Graphic designer Phillip Kim uses his work to explore everything from history to modern-day loneliness

In the two years since we last spoke, the Korean graphic designer has evolved – both professionally and personally.

Date
24 November 2021

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How much can really change in the space of two years? Well, for starters – and evidently shown through the work of Korean graphic designer Phillip Kim – two years is more than enough time to evolve, both professionally and on a more personal level. “Well, 2019 was the year that brought a lot of changes to me as a designer,” he tells us, looking back at the moment we last spoke. “While working at different agencies and studios, I gained a lot of experience that made me contemplate myself, Phillip – a designer, a person.”

Phillip started to reevaluate his ethos, philosophy and methodology through a conscious effort to take on more personal projects. “I had a lot of conversations with people outside the graphic design industry. From those conversations, I learned a lot of things that I hadn’t been aware of,” he says. With Covid-19 only making the past two years more self-evaluative and, of course, difficult, Phillip began contemplating what it means to be a designer in today’s world. Once he understood “what he had to do”, he says, that’s when he started to establish his own label named Smile Flower, launched with his friend and based between Korea and the US. Additionally, he also holds the title of designer at Wieden+Kennedy, and freelances for various clients in New York. “Through Smile Flower and other experiences, I want to expand the boundary of graphic design and eventually establish a design ideology that is crucial to the present.”

Before, Phillip’s work was driven mostly by the experimental intersection found between fashion and philosophy. Continuing to play with boundaries and the limits of type and form, Phillip’s recent portfolio is still wildly exploratory. But rather than defining his own style through words or categories, he prefers to look at it through a fluid and spontaneous lens. “Visual solutions come out from the process. A process has to be rational and I work towards that. All the subjective matters should be translated and visually objective,” he says. For instance, the most recent project he’s embarked on is a collaboration with the Nike store in New York City. Briefed to centre the work on the keywords “New York” and “fast”, Phillip applied his usual intuitive methodology with the bustling atmosphere of the city, consequently producing a bespoke and highly illustrative identity for the store.

“People felt New York is a fast-paced city with a high leave of energy, but also a place where there is a lot of loneliness, emptiness and despair,” he explains. “Given these contrasting emotions, people have a love-hate relationship with the city. You can see the mixed emotions of people in the streets of New York, so I wanted to convey this phenomenon through my interpretations using custom typography and shapes.”

GalleryPhillip Kim: Nike NYC (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

In another project, Phillip was commissioned to art direct and develop the concept, design strategy and branding system for an exhibition called Circuit Seoul #1, Circulation. Devised as a means of criticism against the current art market, the project and exhibition was designed with a “buffer”, a metaphor used in application to the branding and typography. Featuring a metallic and almost futuristic colour palette – soft baby blues and a spacey, stark grey – the work itself appears varied in the way that it pairs contrasting shapes and letters. From angular to fluid, the type is a key component in this project.

And lastly, Maggie is a branding project that he “really enjoyed” working on. A short but sweet one, Phillip designed the identity for the bistro, named Maggie, which is based in Seoul and sells Wonton noodles and wine. “The client had a low budget but gave us a lot of creative freedom,” he says. As a result, Phillip pulled inspiration from the film Chungking Express and wanted to display the film’s historical context in the identity system. “At that time, Eastern Asia was being westernised by force. Through the process of westernisation, people were losing their culture but fought to save their culture and traditions. Because it was such a tough time, romanticism became an ideal way for them to escape from their current reality and it gained popularity. Maggie was inspired by this period of history, so English was not used as it would be in western countries.”

Phillip goes on: “I hope my design encourages and inspires as many people as it can. My design practice is a visual solution that has been reinterpreted for the present era, based on past history and methodologies. My design does not stay in the past; it is and will continue to be a contemporary design for people in the past era.”

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Circuit, Seoul Exhibition (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Maggie (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Maggie (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Nike NYC (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Nike NYC (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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Phillip Kim: Maggie (Copyright © Phillip Kim, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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