
Durée :
 Part 1 : May 2010 – April 2012 ; Part 2 : October 2012 – September 2015
Partenaires :
 «Revue suisse de l'imprimerie», Syndicom Verlag Redaktion TM Lukas Hartmann
Financement :
Résultats visés : Acquiring new knowledge and skills of design in order to communicate information from other cultures in an appropriate manner. Demonstration of a general methodology and specific design resolutions. Image and cultural theory linked to practical knowledge about information graphic will be provided. Provision of Image theory linked to practical knowledge about information graphic. Open up a professional discussion on the topic of design methods in the field of Transcultural Visual Communication
Valorisation prévue : The main research results will be presented at Swiss Typographic Magazine («Typografische Monatsblätter») (2015). The research will be presented and discussed at the conference: "Transcultural Frames" at "Cluster of Excellent Asia and Europe in a global context" at University of Heidelberg, Germany (31.10.-02.11.2014). It was presented by Ruedi Baur at Typotage: «Schrift global» (Global fonts) 20. Leipziger Typotage (24.05.2014). It was presented by Ulrike Felsing at HETEROTOPIA Institut für transdisziplinäre Gestaltung, Folkwang Universität der Künste Fachbereich Gestaltung (02.7.2014). The research project was introduced at THE OCT-LOFT CREATIVE FESTIVAL, Shenzhen China (Dec.-Feb. 2013/2014) The Theme of THE OCT-LOFT CREATIVE FESTIVAL: «Design Research & Design Education». Presentation of the research project at the HEAD Haute école d‘Art et de Design Genève: Training to research – case studies (13.5.2013). Presentation of the research project at Bejing, Chamber of commerce; Sponsor: Addax (15.9.2013). The results of this research project will be demonstrated and taught in the CAS course of Ruedi Baur.
Mots-clés : Visual, Science, Communication
Site :

In a globalized world, where goods, people, and knowledge travel more than ever, Asian, Latin, and Arabic characters and visual cultures are increasingly appearing side by side and mixing more often. The coexistence of different visual cultures is now part of our daily lives, whether in universities, fairs, airports, or international institutions and urban districts, and it is part of many different bases of communication.

The central research questions are: How can a respectful relationship between Chinese and Western visuals, which does not involve unilateral authoritarianism be created? How is it possible to present information, structures, and designs from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds with their own system of representation, so that these systems coexist in an equitable way? How can excessive schematization, clichés, uniformity, and generalization favoring dominant Western ideas be avoided?

After finishing the first phase of our research, which focused mainly on multilingual typography, we launched the second phase, shifting our attention to the transcultural potential of graphics, diagrams, and images from China and the West. As an exemplary object of research we chose a Ming Dynasty encyclopedia of images called Sancai Tuhui (published in 1609). This oeuvre is very appropriate for our research aim, because it contains original Chinese visualizations largely without any western influence. This encyclopedia is a collection of diagrams and maps of diverse aspects of China´s traditional perception of its own empire, society, and culture. How does this images convey information, which principles of representation are used and how can this knowledge be communicated to the western public?

We now develop a distinct pictorial language that will provide a broad public access to the Sancai Tuhui and its unique body of knowledge. This pictorial language visualizes Chinese cultural concepts in order to open the European eye to as-yet unknown Chinese visual and conceptual skills. This will be done in an appropriate manner, meaning that the contents of the encyclopedia must be simplified to avoid disproportionately excessive schematization and clichés. This is a major challenge to information design. Our pictorial language enables people to convey concrete, i.e., imagerelated, knowledge in conjunction with higher-level cultural knowledge and to compare it with Western culture.

According to Nelson Goodman, who argues that even "realism is relative, determined by the system of representation standard for a given culture or person at a given time" (Goodman, N. [1976] Languages of art : an approach to a theory of symbols. Indianapolis: Hackett, p. 37) the frame of reference need to be defined. All classical Chinese graphics that represent spatial and temporal contexts are based on a similar “conceptual” scheme. This scheme is normally not visualized but always mentally present in the visual reception. In order to show how the images convey knowledge, we will demonstrate the relationship between conceptual and pictorial schemes. For this we integrate the conceptual scheme into re-drawings of the originals in order to show both levels in their relationship. Furthermore a deeper understanding of the frame of reference that is given by the media – the Sancai Tuhui and the images itself – will be offered.

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