The Item You Selected is Unavailable by Qingyu Wu.

Qingyu Wu became a shrewd collector of interesting graphic materials, magazines, and beautiful photo books at a very young age. While growing up in Changsha, China, the capital city of the southern Hunan province, Wu’s mom would bring her back magazines and photo books from the international business trips she took while working in fashion. The images in these publications were compelling, but Wu’s real obsession was with the words—in particular, their shapes and forms. At age six, and newly in possession of a Disney magazine from abroad, Wu was captivated by the swooping, emphatic D. “That D is still, for an entire generation, just insanely recognizable,” she says.

Artist book for Dandan Liu, designed by Qingyu Wu.

A couple of decades later, and now working as a freelance designer in New York, Wu’s obsession with strange and beautiful typography has hardly waned. The designer graduated from Cranbrook Academy of Art in May, where she studied an MFA in 2D Design directly after completing her undergraduate degree in graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her personal and professional work—for places like Various Projects and Jake McCabe, a New York-based creative director and co-founder of V Magazine—marries her interests in art, music, fashion, and other aspects of culture with her skills as a designer and her keen eye for unique, unconventional graphic forms and type. “I’m interested in the common thread between cultures and visualization, the relationship between large-scale installation and print design,” Wu says. 

The Item You Selected is Unavailable by Qingyu Wu.

While at Cranbrook, Wu focused on book projects, large scale installations, and interactive digital work. In her second year, she translated a group of found objects—including 7″ vinyl records, vintage film strips, tobacco tin boxes, soap, dice, and other miscellaneous items collected from flea markets and thrift stores—into graphic form to create the book The Item You Selected Is Unavailable. To create the book, Wu used C-Thru typesetter’s ruler to measured the width of each object and order them by point size, from 1pt to 500pt. She then scanned each item to determine the abstract form it would take on the page and rearranged each abstract shape by its size and the year the object was made. After randomly overlapping some of the forms by using red and blue Riso colors, the result of Wu’s idiosyncratic process is a book of stark, colorful geometric shapes in striking arrangements, reminiscent of the work of Dutch graphic designer Karel Martens.

Since graduating from Cranbrook, Wu has extended the many cultural threads already evident in her design to also cross geographical boundaries. In December of 2016, Maybe Mars, an independent record label out of Beijing, emailed her to see if she’d design an album cover for the experimental psychedelic rock band Chui Wan. She created a bilingual visual identity with serene photograph and typography that subtly alludes to calligraphy, for the cover of the band’s full-length album The Landscape the Tropics Never Had

The album title and each track name are in both English and Chinese, which allowed Wu to play with the typography to make the Latin letterforms and Chinese characters work together. “I like the weirdness of combining the two totally different systems together,” she says. “You can find a relationship between things that don’t make sense together, but graphically and visually, it turns out really beautiful.”