?: Is Design Translation

A group of literature lovers have come together to start an online international journal dedicated to literary translation. Aptly-named after the mathematical term for two lines on a graph that tend towards each other but never reach, Asymptote, is a conceived-in-Singapore journal that will translate literary works from around the world into English to create encounters between languages. “The value of translation is that it unleashes from latency ideas and emotions to a vast sea of others who do not have access to the language in which these ideas and emotions reside,” writes the introduction on the website. Besides being able to read the translated works, one will also get to see the work in its original language, and may even get to hear a reading of the original work.

It’s encouraging that this project was conceived here in multicultural Singapore, where language is probably one of the most divisive cultural element of life here. The different racial communities have newspapers in their own languages and the government’s policy has been to turn to English as the ‘neutral’ language to speak to its people. It also got me thinking if design could be considered as a form of literary translation as well. After all, don’t designers have to create their visuals based on textual briefs? And isn’t a successful design one that can cross cultural boundaries?

Like the literary community, I think design here is also divided by different (visual) languages that reflect its designers and the intended audience. But what if we put designs of similar messages side-by-side, can we also “unleash” new expressions? Here’s a piece from Vahram Muratyan’s on-going graphic design project comparing the cities of New York and Paris:

This visual translation of “coffee” may not be the best instance of different graphic languages, but it does express the different product designs.

A good example of comparing visual languages may be found in Bloc Me, a local project by &Larry and Daniel Koh. Tired of the flyers from property agents here that they describe as “bloody eyesores”, the two designers have created templates for them to download and use instead.

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