Sulki Choi and Min Choi are based in Seoul and have worked together since meeting on Yale University’s MFA graphic design programme in 2001. Since then they’ve worked as researchers at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, contributing to a project on the cultural identity of the city of Leuven and designing many of the academy’s publications and some promotional material. In 2006, they had their first exhibition at Gallery Factor in Seoul and received the Art Award of the Year from the Arts Council Korea. Sulki also works as publisher of Specter Press and Min is a lecturer at the University of Seoul. We spoke to Sulki about their work and how they feel Korean design is perceived abroad.
You met at Yale but were both originally from Seoul. Why did you look to study in the US?
Min was interested in meeting and working with some of the teachers at Yale and I was fascinated by the rather bland brochure of Yale School of Art and decided to apply.
Had you always planned to return to Seoul to work once you’d graduated?
Not really. We went to the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht after Yale to spend two years on our research project. When we first came to the Netherlands, we thought we might want to stay and work there for a while. After two years we learned that there are more than enough graphic designers living and working in the country and thought we could be more useful in Korea. Also, we always wanted to publish books for ourselves and it seemed to make more sense to do so in our own language.
You’ve studied and worked in the US and Europe for some time – do you now have many international clients? Are they much different to work with than Korean clients?
We have worked with a few overseas clients and the major difference other than language was timeframe. In Korea, things are expected to happen much, much faster than in any other culture that we know.
Do you think the graphic design work coming out of Korea is getting the attention it deserves at the moment?
We’re not really aware of how Korean graphic design is currently received abroad. But even within Korea, many local designers are still suffering from the lack of recognition. The imbalance of perception between Korean and Western designers does exist, which helps neither promoting more rooted design approaches nor understanding Western design.
There are many ‘traditional’ aspects to design in Korea (we think of the typographical and printing systems, for example) but are many contemporary Korean designers now pushing further beyond traditional work?
We’re not sure about other young designers here but we don’t have much interest in the traditional aspects of Korean design. We don’t think that Korean contemporary culture in general has any strong connection to the country’s history. But maybe Korean typeface design has some connections with it. Recently, Korean typographer Jin-Wook Lim designed the Chung Cho Che typeface, based on an 18th century publication, and it looked really nice.
Whose work do you particularly enjoy from the UK? Do you think British design has had much influence on Korean design?
We’ve always admired Paul Elliman’s work, if you can still call him a designer and, in that sense, the UK may claim some influence on our work. There have always been some British designers who are popular in Korea: Pentagram, Neville Brody and Tomato come to my mind. But we are more interested in less celebrated British modernist designers: Norman Potter, Anthony Froshaug, Richard Hollis, Derek Birdsall, Robin Fior. In fact, we’ve translated Potter’s 1969 classic, What is a designer? and published it through our own imprint, Specter Press. The reception in Korea has been very positive, so it might add another dimension of British influence – even more of a constructive influence – on Korean design in the future. We are preparing the Korean edition of Modern Typography by Robin Kinross, who is also the editor and publisher of the Potter book, and who happened to be British as well.