For Seoul-based graphic designer Youl Joe, his love of the medium is rooted in materiality and analogue techniques. After studying at Dankook University in Seoul, Youl Joe went on to gain his MFA from Yale before establishing his own studio Hey Joe in 2009 which he now runs alongside Taeyong Jo.
The studio, although small, exhibits skills across a variety of media from print to exhibition design, identities and editorial design. With a glimmer of the distinctive style that pervades graphic design work in Seoul, Hey Joe’s projects are distinctive thanks to their incorporation of typography and colour. It’s a factor that stems from Youl Joe’s early introduction to graphic design.
“In graphic design,” he muses, “letters are used as an important tool of expression. I learned calligraphy when I was young and liked handwriting; I’ve always have been attracted to the letters themselves.” As a result, much of Hey Joe’s work is centred around hand-drawn or custom letterings. Take, for example, the studio’s recent work titled Kiosk Kiosk, designed for a shop of the same name. A series of postcards, each features a seemingly Bauhaus-inspired set of characters making use of geometric shapes and extreme thicks and thins.
It’s a project imbued with a certain finesse, a simplicity that provides visual clarity and intrigue. With similar projects such as Grey Navy Black, an identity for the Korean Cultural Center in Hong Kong, and Blue/Red, a poster designed for Birmingham Design Festival 2019 exhibiting similar qualities, Youl Joe has an obsession with drawing letters, he tells us. “Drawing letterforms is interesting. It is improvisational, accidental,” he explains. “The form of these drawings resemble the tool that is used.”
These letterforms are not, however, created to achieve exact legibility but rather to express the plethora of inspiration Youl Joe absorbs as significant abstract forms. “I like abstract forms,” he explains, “they leave room for various interpretations and give the charm of unfamiliarity. However, the abstraction I look into does not just result in ambiguity, but makes a link for something specific.”
Finally, it the choice of materials that complete any Hey Joe project, with Youl Joe having a particular affinity to print. On what he enjoys most about being a graphic designer, he responds: “The appearance [of my work] on the paper, the most traditional medium. The weight, smell, sound of paper, its colour, texture and the smear of ink deposited on it.”
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