Wild design is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of modern urban life, particularly in China. While it lacks the glamour of haute couture or the finesse of artisanal craftsmanship, the wild design stands as a testament to human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and adaptability. It challenges us to question our understanding of design itself: its function, aesthetics, and the narratives that shape it.
The Artists and their Explorations
Artists like Michael Wolf, Bill Aitchison, Huang Heshan, and Chu Jini have peeled back the layers of wild design in China, revealing a previously unexplored facet of urban life. Michael Wolf’s series ‘Bastard Chairs’ and ‘Back Door’ expose how everyday objects like chairs, stools, and even makeshift temples are being patched up and reconfigured multiple times. This form of design, born out of necessity, is a reflection of the thriftiness and ingenuity of the Chinese people (Liu, 2023).
Bill Aitchison’s ‘China Quick-Fix’ blog delves deeper into this phenomenon. He defines the quick fix as a “short-term solution to a problem that does not solve the cause of the problem, but rather, treats its symptoms.” His exploration highlights the use of rudimentary materials like plastic bottles, tape, and cardboard, providing a rare and humane insight into the challenges ordinary people face (Liu, 2023).
Characteristics of Wild Design
Huang Heshan takes this study a step further. In his research, he outlines five key traits that define wild design: it is mundane, brutal, cheap, easy, and pragmatic. These designs are typically seen among migrant populations in cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. They are a consequence of congested living conditions and limited resources (Liu, 2023).
Chu Jini, on the other hand, focuses on the DIY structures that serve multiple urban needs, from roadblocks to signage. These forms of design are ever-evolving, changing in form and function to adapt to the complex, ever-shifting urban fabric (Liu, 2023).
Social Impact and Relevance
The birthplaces of wild design—migrant villages—are rapidly evolving spaces. Over time, these makeshift solutions have come to challenge and destabilize existing social and material structures, shedding light on the relationship between design and infrastructure (Liu, 2023).
Despite the immense practicality and social relevance, wild design is often mischaracterized as a mere aesthetic style. This is a critical mistake. Wild design serves as an act of rebellion against the monopolistic infrastructures that fail to address the basic needs of ordinary people. It speaks volumes about the social fabric, revealing the hidden links among various actors in broader socio-cultural networks.
Summation and Future Directions
Coined by Huang Heshan, wild design is a phenomenon that essentially epitomizes the practice of using minimal materials to satisfy enormous social needs. As an ongoing project, the growing visual archives of wild design captured and shared by ordinary people are helping to further diversify the interpretations and implications of these spontaneous solutions (Liu, 2023).
The aim is to extend this dialogue through more animated interpretations and narratives that lend a sense of humour and humanity to these designs. After all, if design is to be understood as a solution to human problems, then wild design stands as one of its purest forms (Liu, 2023).
By understanding and appreciating the significance of wild design, we not only honour the unnamed designers behind these creations but also contribute to a more inclusive, realistic narrative of what design can and should be.
So the next time you stumble upon a chair held together by duct tape or a cardboard sign directing traffic, take a moment to appreciate this wild side of design—it’s a field study in resilience, creativity, and the very human act of making do.
Yaxi Liu (2023). Wild design and its activism in everyday urban life, The Design Journal, 26:3, 417-437.