Ditch the computer! Hezin O values the physicality of movement rather than the digital
The graphic designer discusses her recent interest in manual tools and why, although the computer is “nice and easy to use,” it’s just too predictable.
It’s -12 degrees celsius in Seoul, but inside, in a white-walled studio lined with overflowing shelves of creative apparatus, Hezin O looks cozy. It’s the first snow of the year when I call the talented graphic designer, whose work we have fawned over for years, hence her place on this year’s Ones to Watch list. We exchange pleasantries and are soon laughing (which we spend much of the interview doing) over things which aren’t really that funny, but on reflection, is down to the fact that we’re both just thrilled that this is happening.
Hezin’s bookshelves are inundated with volumes of the design classics. Amidst exemplary specimens of independent publishing, hand-bound titles mingle between design journal rarities and myriad other pieces of contemporary print. Over the years, I can see she’s collected issues of Graphic and Idea while Karel Martens compendiums, Stedelijk publications and a book on organic geometry feature amongst the bibliotheque of carefully typeset spines.
GalleryGloryhole Light Sales
GalleryGloryhole Light Sales
It’s safe to say then, that Hezin enjoys research. Above and below her shelves of books, there are neatly fitted cardboard boxes, bundles of pens and what seems like hundreds of long brown poster tubes banded together. It’s a designer’s safe haven, a hub of organised chaos that is far more on the organised side despite Hezin describing it as “messy”. After we establish Hezin’s studio is more than conducive to creativity, we get onto the subject of her work.
Since 2017, we’ve featured Hezin’s crisp and communicative graphic design works. In the less than three short years since then, the Korean creative has continuously evolved her practice to encompass a range of disciplines from graphic design to web design, typography and illustration. A categoric, multi-hyphenate creative nowadays, growing up in Iksan – a small city about three-and-a-half hours by car south of the capital – Hezin’s original plan was to become an animation director.
“Do you know Otaku?” she asks as we chat. I didn’t, but having now looked it up, it’s a Japanese term for someone with an obsessive interest, usually in anime and manga. Japanese manga was Hezin’s particular infatuation and she spent her days as a child, drawing, making zines and so on, sometimes selling her creations at school fairs. “It was my whole childhood,” she recalls. “And now I am a graphic designer,” she continues, “I’m still making those things.”
These early years formed the foundations of what would become a practice brimming with personality. Over time, Hezin graduated from coloured pencils and pens to graphic softwares on the computer. She completed her undergraduate degree at Hongkik University in 2010, then, nearly a decade later, embarked on a master’s at the University of Seoul, from which she graduated at the end of 2019.
GalleryMimesis Take Out 14
GalleryMimesis Take Out 14
In these ten years, she’s designed countless publications, a handful of graphic identities, shown that she is just as capable at illustrating as she is designing, exhibited internationally, and even featured in the AW17 issue of our very own Printed Pages. But arguably most interestingly, it is her mentality towards graphic design that has changed most fundamentally. Her understanding of the purpose and function of her work has entirely shifted.
“Up until a few years ago,” says Hezin, “I thought graphic design was like a kind of decoration.” As she pushed herself to experiment with other media, a trait she pins down to “getting bored very easily,” she started to probe deeper into the meaning of what she was doing, asking herself what it was really for. Eventually, she realised, “graphic design is a tool for my practice.” The medium or the software is just the means to an end, “but the point of the work,” she explains, “is the translation. Just like a linguistic translator, the designer can infer an overall message through their choice of visual intonation or phrasings. The designer can create an atmosphere through the rhythmic formulation of words or images, or a combination of the two.
GalleryImage as a tool
Focusing on the mode of translating her work from an idea to reality, in part, Hezin’s work has come full circle, embracing the creative freedom of her childhood self and in turn, re-embracing the coloured pencil. “I started using my hands again last year,” Hezin tells me, shortly after she’s wiggled a coloured pencil over the screen to demonstrate her favourite medium at present. Approximately a year ago, Hezin started to feel bored using the computer all the time. “The computer is nice and easy to use, but it’s just too perfect,” she says. “So these days, I am trying to make something that I couldn’t have expected like when I use the computer.”
Previously, Hezin could imagine exactly how she wanted her final design to look in her mind’s eye, which she would then replicate perfectly using the computer. But with a manual tool in hand, there was more freedom to move, bringing with it a more liberating creative process. “If I use my hand, I can make unexpected or accidental shapes,” she says of the work which becomes “harder to control.” It’s an analogue-heavy process fully embraced in Hezin’s master’s project, which culminated in a thesis titled Because I can’t start with just a blank page, Can I? and an exhibition. The project was also featured in last year’s Typojanchi.
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A highly anticipated event, Typojanchi is the annual Korean type biennale where renowned designers across the country (and the world) come together in celebration of typography and the breadth of its designs.
Every year, several curators are appointed to help organise an accompanying exhibition, and they invite designers to participate, which is where Hezin comes in. In the case of last year, the curator presented Hezin with a sentence – “The object makes typography” – which was to be the starting point of the work. And upon first hearing the sentence, Hezin’s immediately thought of a stamp and a shape template ruler.
Approaching the project conceptually rather than literally (she didn’t want to actually make a stamp or a ruler), Hezin thought about what all these elements actually have in common; the hand. She, therefore, created a set of rules for the exercise, drawing a 5x5 grid to draw a series letterforms. Then, she needed tools to draw the shapes with, selecting a number of objects to draw round, which were later exhibited alongside Hezin’s designs.
What started out as a mere ten drawings, went onto amass over 100 artworks, each representing a glyph, exhibited in Hezin’s master’s exhibition. And though the work isn’t as visually striking in the mainstream sense (ie not emblazoned with neon gradients and haphazard typography), the project is meaningful for the way it marks a new chapter in Hezin’s work, one focused on the physicality of movement rather than the digital.
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Because I can’t start with just a blank page, Can I?
After almost ten years in the industry, the refreshing experimentation in Hezin’s movement-based work highlights how it is never too late to shake things up in one’s life, especially, in the creative sense. It’s an epiphany that closely corresponds to Hezin’s new outlook of viewing graphic design as a translation. “That is,” she reiterates, “a process of thinking about how to interpret the problem. It’s kind of like an abstraction, as abstraction is the extraction and reproduction of an object’s core elements.” By this method, Hezin ensures a consistently fresh approach to her work, focusing on one aspect of a project which gives births a new outlook.
It’s a facet of her practice that Hezin is keen to sustain. So looking towards the future, she’s set to have a busy year to keep the creativity train on the move. 2020 has already seen Hezin participating in two group shows, one in San Francisco titled Around Seoul: Independent Graphic Design from South Korea and one in Quebec titled Imprimé | Intimité | Collection. This summer, she will participate in Team Thursday’s residency TTHQ in Rotterdam. There, Hezin hopes the new environment will “help to stimulate new things”, carrying on the cycle of new creative thoughts and processes that has fuelled her momentum thus far.
She hopes to continue to work on her typographic drawings, and exhibit the results in the renowned exhibition space which has previously been host to the likes of Karel Martens, Gilles de Brock and Koen Taselaar. And whether Hezin chooses to develop the physicality of her typeface – potentially strengthening the pictorial essence of her hand-drawn letterforms – reminiscent of her mother tongue, Hangul, who knows? She’s more than demonstrated a will to embrace the unforeseen, so with that in mind, we’ll just have to wait and see what she does next.
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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. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.
Ones to Watch 2020
Read more profiles of this year’s Ones to Watch