The Hong Kong Design Institute is honoured to stage the upcoming exhibition titled Look: The Graphic Language of Henry Steiner. The exhibition will open at HKDI Gallery between 10 April and 30 May 2021. A selection of around 350 design items by Henry Steiner and archival materials will be on display. This exhibition aims to provide a deeper understanding of graphic communication, and Steiner's contribution in graphic design as a profession in Hong Kong since his arrival in 1961. Through examining Steiner's work from the 1960s through the 2000s, we hope to bring new insights into his approaches to graphic communication, providing an alternative reading of Hong Kong's developments through the evolution of graphic language.
'Looking is not seeing,' said graphic designer Henry Steiner. To him, looking is an active quest for solutions. We look to uncover. Since Steiner's arrival in Hong Kong in 1961, his keen eye for local visual language has opened a new horizon in the field of graphic communication, contributing to Hong Kong's visual culture in transformative ways.
Beyond clear communication of information, graphic language persuades. Steiner discovers concepts and develops rhetoric to influence the audience. Like speech, rhetoric can be used visually, through symbols, contrast, stories, appropriation, and systems. These approaches are not mutually exclusive, but are used in combination to bridge communications that are efficient and, in Steiner's eyes, intelligent.
Looking is not only seeing, but also an active process of questioning. Throughout this exhibition, we pose questions through Henry Steiner's work and ways of thinking, and provide opportunities to challenge assumptions in our everyday experiences with graphic language.
Austrian–Jewish by descent, Henry Steiner was born in Vienna, Austria in 1934. In 1939, Steiner and his family fled from Baden near Vienna to New York during the Anschluss. He studied painting at Hunter College in New York City, and later received a master's degree in graphic design at Yale University studying under Paul Rand. In 1958, Steiner received a Fulbright fellowship to further his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. Upon his return to New York, Steiner began his career in advertising, and later as design director of The Asia Magazine. In 1961, Steiner accepted a nine-month contract to be posted in Hong Kong for the magazine's launch. He has since made Hong Kong his home.
In 1964, Steiner established Graphic Communication Limited, now Steiner&Co., a leading design consultancy that focuses on branding and corporate identity. He brought the Western notion of 'graphic design' as a profession to Hong Kong where, at the time, only 'commercial art' existed as a trade. Prolific and pioneering in his approach, Steiner has created some of the most iconic graphic designs that shaped Hong Kong's visual landscape. His identity systems for corporations such as HSBC, Hongkong Land, Dairy Farm, and Hong Kong Telephone Company communicate a no-nonsense pragmatism and refinement that is modern, efficient, and international during Hong Kong's economic boom. His Standard Chartered banknotes pay homage to Hong Kong's Chinese cultural heritage and at the same time present Hong Kong's pole position as a progressive, global city. His witty, incisive graphic language combines a modern sensibility with keen observations of local culture, enriching his work with additional layers of meaning.
Steiner received numerous accolades. In 2002, he was included in Icograda's list of the Masters of the 20th Century, and was named a World Master by Idea magazine. He was awarded the Golden Decoration of Honour of the Republic of Austria for design achievement and service to the Austrian community in Hong Kong in 2006 and the title of Professor by The Federal President of Austria in 2017. He received the DFA Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hong Kong Design Centre in 2012, and an honorary fellowship from the Vocational Training Council in Hong Kong in 2013. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hong Kong Baptist University, and holds honorary professorships at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong. He is a member and past-president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), Fellow of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Chartered Society of Designers, and the Hong Kong Designers Association.
Press release courtesy HKDI Gallery.