“Perfectly beautiful things don’t attract me”: Heesun Seo on her nontraditional practice
At the age of 12, Seoul-based designer Heesun Seo first ventured into the world of graphic design when she came across an online forum for Photoshop and HTML. She talks us through her unusual route into the medium and how she “didn’t know what the term ‘graphic design’ was," finding it out for herself.
- Jyni Ong
- 6 December 2019
Originally from Seoul, but having grown up in Costa Rica, Columbia and Brazil, Heesun Seo has had an international education which has gone on to inform her graphic design practice. Founder of Studio Hik as well as a graphic design professor at the Academy of Visual Arts in Hong Kong Baptist University, Heesun is also art director of the ArtAsiaPacific magazine. This being said, the Korean graphic designer who studied in the US and worked professionally in Germany, is no stranger to adaptation and an interdisciplinary attitude.
She was introduced to the industry around the age of 12 where the young Heesun came across an online community for Photoshop and HTML. “Back then it was a big thing,” she tells It’s Nice That, and very quickly, she “fell in love with the idea that [she could] create digital graphics.” Shortly after, she made an animated GIF and posted it online and, to her surprise, she was approached online by a buyer asking her to design 10 customised GIFs in a similar style. As the first piece of work she ever sold, the experience quickly became a fortuitous habit.
Subsequently, she won a competition to design the identity of a dance company in Korea, run by a famous K-pop star, even though she didn’t know how to work with vectors or Illustrator. Somehow, “I managed to design signs for buildings around 2-3 metres long, just using Photoshop,” the designer adds. And just like that, she was sure she would do this for the rest of her life. “I didn’t know what the term ‘graphic design’ was back then, I had to find out for myself,” Heesun continues.
Over the years, she’s developed a working practice that questions everything. She purposely sets out to break the traditional rules of graphic design and typography, constantly pondering on what makes something visually beautifully. In order to break the rules, she first has to fully understand them. And in this vein, she probes her inherent likes and dislikes to push her practice and creativity forward.
“I draw inspiration from everything that I see, from what I see on the streets, in movies, in nature and so on,” she adds on her creative process. Predominantly however, when faced with a brief, like many other practitioners, her ideas mainly come from research. “If I need to design a work based on an apple, I would look for what apple means, where it comes from and how it is presented in different social, cultural and contextual backgrounds,” she exemplifies.
Using this method, Heesun talks us through two meaningful projects that she’s worked on. The first, Vacances dans l’univers, which involved coming up with an imaginary person, a Russian outer-space stone collector devised by her and another Studio Hik member Jihoon Jeong. The pair designed a range of objects relating to his stone collection, elevating it into a beautifully designed output. The second is a wallpaper design interpreted from the novel White Jack by Edith Hyeon. The concept of the design is to recreate a portal to another universe where the book’s protagonist exists. Heesun adds on these two projects, “I picked these two because they are works where I could freely make my own interpretations and suggestions, unlike other works where the theme is suggested by the commissioner.” Continuing to explore the medium of graphic design in untraditional ways in the future, Studio Hik hopes to work further in the wider net of the art and design sector, offering up a unique vision and insight for both client, viewer and, of course, designer.