What would Wikipedia look like if it acknowledged its gender and racial biases? Graphic designer Sharon Park explores
The ArtCenter of Design graduate bridges disparate connections in her multi-disciplinary practice.
Without spoiling the surprise too much, we want you (dear reader) to know that you’re in for a treat. Meet Sharon Park, a Korean American designer doing a hundred different things we could have only dreamt of while at art school. Born and raised in California, the young Sharon always loved to draw. The obsession began with Sailor Moon and quickly snowballed with much exploration at the local library. Long story short, and after many a fruitful discovery, the manga and graphic novels section soon became the place to find the young Sharon.
To this day, she tells us, “my work is heavily influenced by the comics I consumed growing up and their inherently playful combination of illustration and type.” Amidst these imaginative worlds, she drew inspiration from early internet art communities. She views Tumblr and DeviantArt, for example, as places that “walked so Instagram could soar”. Free programmes such as Microsoft Paint and GIMP played key roles in her creative development (pre-Adobe) and in an unlikely twist of events, it was, in fact, Sharon’s desire to mix up the visual monotony on her iPod Nano which first sparked an endeavour into graphic design.
Reflecting on the album artworks she created on MS Paint for a hoard of pirated tracks, we catch a glimpse of the witty, resourceful and playful Sharon that we’re celebrating as part of this year’s Graduates. Just graduated from Pasadena’s ArtCenter of Design, it was the designer’s unique take on issues far and wide through graphic design, illustration, web design, VR and installation which cemented her place on this year’s line up. We could go on forever when it comes to this jewel of a multi-hyphenate, but we’ll let Sharon explain more about her work down below. As for the rest of us, we lucky readers get to sit back and enjoy.
It’s Nice That: What's the most valuable lesson you learned during your time at university?
Sharon Park: This isn’t design-related, but the most valuable realisation I came to during my time at ArtCenter is that no one is really “shy.” I don’t believe “shy” and “quiet” are qualities that should be used to describe anyone, because I internalised it a lot. Critiques, participating in class, and navigating through internships/jobs are a lot more fun without that baggage.
Something more design-related is that I developed this habit of screenshotting every significant step in a project and made a giant archive folder – I often look back at it when I’m stuck. Being reminded of the process can give me more insight into what I can do next. I also learned a lot about observing the everyday things around us as sources of inspiration.
INT: Where to start with all your amazing projects?! There are so many and they’re all so wonderfully different! We love the mix of graphic design, illustration, web design and installation work. Throughout all your projects, there is a real sense of playfulness which is so engaging. How do you go about describing what you do as a creative?
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Sharon Park: Wikipedia
SP: Thank you very much! I have this urge to connect everything together, and love seeing contrasting themes within the common and the everyday. For example, I love puns where I can connect two languages of mine – Korean and English, a way I can express my Korean American identity. I love memes because they bridge together a very specific moment and a collective absurdity about being present. And nostalgia is a big one for me because it’s a way I can be a tourist in my past. I guess as a designer I realised that I’m always trying to bridge connections between things no matter how far they are from each other.
INT: Your portfolio is brimming with so many exciting projects, but if you have to pick one, which one are you most proud of and why? Please tell us about it!
SP: The project I’m most proud of is a hypothetical identity I designed for Wikipedia. It was extremely fun but such an intense challenge for me; it felt like I kind-of threw in everything I knew how to do creatively.
”I don’t believe ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ are qualities that should be used to describe anyone, because I internalised it a lot.“Sharon Park
Wikipedia amazes me. In the early research stages, I was curious and googled “Wikipedia branding” because I admittedly wanted to see what cool projects were already out there. Instead, I was hit with the first result: the wiki article on “branding”. That was interesting to me, this sort of invisibility of the site and how it blends in as a neutral constant of the internet. It doesn’t demand attention to itself visually, despite being the 13th most visited website in the world, besides tech giants like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.
Then there are also these appalling statistics that many people weren’t aware of: 80% of the content on Wikipedia has been written by 20% of the world, a majority of editors identify as men, and less than 20% of all biographies on the site are about women (the number is increasing thanks to efforts of many editors in groups that target this gap). I wanted to start by creating an identity that brings awareness to these gender and race biases and knowledge disparities that not many readers know about, while also celebrating the spectrum of content that’s already been written.
“It was important for me to think about the accessibility of these tools instead of trying to push my aesthetics.“Sharon Park
It was also important for me to think about the accessibility of these tools instead of trying to push my aesthetics. There was this freedom I felt when I decided to use Arial and Times New Roman as the primary typefaces for this project. Thinking back to the time when I was just getting into drawing and design – without these “default” fonts, open-source resources, programmes, and communities that democratise it all – I wouldn’t be where I am today. It came around full circle.
Wiki:Room was my interpretation of visualising the understated hub within Wikipedia that isn’t outward-facing. Originally called the Teahouse, it acts as a resource, guide, and forum for new and veteran editors alike. I took inspiration from Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel and The Temple of Time by Emma Willard, and thought it would be interesting to reimagine the virtual space like a starting lobby in a game, like Club Penguin and Maple Story. Wikipedia is pretty far away from a social media platform or flash game, but there was this sense of trying to make a huge entity of knowledge feel like an accessible and familiar room.
Even now, I feel like I’m nowhere near done with the project and I know that I will never be. But given the actual nature of Wikipedia and how it's always building and never complete, I guess my feelings are strangely fitting.
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Sharon Park: Sound in Translation
INT: In your opinion, what are the benefits and challenges of being a multidisciplinary creative? For example, how can your book design for Sound in Translation inform the VR experience you made for Wiki:Room?
SP: I always enjoy ending up with a lot more research and discoveries along the way in a project. I like how elements of print and book design can unexpectedly show up in digital design and other areas; I do think it leads to different ways of approaching something. For example, I didn’t use any 3D programmes to make Wiki:Room and instead drew on top of an expanded VR grid. In that way, it’s kinda like faking VR, and coming at it from a different perspective saved me a lot of time.
The overarching challenge is always making sure “multidisciplinary” doesn’t mean I’m spreading myself out too thin. It doesn’t mean I’m an expert at all aspects of the project. Making sure I’m not cutting any corners when it comes to research and constantly reminding myself that as designers we have this social responsibility to create systems that positively impact us and the community at large. I’m also learning how to be more collaborative within that.
INT: Is there a certain aspect of design that you’d like to concentrate on in the future? What is your dream project to work on, and with who?
SP: Oh man there’s so much. I’ve grown to really appreciate podcasts and public radio, and the great conversations, reporting, and even therapy that is aired for free. The Daily and the work done at the New York Times is amazing and really empowering. I also love the idea of working with a curated podcast magazine like Wilson FM and have been inspired after watching The Midnight Gospel (the animated series derived from the show Duncan Trussell Family Hour). I don’t know what exactly is in store for me yet but I’m looking forward to being a part of that realm.
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.