I cannot say when it started, but at some point I became aware of the intangible message that envelopes the visual element of graphic design; for now, I will call it zi.
A more concrete way to define zi could be to borrow from the definition of qì — the vital force that courses through all living beings. I believe that zi contains information, the understanding of which can be reached by tracing back to the origin if zi. I have also tried to explain zi with the poetry that underlies visual language, but ultimately, it is hard to verbalize the feeling of having one’s spiritual itch scratched.
The first time I explicitly perceived zi, whose existence transcends its visual vessel, was while reading the work of John Berger. I became aware that not only does zi exist in imagery, words, music, events, and space, it can also be conveyed within any imaginable context.
There is no word for what I am trying to express in the English language. During one of my short-term fine art courses in London, the lecturer said to the students: “When these two colors are mixed together, it triggers a feeling zi, doesn’t it?” (Perhaps zi can be better perceived if one considers it as an electric current.)
The work of most top-notch international designers elicit zi; one could even argue that some awards and exchange platforms were established in order to collect zi. It is not necessarily a question of technique or aesthetics, it is more akin to a sense of awareness inspired by art. One might say that the key to determining the existence of zi is if what the work symbolizes is in fact something that conveys a message of transcendence — one that cannot be interpreted by words or understood through knowledge.
Kazunari Hattori says that he can often sense the moment in which a design is completed; I believe that to be the epitome of zi. Every single design I have seen by Hattori possesses intense zi; his innate talent offers a possible explanation that zi originates from the unruliness with which humans were born. The work of some young creators also possess a strong zi; as does music created by natives who still live in the wild or the jungle, even though their works might be considered very rustic from a commercial standpoint.
What we can be certain of is that there is a clear separation between zi and form; the latter is merely a means through which the former is achieved. Therefore, zi has nothing to do with style, and I must reiterate that it also has nothing to do with technique and aesthetics, even though these things are often confusing and impeding to one another.
It seems that a lot of creators have yet to be summoned by zi. They do not hold the ability to create work with zi, and can only attempt to emulate the idea of it. This phenomenon also applies to professional designers. Contrarily, once a creator is dedicated to the practice of zi, the form of their creation will gradually break free from the common definition of what is good.
As of now, my ability to formulate an objective explanation to this topic only allows me to go so far.