Having studied at Korean design college Paju Typography Institute, and with a further degree in visual communication from Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Basel, Seoul-based graphic designer Son Ayong has a pretty good idea of how to capture and convey concepts by paying close attention to form, line and colour in text and image. Her bold poster designs draw on elements of illustration and web-based graphic works to create visual identities that reflect the overarching themes running through exhibitions, programmes, films, festivals, workshops and seminars.
Son tells us that the biggest influence on her work has come from New York-based designer and illustrator Joon Mo Kang: “He was the first person who taught me the concepts and foundations of design as well as how to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.” A big part of harnessing the extraordinary in her poster designs comes from Son’s process of experimentation with relatively simple shapes and lines in the initial stages of a project.
She talks us through her approach: “I start with the most cliched expressions first. Even if I initially decided to draw the subject with thick lines, I would experiment with thin lines, and sometimes switch an oval to a perfect circle. Within the range of the design concept, I always try out opposite ideas to the initial ones to see if I can come up with something more interesting.” By giving herself this scope, Son can work through the numerous possible iterations of a project before settling on the most effective alignment of concept and design. She says that “while I work on creating those uninteresting cliched forms, I often end up getting by-products. At times, these by-products look nicer than the actual design, which means that the pieces I didn’t intend to make can give me better ideas. So, I continue to save each progression in the poster-making process as a new file. I sometimes end up creating about 10-20 Adobe Illustrator files for one poster design. They take up a lot of space on my computer, but they become useful materials for me.”
Although she works in predominantly visual mediums, Son remains constantly aware of the relationship between her designs and the ideas they need to communicate. Understanding and fine-tuning this relationship is integral to her process: “The final step is to put my work down in words to figure out if my poster design can be described in text. It helps me to determine whether I have moved too far from the actual subject.” She tells us that she’s particularly conscientious in this respect when it comes to designing posters, more so than in other areas of her design work, for as she says: “A poster design should clearly display its purpose. As a designer, I must constantly think about how to convey a message, or in other cases, how to successfully express an intended atmosphere or abstract feeling. For that reason, I tend to create posters where the main ideas and subjects are easily recognisable.”
There is also a significant illustrative element to Son’s poster works, as seen in her promotional designs for mentoring music programme Table Setter, and in her poster for Baekrokdam Chamber Fest. “When it comes to designing posters,” she states, “illustration often plays the biggest role in my work.” She says: “I find it very interesting that illustration can turn into something new when it’s combined with other elements like text. Although illustration itself can tell stories, when text and illustration meet, they complement each other well and bring out pretty interesting moods.” Son also draws out the narrative capacity of images by incorporating motion graphics into the digital versions of her posters, which give a direction to the viewing experience and generate different perspectives.
During her work as a graphic designer in Korea, something that Son has become aware of is the lack of breadth in the design possibilities for presenting the Korean alphabet. She tells us that the pictorial aspects of her work “tend to be in conflict with typography. Naturally, I pick the most suitable typographic design to complement the illustration. But most of the time I get frustrated since there are fewer design options in Korean compared to other languages. That’s why I often create my own typographic designs or ask other typography designers to come up with original designs. It takes a lot more time to do so, and I wish there were more designs for Korean written language. I have been somewhat hesitant to use typography for my poster design projects so far, but I want to push myself to include it more.”
As well as placing more emphasis on typographic elements, Son tells us that she wants to develop a more innovative, nuanced and less linear approach to designing posters. “I recently came across Bob Gill’s book, Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design: Including the Ones in This Book. It got me thinking a lot about poster designs," she explains. "At the end of the day, posters are a communication tool between the presenter and the viewer. But I wondered if my focus has been too much on how to attract the viewers’ eyes. In the future, I’d like to come up with more posters that are visually excellent, witty, and more communicative.”