I started to take pictures of the modern laotian visual language. Using these pictures as a starting point, I will try to create s small collection of laotian signage, posters, logos, illustrations etc. over the next year. There’s a broad variety of styles and quality. In general, the aesthetics in Laos have been strongly influenced by religious and crafts traditions (e.g. wood carving and textile) over the past centuries – but a distinctive contemporary style has yet to develop.
It is quite inspiring to walk down the streets with a focus on the visually designed elements. There are not yet many advertisement billboards or posters – probably because of the lacking purchasing power (this might soon change and it already does, especially in the centre of Vientiane). But the streets are full with colorful signs: many locals have their own business and it seems that often, the signs are the only “designed” graphics for these businesses.
What I found to be somehow truly “lao graphic design” are the logos – especially those for governmental or other official institutions. They are very delicate and still have a communist charm – but are printed in small sizes on brochures and flyers so that you can just guess what they say. In general, it seems to me that user-friendliness (in terms of read-ability, signage etc.) has in many cases great potential for improvement.
For working as a designer in Laos, it is also interesting to keep in mind what my mentor from GIZ told me some days ago: when visiting exhibitions, many people from Laos don’t like to follow a given structure. They just stop wherever they like or their attention is caught. This is especially hard to understand for people from Germany who always need an organized structure and want people to follow it :-) The “laotian way of life” seems to be about living in the moment and is very event-orientated – and I hope I will learn and adapt at least a little bit to it. (By the way: many germans complain about a lack of structure and focus in Laos. I wonder how italians or norwegians think about it…)