Anyone coming across this person’s work on Facebook will find it impossible to turn away. Surely you will stop and think. Even a short stop to look will cause you to press the Like button because his works are designs that connote stories through the use of the Korean alphabet, Hangul. In addition to this impressive feature, many people are surprised by the fact that he is an ordinary college student majoring in International Business Administration. To celebrate Hangul Day on October 9th, the Sookmyung Times met Hangul art designer, Lee Daha, to learn more about his work.
What got you interested in graphic design? It is indeed unique considering you are still an undergraduate student majoring in International Business Administration?
I have always been interested in designing. However, when I first entered university, I had no idea how to even begin. Therefore, I just worked with Photoshop and did some graphic art work on my own. One day, I decided to upload my creations onto the homepage of a magazine that I frequently read, and it was published by the magazine. It was from then that I started to study about design and started to engage in a variety of tasks. When I first started this kinds of work, I never imagined I’d come this far. However, now I am approached by many people and have earned good commission payment, and I have a good portfolio that includes my own work as well as work that I have done for other clients.
With the spectrum of design so huge, why are you focusing your work on Hangul?
Before taking a leave from school to complete my military service, I studied design. I worried my knowledge, built up over the years, would be trashed, and I feared sharing my work due to my lack of experience, so I looked toward work that would not require hours and hours of my time, but could at the same time, highlight my ideas. Eventually, I began to work with Hangul Lettering that initial work lead to what I am doing now. Another reason why I chose Hangul is that I believe good designs can display the attractiveness of Hangul without having to explain the background meaning of the Hangul letter.
What compels you to continuously upload your designs on SNSs like Facebook?
I upload my work because I need a place to show my creations without connecting them to other writings or works. Therefore, I created an account on Facebook specifically for this purpose and have been continuously uploading my work in organized albums on the site. Subscribers, I mean my followers, have slowly increased over the years. Another benefit of uploading my work onto a SNS is that I can receive immediate feedback from people and display my work without having to host an exhibition or do other activities.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Many people have asked me that, but I don’t get inspired from any particular place or person. I think artwork is something that comes from one’s thought. Therefore, my ideas are usually things that I have pondered over even while sitting in a chair. Generally, the subjects of my works are the thoughts that I have mulled over throughout a restless night. Therefore, my work encompasses a variety of different subject matters from life to death to human relations and the ideas of push and pull and regret.
When you work, what are you most concerned about?
I often worry about legibility because I am dealing with Korean alphabet letters. Therefore, after completing each piece, I try to put myself in others’ shoes to ascertain the meaning and intent of the work. Even so, sometimes people see my work only as images, not words. Therefore, I spend a lot of time in thought. I try to express myself as briefly as possible by adjusting the overall intent of work, but it is not always an easy task.
Looking back at all your pieces, what are your most and least favorite designs?
I am attached to each and every piece, but if I were to choose just one piece, I like Clean the most. It represents my odd habit of cleaning up my surroundings or washing the dishes when my mind is full of complex thought. When I can’t think straight anymore, I look to this work, which is hanging in my room, and it brightens my mood just like cleaning up my surroundings does. My least favorite would have to be Age because I failed to send a clear message to people, and it looks a bit dodgy due to its lifeless expression.
What is the toughest thing you have encountered in this line of work and how did you overcome it?
Managing my life has not been easy with all my other responsibilities. Like I just said before, my pieces require my time to organize, but when I am other tasks, I have little time to concentrate on the organization. Therefore, in order to overcome this, I try to reserve “my” time. Time when I do nothing, just rest or travel with friends.
Why do you refer to yourself as the The Nonentity Designer and why did you establish a clique of designers under the same name, The Nonentity Designer?
I started designing without formal education in the field, so if I don’t give my 110%, people may look at me as a nonentity designer. Hence, I refer to myself as “The nonentity designer” in order keep reminding myself of this point and that I have yet to reach the same status as professional designers. Also, I started group, The Nonentity Designer, because there are many people who started designing out of pure interest, just like me, so I felt that if we could gather, we could engage in projects together that would make us better designers. I wanted to have a group that shared thoughts and expressions about design.
You have held an exhibition in New York. What reaction did you receive from the world outside Korea about your Hangul designs?
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend my exhibition in New York, but I often show my Hangul work to my friends while I am in the United States, and plenty of time, I have received comments along the line of "t’s a painting, isn’t it." For example, one of my friends, looking at the word ‘하하’, said the ‘ㅎ’ resembled an eye and eyebrow, which seemed to be expressing laughter. It is really interesting that my pieces, though they are based on the Korean alphabet and language, being regarded as painting by those outside Korea.
You are majoring in International Business Administration, a major that is completely different from Design, at Pukyung National University. Is there any relation between design and management department?
After I entering university as an International Business Administration major, I started to gain an interest in design, so I agonized over switching my major from International Business Administration to Design. However, after a lot of contemplation, I felt that I needed both majors to be successful in the future. For example, I want to start campaign designs or adverts that graft Design and International Business Administration. Although I have no specific direction in life at the moment, I hope to become someone who can embody these two abilities in various fields.
Which designer do you admire or do you have a role model? If you do, then why do you admire her/him?
I like designer Stefan Sagmeister. His work is always interesting. Whenever I see his work, such as banana installation and 30 million pennies on the road, I look in awe as his work is so diverse, experimental and crosses digital with analog. In addition, looking at his portfolio, my will to design soars. Although I am just using 2D at the moment, I hope to learn other methods that will better transmit my messages to people.
There are many students who are stuck in the middle of continuing their major and chasing their dream. As one who is doing both, could you share some of your wisdom with us?
Actually, I can’t really comment on that as I’m in that every situation. I am also just in the middle, a place between my major and my dream, but I am trying my best to reduce the gap between the two extremes. I know there are many students like me worrying about this situation, but I hope we all look to the bright side of life and keep a happy tone on our life paths together.
Where do you hope to be and what kind of work do you hope to be doing in the future? What are your plans and commitment for future?
After starting Hangul art, I have been given so many chances to do a various kinds of work such as exhibitions, publish a book, and etc, but it was bittersweet because I am both excited and exhausted. Also, I am worried about getting a job because now is the time I need to prepare for employment. I am, after all, a 4th year student. However, I will just try to be happy in whatever I do, and I want to experience as many things as possible. Also, even though it might take some time for me to find a job, I will enjoy the things that I am working on now until I find what I really want in life.
• Pukyung National University Student Majoring in International Business Administration
• Graphic Designer and Hangul Designer
• Author of Hangul Lettering