The Shanghai Quartet

Identity & Website Design

“Our website looks like a Chinese menu,” complained Nick Tzavaras, cellist of the celebrated Shanghai Quartet. He wasn’t wrong. But clients who know they need design help may still feel reluctant to overhaul things. In one sentence, though, Nick had given us permission to start from scratch. We were thrilled.

Identity Design

Building Consensus

Like most great string quartets, the Shanghai has four opinionated artists with nobody in charge. Building consensus on a creative direction could be tough. We asked each member for adjectives describing their personal view of the group’s identity. Then we pulled together a “mood board” of related images for discussion.

Early Sketching and Ideation

In the end, the group wanted to communicate a sense that when you experience a performance by the Shanghai Quartet, you are in the presence of high-level art. But how could we convey this through a logo? With the quartet’s recordings playing through our speakers, we began sketching.

Exploring Calligraphic Letterforms

Ideas based on calligraphy caught the group’s attention. And we liked that calligraphy shares a hand-made, performative quality with the act of drawing a bow across the strings of a musical instrument. We pondered the parallels and differences between Eastern and Western calligraphy. And we employed our entire stash of pens and brushes in search of just the right stroke quality.

Examining Cultural Roots

A simple “SQ” monogram emerged, its “S” elongated in homage to the f-holes on a string instrument. But how could we nudge this mark closer to China, where the group had its origins, and where they still regularly tour? The square seals traditionally used by Chinese painters came to mind, and seemed to bring home the original idea: when you hear the Shanghai Quartet perform, you are in the presence of art.

Color, Pattern, & Font Selection

Once we had a graphic that spoke to the unique qualities of the Shanghai Quartet, the next move was to pick fonts, colors, and patterns that would best support the group’s new graphic identity. GriffosFont was selected for the wordmark based on its old-world, hand-chiseled look; the tail on the Q was elongated to add to the unique character of the mark.

A Baroque background pattern was chosen based on the association of that era with the dawn of chamber music, and for its luxurious connotations. The colors—dark blue, ivory, and gold—were likewise chosen for their association with royalty and refinement, acting as a visual metaphor for the Quartet’s rich and passionate playing style.

Website Design

Who Are These Guys?!

The Shanghai Quartet’s publicity photos were all over the map. In one shot, they posed with instruments in the back of a red sports convertible. In another, they stood amongst ancient bronze sculptures. And elsewhere, they looked like a boy band. The whole thing begged the question: who are these guys? The quartet asked us to help answer this and to provide creative direction for a new photo shoot.

Forces of Nature Don’t Pose for the Camera

What makes a good musician photo? We browsed Google Images and discovered that the best photos made us feel like we were witnessing not just a musician, but a force of nature. And the thing they all had in common was that the performers were caught deep in an act of musical expression, oblivious to cameras and possibly everything else in the world. Photographer Gordon Schmidt agreed to follow the group for a day of rehearsal and performance, doing his best to catch the quartet un-posed and authentic.

Mandarin Chinese Version of Website

Although we had previously designed websites using multiple European languages, this was our first step into the world of Asian typography. We scoured the compendium of information on the topic to make sure we weren’t committing any major faux pas in our use of Chinese characters, and selected fonts that had a similar character and texture to those used on the English version of the site.

I want to publicly thank you and your awesome company for what you’ve done with our site. Roundhex figured out a way to truly capture the essence of our quartet. It’s absolutely wonderful and the feedback we’ve been receiving has been unbelievable.

Nicholas Tzavaras,
Cellist for the Shanghai Quartet