Jae Ee’s graphic design work derives from the contemporary vernacular in a conceptual, visual and functional sense. The term vernacular refers to the language or dialect spoken by the local people of a particular region, and Jae’s work explores various forms of vernacular through his graphic design practice. From a type design project designed around the language of emojis to experiments with the free typefaces from dafont.com, Jae’s prowess as a graphic designer grows from strength to strength as he thoughtfully assesses the intricacies of differing cultural language.
“Whenever I start to design, I endeavour to find out new and unfamiliar styles to communicate an idea,” Jae tells It’s Nice That. At this first stage, the designer also “habitually avoids using a familiar style” in order to understand different design methods. For the past 20 years, Jae’s parents have worked as signboard makers which has had a momentous influence on his current practice. A signboard makers attitude towards design embodies functionality and efficiency, eliminating self-expression in order to execute total consistency within the letterforms. This methodology challenges Jae’s design objectives as it keeps him questioning “the role and boundaries of a designer”. Growing up in Korea, watching his parents work has given Jae his first thorough introduction to the concept of idiomatic design, which his whole practice now revolves around. Further adding, “my parents often use illustration or clipart books to research images instead of using google”, and this analogue process continues to inform Jae’s way of working today.
An example of this is Jae’s type specimen book typEmoji which conveys the tone of emojis through written text. The language of emojis has integrated itself into our everyday forms of communication, there’s even an emoji movie coming out soon. Its iconography has become an instantly recognisable form of expression since its invention in 1982 when Scott Fahlman, a social scientist, suggested the use of an emoticon to assist the written form. The type specimen book samples the ghost emoji’s spooky quirks through type, translating its wobbly personality into a nuanced typeface which opens up the expressions of the ghost emoji. typEmoji inspects our rapidly changing modes of communication, adding an element of fun to typography, which can often be a pedantic area of design.
typEmoji is an example of how Jae applies his interests in the vernacular to the universal, digital language of emojis. In other work, the graphic designer notes the constantly re-defining vernaculars of a certain place and explores these dialects through typography as seen in his book design and poster design work. One quote in particular continues to impact Jae’s design work, spoken by his CalArts tutor Jeff Keedy to Eye magazine; “there is no such thing as a bad typeface, just bad typography”.
“I guess one reason I’m particularly interested in the vernacular is because its value is relative. It is defined according to time and space”, explains Jae. As a person who has experienced two very different cultures from South Korea to America, this idea of subjective design dependent on the time and culture, is pertinent to this graphic designer. Watching his parents create signboards throughout his life — despite the fact they lack any formal graphic design education — but fundamentally do the same thing that he does has taught Jae about the meaning of what graphic design entails. Not necessarily a formal education, but a persistent questioning of what design can be and the infinite amount of connotations it can evoke.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.