Jungeun Lee utilises graphic design as if it’s a guessing game between herself and the viewer
Not knowing quite what she wanted to do thankfully led the Rotterdam-based creative towards graphic design – yet the possibility of what's next is still wide open.
- Lucy Bourton
- 24 September 2020
For Korean designer Jungeun Lee, settling on the practice of graphic design stemmed from not knowing what to do. When she was young, several possibilities flitted round her head, thinking of becoming “a writer, a violinist, a vocalist, and a photographer,” she recalls. Looking back at the list now, “it has some commonality that I cannot particularly explain,” Jungeun tells It’s Nice That. “Maybe that it’s all related to storytelling, or that it has abundant possibilities of expressing feelings and thoughts to people.”
When she was a little older, at 18, Jungeun remained unsure of what step to take next, deciding to register for a design school which helps students prep for university entrance exams. The competitive side in the creative was keen to improve her drawing skills, as “the Korean university entrance exam requires specific drawing skills instead of creative conceptual thinking,” she explains. Making scrapbooks from her own and others' drawings as part of her self-improvement, Jungeun accidentally found herself enjoying the process of carefully curating layouts. “One day, my teacher told me I seemed more enthusiastic about making scrapbooks than drawing, and that little comment sparked the idea that, maybe, I want to become a graphic designer.”
With this realisation in mind, Jungeun first studied in South Korea, at the Kaywon School of Art and Design, graduating with a degree in information and knowledge design. Following a few stints, “from a design agency designing products for K-Pop idols to a design studio working with cultural institutions for artists,” a sense of dissatisfaction still remained, leading the designer to try a more conceptual education.
Moving to the Netherlands to study at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK), here Jungeun developed her “character and attitude as a designer by working alongside classmates from diverse backgrounds,” she explains. Refining her views on design too, “due to the conceptual research-heavy nature of the academy,” Jungeun’s dual design education has now led to her own studio, based in Rotterdam.
Largely telling the stories of artists and cultural institution bodies in her work, Jungeun finds it difficult to describe her practice succinctly. Although usually in these fields, the work itself jumps between diverse topics and as a result: “I don’t think I have a strictly universal approach to it.”
In fact, her work is quite abstract in its end result due to her approach, which blurs “the boundary between idea and research.” So although graphic design-led, the end result is often one you’d need to sit with a bit longer, as if it were a painting. “The audience may need to invest time in understanding a message, compressed into a mere symbol,” the designer adds. “It’s almost like playing a guessing game between me and the viewer to find logic and hidden areas.”
A recent example of this is her recent website design for artist Suyoung Yang, made in collaboration with Kay Pisarowitz. Picking up on how Suyoung “transforms daily objects, gestures, and surroundings by removing their original meaning and adding a new experience,” it's a quality purposefully translated in the website’s design. Upon entering, a blank screen with a subtle grid appears, only to be populated once the user moves their cursor. The work is then revealed in fragments, such as one would experience while playing the game Minesweeper – Suyoung’s all-time favourite game.
In another web focused project, also made this year, Jungeun created a web cover design responding to the theme, “What’s occupying you now?”, a brief set by Het Nieuwe Instituut. Creating a snapshot of her current day-to-day life since the pandemic began, the designer’s piece visualises how she saw this time “as an opportunity to try new things,” and “for me, this was potting plants at home.” Never before feeling like she could keep up with looking after plants – “sustaining a little life seemed like such a big responsibility”– having something to watch over became a clear reminder of time passing, and moving forward. This sentiment is translated subtly by Jungeun into a screen filled with monochrome plant shapes, full of shadows as if the passing sunlight of the day is gliding past the screen.
Despite it seeming like Jungeun’s practice is fully figured out now, the designer still retains some of her unsure nature which led to her trying out graphic design in the first place. Alongside growing collaborations with artists to bolster their work into videos, websites and publications, “I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next for a long time, but still, my answer is: I don’t know yet. I would like to find a sustainable way of working and carry on with my practice to develop my interest further. And hopefully, I will figure out what I truly like, both as a person and designer in the future.”
Jungeun Lee: I Am Average, publication, 2020 (Client: Sanne Gielens) (Copyright © Jungeun Lee, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.