Graphic designer Yang Liu has used pictograms as shorthand to help people learn Chinese, to illustrate the cultural differences that arise when East Meets West, and to clarify the conflicting world views that come to light when Man Meets Woman. Her new book, Today Meets Yesterday, out July 23 from Taschen, uses her signature simple, pictogram-based graphics to muse about the big and small changes in the way we live now versus how we did back then.
“On the topic of change, opinions have always differed widely,” Liu writes in the book’s introduction. “While some delight in progress and the innovations it brings, other[s] mourn after tradition and the good old days.”
The 5.1-inch by 5.1-inch, 160-page book features 80 spreads that juxtapose past and present with the same striking punch of Liu’s other works. Using the flat, abstract language of pictograms to depict personal and societal change over time both removes the emotion from the equation and simultaneously summons our own nostalgia about the way things were, no sepia tones required. The illustrations ask us to examine broader societal changes ranging from the way that we stage military operations, what constitutes child’s play, how we socialize and take our coffee and fill our plates and outfit ourselves when we go for a run.
While the subjects that Liu touches on are wide-ranging, a prevailing theme is how technology has infiltrated everything from our relationships to information to the way that we process and quantify experiences.
“Nowadays, we hardly have to move anymore and manage our entire lives with one tiny device,” she writes. “We have come—at least technologically speaking—farther within the past 200 years, than in the millennia before.”
The book is her attempt to make sense of the rapid changes that have occurred in our lifetimes. “What happens in and with us in times like these?” she asks. “How do we handle our changing environment? What exactly are the differences between back then and today? What are the changes doing to our society? How are our habits, perceptions, political stances, our values, and lastly, our view of the world changing?”