San Francisco has always been a bustling hub for talented creatives. With some of the world's most famous design company's in the world holding locations in the city by the Bay (most notably the Pentagram collective) and hundreds of design firms calling SF home, our city is abundant in the creative projects, ideas and dreams of many gifted graphic designers from all over the world.
One of the most talented designers that we know is our good friend Jefferson Cheng. His perspective in design is one of the most unique and distinct that we have come across; intelligent and refined, yet using the most minimal shapes and lines to convey a focused vision. He has been working for several years in San Francisco, designing for companies like Google and has been a contributing illustrator for print like in Monocle.
Like the Vignellis, he is someone who seems to live and breathe design. He is the most meticulously well dressed individual we know, usually in monochromatic, neutral palettes and often wears labels that are focused on subtle craft rather than current popularity. He has a heart-shaped face with high cheekbones inherited from his stunningly gorgeous Tina Chow look-alike mother. He looks completely ageless, with neatly styled black hair lightly accented with the tiniest bit of grey in his side burns. When he speaks, he has a shy, soft-spoken demeanor that is paused only by his infectious smile and laugh.
Jefferson's most recent zine of illustrations, Q.S.R. is a meditation on the school of Bauhaus and the metaphysical. With his upcoming projects in the works, our Holly recently interviewed this lovely talented designer about his perspective, interest in fashion design and his most recent projects.
Much of your work seems to feature simple, minimal forms and geometric shapes. Is the subtraction of details play an important role in your work as a designer?
Very much so. But not necessarily in service of clarification but to elicit ambiguity.
In your first zine of illustrations, Houses, you are focusing on domestic life and being alone in a solitary space. In Q.S.R. you seem to be exploring social interaction in everyone's first real social experiment, school. Tell us more about that.
That's an interesting observation. When I first started thinking about Q.S.R it wasn't really a direct reaction to Houses but more about constructing a loose narrative that's inspired by the Bauhaus. I was always curious about the student life of the Bauhaus, not just the work that came out from there. There was such a strong sense of camaraderie when I look at old photos of students there. I also wanted the narrative to have a metaphysical element. I was trying to imagine a school that used design for the paranormal instead of the pragmatic.
There is a playful, almost child-like look and feel to your work. Does the experiences of childhood have a huge influence on your work?
I had a wonderful childhood but I'm not entirely conscious of it being an influence in my work. I think these child like qualities stems from the love of play and curiosity in the process of creating. I am also attracted to deceptively simple forms that is complex in meaning and production. They are usually catered to children. Like Montessori toys, the works of Dick Bruna and Enzo Mari.
You are also a photographer. Has your work in design and illustration influenced your photography?
They are more formal influences, like color and composition. Apart from that, there are romantic elements in photography that I like that couldn't really be achieved by design or illustration.
You also have a huge interest in fashion design. How does the medium of fashion influence you as a visual designer?
Fashion involves so much abstract moods, fantasy and emotions which I rarely see in graphic design. Graphic design is usually templatized and formulaic. My interest lies in between these two practices. Trying to question and subvert my design thinking against the poetry and organic approach of the fashion process. I also value fashion designers' perspective on challenging the norm every season. My perception and opinion about color, length, and proportion is constantly challenged and I find that really refreshing and inspiring.
I feel like as graphic designers we've been trained to be a tool for convincing and problem solving rather than cultivating, questioning and challenging design conventions and systems. This lead me to start Dunce (my publishing company) so I can use that as a platform for experimentation and personal voice for my design practice.
What are you working on now? We heard a rumor you are working on a new photography project!
Yes, I have two projects coming up and they are both collaborations. The first is a zine collaboration with Mansi Shah, an amazing surface designer and also a very good friend. I drew still lifes and she covered them with her unique patterns.
The second is a photo book with April Banker. We styled and took the photos together. We were very much inspired by the beautiful and absurd editorials in this old Japanese magazine called Hanatsubaki, we wanted to do an homage to it.
Thank you Jefferson!
*all images provided by Jefferson Cheng. Photo of Jefferson Cheng by Brian Ortega.