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The Visual Dictionaries

Based in Hong Kong, viction:ary publishes design reference books that cover various topics and involve international designers. Creative director of viction:ary, Victor Cheung, tells linepaper how they appreciates design with books.

Q: linepaper  |  A: Victor Cheung, Creative Director of viction:ary

Q: You started viction:ary in 2001. What made you want to start up as a publisher specialising in design reference books?

A: I studied design in Sydney in the 1990s. There was no internet back then and design students had to look to design magazines and books for inspirations. There were books with great content, but their layout and packaging design didn't speak design language. After graduating, I joined IdN, working my way up to creative director before leaving when I felt ready to work on my own. I envision my books as "visual dictionaries". The brand's mission is to produce books as a resource that translate the meaning of current designs, which practitioners can count on for ideas and inspirations.

Q: How do you see the importance of design reference book to designers, students or even the general public?

A: There might be plenty of platforms for people to publish and share work across the internet but we live in a real world where designs are meant to be appreciated by touch. Images only tell one part of the story, while text and printing complete the design concept and presentation.

A good book should be a timeless resource for design ideas, from its editorial direction to its production, and how these ideas and visual language mark the time when they are produced.

The book is something to keep. Even if you can bookmark a design or a website, it does mean you can re-access it at a later time.

Q: The design reference books you publish cover a wide range of topics, from graphic design to typography, fashion, etc., and you have invited internationally renowned designers to showcase their work. How do you find a good topic to work with? How do you approach and work with designers from all over the world? What is the most challenging part of making a design reference book?

A: What designers are doing at the moment, what's gaining public attention, what's new in the industry, what's in the market and how readers react to the new publications in the market — all help to shape our ideas and approach. Once we settle on a topic, we use work to define it. It takes time to build trust with designers that we will faithfully present their concepts and work in the book, and sometimes designers are just too busy to contribute. Then we'll continuously adjust the showcase until we think it's good to go.  

Q: Though based in Hong Kong, your books are published internationally. How do you embed local elements, if any, into the book? How do you evaluate the difference between local and overseas markets and readers?

A: I don't see why we need to highlight where we are from or differentiate our readers. There are no geographic boundaries in the design world.

Good design is a universal language.

People get it once they see it. People share their views and inspire each other. We take pride in gaining worldwide recognition but we're just doing what we think is right. These design works deserve the spotlight, and we like to stay in the background.

Q: Apart from design reference books, you have also published a series of travel books as part of the project "CITIx60 City Guides". How do you use a "design" angle to introduce different cities? What is the greatest difference between "CITIx60 City Guides" and ordinary travel books?

A: The idea came about when we fail to find a travel advisor that truly met our needs. A lot of guides contain sponsored recommendations and some editors' personal favourites. Some are edited to cater to a mass readership and will miss out on small shops that not many people might care to visit. It often takes several guides to cover your travel bucket list, which means excessive weight to carry around.

So, we thought, why not we let locals tell us what their city is about? And to widen our scope of interest with a culture-oriented target audience, we reach out to our designer collaborators and creatives from other fields to tell us what they love about their hometown. Sometimes we see publications ask architects to talk about architectural landmarks and chefs to introduce places for fantastic culinary experiences, but a chef might also have a good understanding about architecture and architects have a nose for nice food too. So CITIx60 works as a city survey. These creative brains got to say what's representative of their place, and our tasks as editors are to put this information together nicely. To complete the idea, we also invited local illustrators to draw the map jacket and present their city through their unique illustration style. 

Victor Cheung

Creative Director of viction:ary

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