Founded five years ago by Yeonjeong Lee and Harim Lee, the Seoul-based design studio Works was built with the intention to create “the most direct and way to communicate”. Explaining this to It’s Nice That nearly two years ago in our first interview with the studio, and now they join us again to catch-up on what what they’ve been up to recently. “We continue to put importance on ‘distinct expression’ and focus on the aspect of delicate nuance on top of that,” explains Yeonjeong. Focused on how to make the usual seem unusual, Works creates interesting amalgamations of image, font, photography and renders throughout its design portfolio. An example of this is its graphic identity for the Gwangju Biennale, a brief it’s completed for the past two years.
Looking back, the project was marked with a particular feeling caused by the uncertainty of the pandemic. “It happened during the preparation of the biennale so everything has been postponed twice,” says Harim. “We’ve witnessed and experienced how the current global state of affairs can affect our graphic design work both directly and indirectly.” Interestingly, the project was “more of an art commission” than a design one. Previously, Works’ identities have centred on effective marketing strategies, but with this one, it was more important to meet the artistic nature of the event and show that through the campaign.
Addressed with a brief which is “broader than any other art and culture-related projects we’ve done so far,” Works was tasked with creating an abstract and metaphysical view on “an entire spectrum of intelligence.” The challenge was no mean feat, having to consider how to develop a tangible outcome from such an organic concept. Yeonjeong and Harim went through the brief several times to grasp the crux of it, from which they could then build a structural process around and start to come up with visual concepts.
Once this was established, the next step was all about “the tuning of the shape”. Making graphics which responded to key words from the brief, Works combined a myriad of graphics to create new shapes. All the while team were conversing with the event’s artistic directors Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala on the evolving project. In searching for the “right tune” for the biennale, coincidentally, some of the graphic elements started to bear a similar resemblance to the Covid-19 strand. This was a surprising revelation for the designers, who had made the work prior to the surge in the pandemic. But it meant Yeonjeong and Harim had to go back to the drawing board and design something new. “As designers, we knew what kind of negative visual impact this can bring,” Yeonjeong adds.
Eventually, Works combined all its research into an identity which pulls on the biennale’s theme and layers, with flexibly merging type and abstract shapes. The bilingual festival features type in both Hangul and latin scripts, so finding the right font pairing became imperative to the success of the design. “The typography we used is tradition but at the same time, it has quite a contemporary aspect and we designed the main text with it for a multifaceted and lively impression,” says Harim.
The identity, therefore, is an example of how Works has pivoted during the pandemic. The studio learned to communicate in a different way for instance, as it could not meet in person with clients to discuss the work. “As designers who feel comfortable verbally communicating, we find the current situation a little tricky. However we believe that it is something we can improve by practising as if we are ‘designing’ it.” As 2020 presented a new year for all of us in one way or another, Works felt greatly stimulated by projects that questioned the status quo in different ways. “Though the pandemic brought inconvenience and rigour in life, we cannot deny the fact that these harsh conditions provoked new approaches in creative projects and that sparked inspiration in us,” the founders conclude.
Works Services: 13th Gwangju Biennale poster (Copyright © Works Services, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.