In Praise of Shadows


'In Praise of Shadows' is my further experiment on metaphorical perception. The project is for course Development Project 1 in fall term, 2019, instructed by Jennifer Rider and Sean Donahue.


Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, clay, frames.


Graphic design, Experiment


2019 Fall


In this project a explored visual metaphor and the use of text as an image. The text I selected is a paragraph from Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay, In Praise of Shadows, about how Japanese or Asian culture differs from Western culture. Tanizaki suggests that Japanese culture appreciates shadows and grime while Western culture prefers shiny and glitter. Based on the text, I experimented with physical materials and typography hierarchy and created a poster, which is the black and white background in the final outcome below.

My response to the original text is ‘I will not live in a house like this’, which is what the author said in an interview. After expressing his appreciation to shadows and dim, he said comparing to the kind of house he described in his book, he’d rather choose to live in a bright house. It reveals a fact that the traditional culture being erased by a new culture, in this case, is western culture that came into Japan during Westernization. The frame is a metaphor of “being put into a museum”. When something is framed, it becomes a collection that showcases history and obtains a sense of distance from people’s daily life. The contrast between the shiny frame and black background represents the different admiration of two cultures. The frame is layered above the original text, which means the Japanese culture is covered by the brightness of Western culture.

It is said that culture is like the air we breathe. We don’t notice it until it’s gone.
Final Design, 24x36 inches

How I got there?

How does the form and context alter the flow of the writing? How would you define your format, technology, medium, audience, habits of reading, and genre expectations?

With the questions being asked, I selected installation, poster and postcard as three startpoints.  

My journey started here (as the picture below): a sketch of my understanding of the text. The paint is a representation of a culture being covered by another. The photos help explain the essay’s concept because the idea is abstract. However the project is about the text and the pictures are distracting. So I constrained myself using texts as patterns and texture without extra pictures. What I liked about this kickoff experiment is the metaphor of “being erased” and I decided to keep it.

EXPERIMENT 1: Postcards

>> A little experiment with frames + postcards:
One important character of the postcards is that they circulate. They are mailed from person to person. When I frame them, they become a symbol of being “dead”. They don’t circulate anymore - just like an faded traditional culture.

EXPERIMENT 2: Installation

The concept of the installation is from “grime” - which is a concept from a paragraph describing Japanese culture appreciate the tablewares being touched by people over years.  

The installation lets people touch the poster in order to form a “grime”. The poster is covered with another paper, on which I cut holes to leave all the first person pronouns like we, our, ourselves touchable. Then I let people touch the poster.

After the “grime” is well formed, I will uncover the paper on the top. I print those touched pronouns on western commercial paper, and paste them on the top of the original words so that they get “clean” and “tidy” again. The process is a metaphorical representation of a culture being erased and reconstructed.

EXPERIMENT 3: Poster Design

I also played with layout, typography hierarchy, and color.

Interaction Elements

I tried to give the poster some interaction elements by using clay to make pottery-like words and put a “shiny” pocket on top of it to make people intend to put their hands in and feel the texture and form “grime”.  The pocket is the navigation of interaction.

The choice of material was also fun. The clay forms a texture that looks like pottery which usually appears in Asian culture. The pocket (which was actually a bag for CVS free samples) has the texture and color of shiny and glitter, and the brightness of it works well on a black and white background.

Physical Elements

I tried to add a physical frame on the poster but in the end I abandoned this idea because the physical element disrupts the visual consistency of plain text and shape.

I also thought about the relationship between culture and types of frames. The frame in the final design came as a suprise. It looked real on the printed work and people tried to touch it to see if it was a real frame, which somehow made up for my regret of being unable to add the physical frame.

Outcome & Reflection

Form and format...

The exploration of forms and formats is something that interests me the most in this project. For example, it’s my first time realizing there is such difference between a poster and a postcard - a poster is an announcement that speaks loudly to the crowd; while a postcard is intimacy, and it’s one person speaking to another. Language is also a type of format. When translated into English, the text which was written in Japanese has been deconstructed. And when I converted these English text into design and used Helvetica as the typeface, the project already has a pre-existed standpoint. A designer should pay close attention to forms and formats and think about how they will influence the audience’s perception. It can also be used to create some ironic or funny effects.

The yellowish pocket I got from CVS impressed me too. I didn’t plan to use the pocket element at first, but when the lady handed me a pocket of free samples, my project suddenly came to my mind. The state of actively seeking inspirations from the outside world feels great.🤣

Next project

The Pandemic