For Sulki and Min, creative freedom is overrated and they believe in constraints
- Jyni Ong
- 25 October 2018
Sulki and Min are self-professed “artists who spend most of their working time on graphic design or vice versa”. Founded by Choi Sulki and Choi Sung Min, the two graphic designers collaborate on visual identities, promotional material, publications and websites for a wide variety of South Korea’s most-talented institutions and individuals. Since their studio’s inception in 2005, the design duo have consistently uplifted Seoul’s cultural sector with their stylish and refined design.
The graphic designers’ impressive roster of experience stems back to their MFA graduation from Yale University. From there, Sulki and Min worked as researchers at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht and designed for the BMW Guggenheim Lab’s interactive identity system, driven by online public participation. Returning to Korea in 2005 to start their own studio, the designers now predominantly work for arts-based organisations that allows their work be “more supplementary than auxiliary” as graphic design makes “a more active contribution than normal for visual arts projects”.
Specialising in “making things light-hearted and functional”, Sulki and Min tells It’s Nice That, “we think many of our best works are funny, in an indirect and obscure way”. Their attitude to design is encompassed in the Sol Lewitt quote that “we don’t mind it if something turns out to be beautiful”, but it is not necessarily intended. Additionally, the designers outlook on the client-designer relationship is also unexpected. Sulki and Min explain, “total creative freedom is often neither free, nor total, nor creative. We believe in constraints. We also believe it’s possible to work with irrational restrictions such as the client’s favourite colours.”
The design studio’s creative process is markedly different to the majority of art and design educations in the West. Sulki and Min don’t usually use visual references in the early stages of their designs, instead, they start by “verbally defining parameters and directions”. Although the studio is aware of the latest trends in graphic design, they “feel oddly out of touch with them” and don’t adhere to them. Further enlightening us on their different design methodologies, the designers say: “We don’t pitch. We usually don’t produce more than one solution. We don’t sketch by hand. We don’t rush and show our ideas to clients right away — we give them a night or two before we share our ideas with them”. Additionally, Sulki and Min add, “we don’t think too much about what’s already been done.”
The studio’s poster design for the MMCA Performing Arts Programs at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, focuses around the four Korean characters (다 원 예 술) in the programme’s name. The characters merge with other information and the intersections are marked to create a distinctive design. Each season’s programme uses a different typeface for the characters which results in a decided variation of pattern for the visual identity.
Another recent visual identity project from Sulki and Min is for this year’s exhibition at the Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul. The solo show titled, Ungmang, documents the work by the artist Sasa[ 44 ]. The show archives vast amounts of artefacts and records relating to the artist’s own everyday consumption. Sasa[ 44 ] is an anonymity-concerned artist and his work “questions the nature of contemporary culture and the artist-as-consumer’s agency.” At the request of the artist, his name is omitted from the promotional materials designed by Sulki and Min. Consequently, only the title — which translates as “mess” or “wreck” — and the dates, along with the logo of the museum appear on the minimal visual identity that accurately reflects the sterile archival material in the show.
With an undoubtedly successful future ahead where the studio will continually add their spirit to Korea’s cultural scenes, Sulki and Min are working towards launching a much-anticipated critical journal that they have been working on for the past couple of years. Lastly, the designers add, “we have a pretty good idea about its direction and we even have a name for it but for some reason we haven’t started it. We are eager to make it happen next year”.
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.