Korean American graphic designer HeeJae Kim’s portfolio is one full of colour and personality. While some familiar elements do appear across his designs, HeeJae’s work is always underpinned by an attitude towards graphic design that sees typographic elements handled in an illustrative manner, a fact that’s inspired by his initial studies in illustration.
HeeJae studied illustration at RISD but “the entire experience was a slow realis ation Illustration wasn’t right for me," he tells us. During his senior year, he experienced a crisis, feeling lost so close to graduation. “A couple of friends in graphic design encouraged me to take a typography elective for Winter session. This was a key moment.” Here, he was introduced to the principles of graphic design, understanding composition in a way he previously hadn’t. “I found the two practices complemented and informed each other. My skills as an illustrator improved while my approach to graphic design was loose and exploratory,” he explains. Feeling motivated and driven, HeeJae spent the rest of his final year creating a graphic design portfolio and, since graduating in 2016 has worked as a freelance designer, including a stint at Sagmeister & Walsh and now works at Apple.
As someone who found his way into the medium through another, it follows that HeeJae describes the broad nature of graphic design, and its ability to “house various disciplines like illustration, motion, photography” as one area that particularly interests him. His portfolio, therefore, straddles multiple disciples, with every project utilising a wide range of his creative skills.
“Like most," he tells us, “I’m drawn to projects that allow creative freedom”. For HeeJae, this means a significant amount of effort put into personal projects. As he puts it: “They possess the most opportunity for fun and growth. It’s a challenge of self-initiative and commitment and provides a break where the client is you and you’re focusing on self-growth.”
One example of this is Zone Out S1, a series of animated posters inspired by his commute between the New Jersey suburbs (where HeeJae grew up) and New York City. “On weekdays, I took the NJ transit bus and NYC MTA subway. I saw my commute as existential repellant: defined by destination and perfect to idly zone out," he explains. Zoning out and letting his mind wander, as it happens, is how HeeJae gets a lot of his ideas he explains.
For Zone Out S1 this allowed him to approach the series at a stream of consciousness. “My main initiative was to play with motion as a tool for narrative and an opportunity to create a reveal for each poster," he outlines. “I wanted each to transform elements on screen or have characters interact with environments.” This kind of approach is typical of HeeJae’s practice in which a sense of play and exploration are key. No matter what the project, whether it’s moving posters based on his commute or a series turning the objects on his desk into typographic experiments, he tells us: “I try to always experiment and have fun with my process.”
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