Transcript: Henry Steiner Interview
Henry Steiner: Branding Hong Kong
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.