As a North American designer, most of the graphic design theory I've encountered can be traced back to the Bauhaus in Germany. I've also read there was a less famous Russian equivalent to the Bauhaus school, called Vkhutemas.

Were there Bauhaus equivalents for Asian countries (i.e. a school or institution where the early graphic design theory was defined?) or was the Bauhaus' influence global?

My best lead so far: http://www.mplusmatters.hk/asiandesign/paper_topic6.php

[In 1981,] none of the histories of industrial design made any reference to Asian design, while the prevailing history of graphic design by Philip Meggs only mentioned Japan among all the other Asian nations. [...]

I did eventually discover books like Scott Minick's and Jiao Ping's book Chinese Graphic Design in the Twentieth Century and Richard Thornton's Japanese Graphic Design...[...]

In 1989, Design Issues, the journal I co-edit published a special issue on Design in Asia and Australia. Our authors included Matthew Turner, writing about Hong Kong, as well as other authors dealing with design in India Japan and China. Since then we have sought other articles on Asian design and have managed to publish a number on design in China, Japan, Indonesia, and India.

Self-answered from chat for China:

In the article Chinese graphic design history since 1971 by Wendy Siuyi Wong:

China had been cut off fro the outside world, and there were hardly any commercial art activities there for three decades. Under such circumstances, the modern Chinese design movement started in the 1930s by the Shanghai designers was not able to keep pace with the international design trends throughout this period. [...] With the introduction of the latest design trends through an increasing number of international exchanges, very little influence of the older generation of mainland designers was passed on to the younger generation in the 1980s and 1990s. The main direction of the design education system in mainland China, in today's context, is still based on a skill-training curriculum from the 1960s Russian model.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 16:33
  • Can it be a good question for History SE?
    – Vikas
    Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 18:10

3 Answers 3


The Printing Press was the first example of print making with involvement into graphic design, and mass production of information. Prior history, related to graphic design and Asia. Delves into the theory that China was making wooden blocks, and arranging them in a similar manner.

"The creation of manuscripts led to such high points in graphic design, the art and practice of graphic design truly blossomed with the development of printmaking technologies such as movable type. As early as 6th century CE"

"Surviving artifacts show that the Chinese developed a wide range of uses for printing and that they achieved a high level of artistry in graphic design and printing from an early date. Artisans cut calligraphic symbols into woodblocks and printed them beautifully; printed sheets of paper bearing illustrations and religious texts were then pasted together to make printed scrolls."


  • 1
    Can you please explain how this quote answers the question? Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 14:12
  • This is just one of the article I've gone through. If you think this is answer than here is more like that 99designs.com/blog/design-history-movements/… but even this doesn't satisfy the question! All lead is so far that graphic design word were coined in 1922 and all the major contribution were made after invention of printing machines! More to come after research goes on
    – Mr.Online
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 14:24
  • 1
    Thank you for your effort but my question is about early graphic design theory and not early works of graphic design. We have discussed it more in depth in the link to chat in the comment under the question. You are welcome to join us!
    – curious
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 1:46

The foundations of graphic design theory in Asia can be traced back to China and Japan. China pioneered early graphic design practices, notably through the advent of woodblock printing in the 6th century CE. This technique was a versatile medium for producing various materials, such as books, maps, and illustrations. Furthermore, China developed an intricate system of calligraphy, which played a vital role in shaping the trajectory of graphic design.

In Japan, the roots of graphic design theory can be attributed to the influence of Chinese art and calligraphy. However, Japanese graphic designers forged their unique path, characterized by a unique style that employed vibrant colours, simplistic shapes, and geometric patterns. Additionally, Japanese graphic design significantly contributed to the evolution of globally renowned mediums like anime and manga, which have garnered widespread popularity.

As the 20th century unfolded, Asian graphic design continued to progress and diversify. In China, graphic designers embarked on experimental journeys, exploring new styles and techniques such as photomontage and typography. Concurrently, Japanese graphic designers embraced fresh artistic approaches like minimalism and pop art, further expanding the horizons of their craft.

Today, Asian graphic design stands as a vibrant and multifaceted discipline. Designers in Asia draw inspiration from diverse sources, encompassing traditional Asian art, Western design principles, and the rich tapestry of popular culture. Additionally, they harness the power of cutting-edge technologies and techniques to conceive innovative and visually striking designs, continually pushing the boundaries of their craft.

Here is one of the most influential early graphic designers in Asia:

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849): Hokusai was a Japanese artist best known for his woodblock prints. His work is characterized by its use of bold colours, simple shapes, and geometric patterns.



Arguably, Asian design has been focusing primarily on production, where places such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapur and China have lead such area. While in particular, Japan has focused on satisfying external clients. Particularly as a response from WWII, where they needed to revitalise their industry.

*Previous content from: 'What is Design' by Isabel Campi. (in English and Catalan but not in English).*

Alternatively, Asia's dependency on export and rapid development of products has made them focus on what is needed for their Western clients and not for what their own society's needs. Despite that there has been a rapid technological and commercial development, this has not translated to their own processes. For example, Chinese universities are looking forward to sending their own designers abroad (among other disciplines) to develop their Design Thinking skills, focusing on problem solving.

Therefore, I would argue that the current state of Asia has been shifting from developing new ways of problem-solving. Nevertheless, there have been large influencers from Japan such as Yamaha, Nikkon, Honda and Sony, among many others, where largely Japan's industrial contribution has been their downfall as well, where most designers are pretty much all integrated to the commercial industry (Generally speaking). This is the reason that there are not many glorified Japanese or Asian designers as we see in Anglo-based countries.

The United States and Anglo-Countries

Now it is also important to mention that the version of the Bauhaus that influenced the United States, is a bastardised version of the Bauhaus narrative. Implemented during the implementation of capitalist movement after the recession, it eliminated all the societal implementations and translated them to manufacture and production of capital. Where alternatively, European, Latin American and Design in the Global South kept on developing societal approaches and theoretical development. This is why we see a large shift towards the decolonisation of Design and the implementation of sustainability across all Design disciplines.

  • your last 2 paragraphs are not relevant to the question
    – Luciano
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 12:03
  • Hi. Welcome to GDSE. This answer seems to be more about product design in general industry and manufacturing. I don't think it answers the question at all which is very specific to the origins of graphic design theory in Asia. Sorry about that.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 10:40

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