Dezeen Magazine

Chineasy illustrated characters designed to make learning Chinese easy

This system of illustrated characters and animations was developed to help people learn to read Chinese, and is one of the 76 projects nominated for Designs of the Year 2014 (+ slideshow).

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

Taiwan-born entrepreneur ShaoLan first began developing the Chineasy characters as a way to teach her own English-speaking children to read traditional Mandarin Chinese, by creating a visual connection to the words.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

Having struggled to find a straightforward way to negotiate the huge number and complexity of Chinese characters, she teamed up with graphic artist Noma Bar to develop a system of shapes representing some of the most commonly occurring symbols, which can be combined to create more complex phrases.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

"I created a methodology that breaks down thousands of Chinese characters into a few hundred base building blocks," explained ShaoLan. "When these building blocks are combined, they form compounds that can in turn be combined to create phrases. Through this method learners can quickly build a large vocabulary of characters with very little effort."

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

As well as providing users with a memorable way to understand the characters, Chineasy aims to offer those living in the West an insight into Chinese culture in a visual format.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh
Water tap

"It is educational, social, cultural, and I hope, inspirational," said ShaoLan. "I am demonstrating the beauty of this deep and ancient culture with a modern interpretation through sleek modern design."

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

The entrepreneur spent her evenings selecting and sketching suitable characters to form the building blocks of the Chineasy system, which she then modelled on her computer and refined to create contemporary graphic representations that could easily be understood by Westerners.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

Having presented the initial idea at a conference organised by innovation forum TED that was published online in May 2013, the interest she received encouraged ShaoLan to begin working on a book and launch a Chineasy website and Facebook page.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

A campaign launched on crowdfunding site Kickstarter exceeded its goal of £75000, eventually achieving £197626 of backing that was used to publish the first Chineasy books.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

The books are now being published by Thames & Hudson. An ebook has been released and an app is in development to illustrate how to write and correct stroke order through simple animations and give tips on pronunciation.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh

Chineasy was nominated in the Graphics category of the Design Museum's shortlist for Designs of the Year and features in an exhibition at the museum until 25 August.

Here's a project description from ShaoLan:


Chineasy's aim is to bridge the gap between the East and the West. I want to give the west a real understanding of China and an appreciation of Chinese culture through their own eyes rather than layers of packaging and manipulation.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh
The method - compounds

It is evident that people are hungry to learn about China. People are keen to be able to communicate with the 1.3 billion people. Tet there is not much out there to enable them to do so. Whilst the entire Chinese population is learning English, the west is struggling to comprehend this complex economy and society with their own eyes and judgment. Knowing their language is the key towards true understanding.

Chineasy will become the first step for anyone in the world who wants to understand China, Chinese culture and its language. It is educational, social, cultural and inspirational. I am demonstrating the beauty of this deep and broad culture through a modern interpretation using sleek and simple design.

Chineasy by ShaoLan Hsueh
The method - phrases

Chineasy's goal is to allow people to learn to read Chinese easily by recognising characters through simple illustrations. The magical power of the Chineasy method is that by learning one small set of building blocks, students can build many new words, characters, and phrases.