HENRY STEINER: I would dare say that a designer can only be as good as his clients. And if you’ve got a designer who wants to do things, you use them.
I’ve done a lot of work for clients who have ‘Hong Kong’ in their name, like Hong Kong Bank, Hongkong Land, Hong Kong Shanghai Hotels, Hong Kong air, etc. I think there’s no question that it’s branding Hong Kong.
I came [to Hong Kong] in 1961. I had been working for a publication called The Asia Magazine. One of its offices in New York, they decided that bit by bit they would come to Hong Kong. I decided to give it a go.
One of the ways I was well prepared when I came to Hong Kong was that I had had a lot of ammunition. My weapons were twofold: concept and contrast.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Chinese visual culture, and the Japanese, and I’ve tried my best to work with them but also add that modernity that, as I said, something you know and something you don’t know.
One thing I’m quite proud of, for example, is the Dairy Farm identity, which gave absolute parity to the English and the Chinese. We used the same kind of lettering, although one was in the Latin alphabet and one was in Chinese characters. We made them look the same. We used the same colours. They were the same size. They were interchangeable. And that shows a kind of mutual respect.
Once I started my company, we took on all kinds of projects. One of them was doing the banknotes with HSBC. I used the bank’s appearance. The old building of the bank. The imagery was quite distinctive. And I used the lions as the mascots of the bank.
You had to have something that would strike the viewer. That would make your product, whatever you were selling, stand out from its competitors, and also from the style of whatever was going on so that you had something distinctive. I wasn’t typecast as being a hotel designer or a publication designer or a banknote designer or somebody who did clubs, but just a kind of generalist as a designer. Whether it was a poster or a package or whatever.
The challenge is to make the work interesting—for somebody to look at the illustrations you have in your annual report or your brochure and not to make it a picture of something, but a picture. And a lot of people don’t understand the difference. What interests them is kind of the emotion, the concept, what you’re actually doing.
Graphic designer Henry Steiner’s work has shaped the identities of some of Hong Kong’s most influential organisations. His projects include the design of the widely circulated Hong Kong-based The Asia Magazine and the logo for HSBC.
Steiner was a pioneer in designing for multi- and cross-cultural contexts, adept at integrating his modernist training in art and design with his deep knowledge and sensitivity to the histories and vernacular languages of Asia—from Japanese typography to symbols of ancient China.
Steiner’s earliest projects include branding for established Hong Kong-based companies such as Hongkong Land and Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, and important landmarks like The Ocean Terminal, The Peak Tower, and Connaught Centre (now Jardine House) —which made him and his work highly visible. His versatility is demonstrated in his designs for clients such as Asiaweek, Dairy Farm, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Mass Transit Railway Corporation, and Lane Crawford.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories. Banknotes reproduced with the permission of HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited.
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