When the Dust Settles

When the Dust Settles is an intergenerational editorial design project that intersects family archives, life stories, and modern Chinese history. The book's four chapters narrate the life journeys of my grandparents, parents, and a stranger within the context of four significant historical events. Through the layered contexts of diaries, photographs, letters, and sketches, the project offers a unique glimpse into the intertwined lives of individuals across generations, revealing how history serves as a hidden thread shaping everyone’s destiny.
Timeline: November 2023 - December 2023 (Graduation Project)

Role: Editorial Designer, Researcher (Individual work)

Tools: InDesign / Adobe Illustrator / Laser Printer / Risograph Printer

The Thread of the book: Time and HistoryWe cannot have objective historical knowledge because we do not have access to a given past against which to judge rival interpretations. (Bevir, 1994)

Reflection on historical events often revolves around seeking metanarrative or drawing political conclusions, which further lead to differentiated ideologies and conflict. While we learn and consider history books as the sole version of history, this project provides another way to learn a more intimate side of history through intergenerational conversations and co-design around specific historical events.

The publication juxtaposes the conventional narrative of modern Chinese history (1958-1997) taught in history classes with the family members’ interpretations of history recorded in diaries and photo albums. Through layers of information, it highlights a contrast between the broader historical narrative and individual perspectives within the family. The goal is to allow readers from different cultural backgrounds to (re)study modern Chinese history from the witnesses' perspective, aiming to construct the most neutral and storytelling narrative of history while respecting the life stories of the intergenerational family members.
Family photos, 1958

Target AudienceThe publication targets individuals who have grown up with a Chinese cultural background and, more broadly, the general public interested in uncovering untold history. It is written in both simplified Chinese and English, catering to different audience groups through language-specific content.

The Chinese sections of the publication include old newspapers and official documents, which necessitate cultural background recognition for full interpretation, both visually and linguistically. On the other hand, the English sections offer comprehensive context on Chinese history, translating and providing explanations for the written content in the family archives. This approach ensures accessibility for the audience to delve deeply into history without language barriers.
Simplified Chinese (the handwritten diary) and English translation

Layered ContextsThe main visual treatment method throughout the publication is the layered context. I employed photographs, written content, newspapers, and additional zines to enhance the depth and thoroughness of historical narration. This approach showcases the contrast between different textures of media and the variety of information each medium can convey.
Participatory DesignThe content in the chapters is interview-based, focusing on the process of actively listening and recording the words of the older generations in my family. This approach allows them to reminisce about the past while engaging in enjoyable conversations. 

Acknowledging the knowledge gap resulting from historical changes, I often seek advice from my family members on incorporating specific visual contexts into the publication. For instance, my parents mentioned that there were magazines in the '80s that introduced the next week’s TV shows. Inspired by this insight, I decided to mimic the format of these magazines to contextualize one of the chapters in the publication.
FaceTime Interview record with Mom

Research Process
1. Precedent research in novels and storytelling methods and Initial book content writing
2. Family archives collecting and scanning
3. Workshops and interviews for collecting book content

Visual Exploration4. Typography style sheets
5. Visual reference of newspaper and TV magazines of 1950s - 1980s
6. Book binding testing with Japanese Stab binding, Glue binding, and Spiral binding

Final Delivery

Watch the full book flip-through video below

Music credit: Rong Hua 绒花 by Li Guyi. Background Video credit: 1983 CCTV Spring Festival Gala.


During the design process, I learned to visualize context with collages. Also I realized the fact that almost every music and photo were considered as archives had some relations to politics and/or history event. This fact made me think of what perspectives and ideology should I include in my project.
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