Design in South Korea 🇰🇷 featuring Everyday Practice
by Tobias van Schneider
Brand new to DESK, this interview series aims to shine light on different design communities across the world. In our third interview we look at design in South Korea, featuring Everyday Practice.
Everyday Practice can't easily be summed up. Their clean yet experimental work spans pretty much every category, from traditional graphic design identities, to web and even exhibitions. I most admire the studio's focus on working with non-profit organizations and cultural institutions. They'll tell you about all of it in this interview.
Let's get into it!
Tell us a little about yourself and your studio. How and when did you meet your Everyday Practice partners, and what made you decide to open your own studio together?
The three of us — Kwon Joonho, Kim Kyung-chul and Kim Eojin — went to Royal College of Art together and met in 2000. I (Kwon) was studying visual communication. Later I worked in the UK while Kim Kyung-chul and Kim Eojin worked in design agencies in Korea.
Ever since we were students we’d been talking about what design can do for society. We also wanted to design what we wanted. So we started our own studio in 2013. Now we have a new designer, Kim Rewon. We have different identities as individuals, but a common goal we want to achieve through our design practice.
I went to Seoul about two years ago and fell in love with the city. While talking with some friends there I tried to get a sense of the design community, and was told that competitiveness and a sense for conformity made it hard to work as a creative. Do you think this is still true today? Please tell us a little more about the life of a designer in South Korea.
Around ten years ago, it was difficult to find small design studios like us. There were mainly commercial agencies with a lot of hierarchy between designers. Recently, there’s been a shift. Larger cultural clients are starting to look outside agencies for something different and less commercial.
Even better, those young designers have been working on not only traditional graphic design projects like posters and books, but have also tried to expand their boundaries. So they are taking part in organizing an art book fair, food market and goods shop. I think these movements are making Korean design much more diverse.
South Korea (with its 50 million people) went from being one of the poorest countries in the world to becoming a developed, high-income country in just one generation — it’s now the 4th largest economy in Asia and 11st largest worldwide.
Just looking at that I can only imagine the unique challenges of South Korean society and how you can help solve them as a designer. What are some of the design challenges you think are unique to South Korea right now?
Because of the fast economic growth, there is a huge gap between the design field and everyday life in Korea. It is hard to say that the quality of Korean design has reached a certain standard in general, but the mixture of highly developed design and poor design is commonly found.
Although this mixture shows very unique and interesting scenery to designers, many designers have trouble communicating with their clients because a large number of clients do not understand what modern design is.
Describe the design community a bit more. For example, are there many design platforms or events that help you connect and meet up with other designers?
Nowadays there are more and more design platforms, but those platforms and communities are running only for designers. I think a designer is a maker who creates something through a relationship with other people, so I am not sure those communities could provide meaningful value.
“Of course we need to share information and collaborate each other, but I would hope that such a community does not serve some only to reject others.”
That’s a unique and interesting perspective. Why do you think those communities might not bring meaningful value? What do you think would be more valuable?
In Korea, the term “hipster” is a trendy word among designers. If you visit any design communities they talk about their favorite brand, fashion, club, etc. They may think they lead the trend of design, but if they only focus on the design community, they will lose their sense of communication.
I've engaged with some of these communities before and their main issue was their clients’ low intellectual level. I think this attitude will isolate designers from the public. Of course we need to share information and collaborate each other, but I would hope that such a community does not serve some only to reject others.
Why do you think good design is important, and what does good design mean for you at Everyday Practice?
We think design is a way of movement. We have been working on not only client projects, but our own personal projects in an effort to share our voice with our society. In that way, collaboration with nonprofit organizations has meaning for us. We think our role as designers is making effective visual language that conveys their voices and ours. That makes a meaningful change for society. That is why many of our clients are nonprofit organizations and cultural institutes.
"We think design is not simply a way to make beautiful objects, but a tool to deliver a meaningful voice to society."
As the world is getting smaller with the help of the internet, we see many designers working for clients overseas remotely, not bound to clients within their own country. How is it for you? Do you work mostly with South Korean clients or also internationally?
We generally work with Korean clients. That is because we think design is not simply a way to make beautiful objects, but a tool to deliver a meaningful voice to society. It would be hard to design something if you do not have cultural, historical, background knowledge of the society.
We enjoy collaborating with clients from over the world, but at the moment we are trying to focus on issues in Korea.
What impact does your social media presence have on getting new clients and self-promotion in general? What works best for you?
We promote ourselves with Facebook. There are many online platforms from Korean IT companies, but they are not social and not easy to share. Although Facebook is also a closed system, it is still a powerful platform for small studios like us.
After visiting Seoul I had the opportunity to work closely as an advisor with the local startup community. I noticed that over the last couple years, the South Korean government made substantial efforts to push the startup scene and increase opportunities for people seeking to work in tech. On top of that, South Korea is famous for having the world’s fastest average internet speed, which of course only helps build new tech startups.
How has the rise and fast growth of the tech community impacted you as a designer or as a design studio? Do most designers now seek to work in tech? Where do you see the best opportunities for upcoming designers?
Actually, as design studio, we are far from high tech. Personally, I think the output of graphic design is beginning to look more and more similar, because nowadays everyone can access design tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop. That’s why we prefer handmade and craft-based design methods. That gives us differentiated design color from others.
“I think that the madness is becoming a unique aspect of Korean design.”
What is South Korean design? How does your culture and history influence the work you do today and what are perfect examples of typical South Korean design, in your opinion?
Similar to other countries, South Korea has a complicated history and the concept of design has been developed by Western culture. So it is not easy to define what typical Korean design is. I think there may not be a certain Korean design style — but then again, that complexity could be South Korean design style.
South Korea, especially Seoul, is a mixed society with various attributes. This chaotic mixture cannot not be called character of design in traditional sense, but I think that the madness is becoming a unique aspect of Korean design. There is no simple definition, and that’s what defines it.
In your opinion, what are the top 10 design studios from South Korea that everyone should know?
And now to our last question: How can all designers and design communities from other countries do a better job of communicating with each other? How can we become more engaged with the South Korean design community? Are there any blogs or specific magazines we can follow?
Actually, the online design community is not very active in Korea. But if you visit Korea in November, please come to “Unlimited Edition,” which is an art book fair hundreds of young graphic designers participate in.
Guys! Thank you so much for this insight into your work and the South Korean design community. I personally hope to visit Seoul soon again and meet you all in person.
For everyone else here reading, please check out the work of Everyday Practice and have a look at the top 10 studios from South Korea above. If you aren't familiar with the South Korean design community yet, this is the perfect way to get started.