Graphic Designer Goo-Ryong Kang: Finding the Lost Meaning of Letters
FINDING HIDDEN NUANCES IN THE EVERYDAY
Graphic designer Goo-Ryong Kang keeps himself busy with a variety of projects—both personal and client work—in addition to teaching, but each new project begins with letters and images. “Why am I attracted to typography? For me, it’s about making familiar letters look unfamiliar,” he says.
But Kang was not always interested in type.
“Originally, I wanted to paint,” he explains. “But I became interested in design when I was in school because of my teacher Jae-Hyeok Sung. This was when I learned that letters are not just a tool for writing, but can also be a tool of expression.”
RESTORING THE LOST VOICES OF LETTERS
In the Korean alphabet, called Hangeul in South Korea, many letters seem similar in appearance. In his designs, Kang endeavors to give them distinct personalities. As Kang says, “When letters take on a particular voice or texture, they can have their own character, as with images.” So for him, typography is a tool for restoring the lost voices of letters.
PEACH BLOSSOMS IN FULL BLOOM
In 2016, Kang participated in creating an installation that was part of the Korea exhibit at the London Design Biennale. He was part of a seven-member team whose project attempted to express a futuristic, ideal society; their theme was “Utopia by Design.”
“Rather than just present the typical look of an ideal utopia, we created an exhibit using digital media,” Kang explains. “We posed questions to visitors, wrote their ideas down, and then converted that text to images so that they could be recorded and viewed. We used the Western alphabet and traditional Eastern motifs to develop a sort of East-meets-West utopian font to record the visitors’ thoughts in all kinds of patterns.”
The resulting creation, called Peach Blossom, is a metaphorical expression of a utopian place with peach blossoms in full bloom, as depicted in the great classical Korean painting Mongyudowondo, by Ahn Gyeon.
“It was not an easy project and it took a full year to complete,” says Kang. “All seven of our team members were spread out in different countries, so communication wasn’t easy either, and we felt a big responsibility to represent Korea.”
START A PROJECT, FIND A KEYWORD
Kang begins each new project by finding a keyword.
“I put a lot of time into finding just the right word I need to determine the concept for a project,” he explains. “Once I find the keyword, I try to interpret its meaning from various different angles. I might look up the meaning in a dictionary, and in doing so I’ll sometimes discover a particular meaning that I’d forgotten. I also try to find out how the word is used by just talking to people.”
For Kang, “leaving some space” means verifying subjective things in an objective way—for example, by doing research or asking questions. He also takes time out for himself by going for walks. He believes that getting too involved in your work can narrow your way of thinking.
BEING CREATIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Software like Illustrator, for Kang, is more than just a tool for work. It can be described as an “expansion of thought.” However, he did experience a sense of crisis after watching last year’s five-game Go showdown between DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial ingelligence and famed Go champion Lee Se-Dol—AlphaGo won the match. For Kang, it was a prime example of technology’s advance into human territory.
After that event, he worried that, “in order to survive as a designer, maybe I need a new category for creativity.”
“Posters as a medium have been around for a long time, but in the future, symbolic images will be produced and consumed constantly in virtual reality and digital media. However, a torn poster lying in the street is still closer to the people than a piece of art on exhibit in a museum,” Kang says.
He hopes that people will continue to consume and be transformed by the posters of letters and images he so painstakingly creates.
To see more of Kang’s work, visit his portfolio site.