Contemporary multimedia artist, philosophical thinker, and outspoken author. Tireless activist, humanitarian, and unapologetic truth seeker.
It is difficult to define Ai Weiwei in traditional terms because his vast body of politically influenced and socially influential work defies conventions.
A Beijing native now exiled from China, Weiwei maintains a studio base in Berlin and travels the world making an impact on a variety of issues relating to human rights through his performance, conceptual, written, and political artwork, architecture, sculptural installations, photography, film, social media initiatives, and more. In fact, ArtReview gave him top honors on their 2011 “Power 100” list, a ranking of the year’s most influential people in the contemporary artworld.
Weiwei is now creating a series of thought-provoking books, with two titles already complete and available for purchase — Humanity and Weiwei-isms — and two additional titles on the way. Because we had previously worked with Princeton University Press on a Webby award-winning project for the Neil DeGrasse Tyson bestseller Welcome to the Universe, we were honored to create a similarly inspired digital experience for this project.
Our goal was to create a user-focused experience as a framework for the series of books that has the ability to scale when the remaining publications are complete. One of the most noteworthy features incorporates user-generated content by asking viewers to answer the question, “Humanity is ….” with a definition that has personal meaning to them. The entries are submitted and displayed in the user’s native browser language to convey the universality of the concepts and a world without borders, and then translated back to English. Over time, the site will evolve to incorporate the thought contributions of users.
Taking things one step beyond user-generated content alone, we were inspired by simple gestures of exchange — such as lighting a candle in a cathedral or throwing a coin in a fountain — and wanted to recreate that feeling of ritual around thoughts of importance in a digital space that’s accessible to everyone. As a result, once a user submits their thoughts on the subject, they can then plot a point of light on a conceptual map in honor of a loved one or refugee to symbolize the global importance and impact of a community of compassionate people. Users can then see their point of light revealed as the points plotted by others subsequently begin to appear as they continue through the experience, conveying a sense that no single person stands alone on these critical topics. In addition, the site features a section called Take Action, which encourages viewers to get involved with organizations that support global refugees and humanitarian efforts, and provide a voice for those who don’t have one.
In order to deliver the messages of people around the world who are concerned about these issues, we were faced with a technical challenge of font universality that inspired the type of problem-solving design we get excited about. In the end, we were able to employ an open source font family intended to support almost every language and script known to the world, in addition to the unique font family used in the print version of the books to display Weiwei’s content.
Because the issues presented are very serious and thought-provoking, we elected to present the content in a non-promotional way. While links for information on purchasing the books are featured less prominently, the primary user experience is focused on experiencing Weiwei’s thoughts and being encouraged to contribute their own.
The artist's austere and zen-influenced aesthetic in his own work inspired the beautifully simple design approach, keeping the main focus on the text and typography. The site, like the books, is almost completely black and white, with subtle touches of gold and silver inspired by the foil leaf embossing on the book covers and accentuated with Chinese characters throughout referencing the title concepts and Ai Weiwei’s heritage.
We are proud and honored to be a part of a project with such significance and to have an opportunity to inspire audiences around the world to take action.