“Resilience, curiosity, and power of action.” Phillip Kim on his visual style and designer mindset
Having worked in Seoul, New York and LA, Korean graphic designer Phillip Kim knows a thing or two about creating work for a stylish and future-facing landscape. Nike, a repeat collaborator, asked him to help rebrand Nike Korea, and have showcased his graphic-forward designs across storefronts, posters and sportswear. What’s more, the likes of Wieden + Kennedy, HYPEBEAST and Samsung have featured his striking works, too. Keen to learn more, we invited Kim to reflect and share his thoughts on his development as a designer so far. In doing so, he gives us an in-depth look into his creative ethos, methodologies and cultural insights.
PT Hi Phillip! How are you?
PK It's a very tough question. As usual, I’m working on several projects all over the world (Korea, USA, Spain, Japan) meanwhile developing my own ideology and philosophy for the answer of my life. Sometimes, everything goes too fast, and some other times, everything goes too slow. I’m learning the balance of life and trying to figure out the visual methodology to connect the philosophy for a better society and culture.
PT Whereabouts are you currently based?
PK I recently moved to LA from NY! I feel like LA is a very pretentious city which I love and inspires me a lot.
PT Having worked with clients across Asia and the US, what would you say are the most striking differences between the two markets?
PK I feel the biggest difference is the point of view toward the graphic designers and visual design. Especially in Korea, there are not many clients that would be able to spend huge budgets on design projects like in America. In addition, the value of design is considered a little more one-off, and there are not many clients that are understanding of the importance of branding. However, the recent interest in K-pop has led to the beginning of a major change in many areas. The most attractive part of working in Korea is that various experimental results can be designed amid various social confusion and changes in perception.
I re-adjust the rules based on the problems.
PT How has your style (or overall design ethos) changed since you graduated from university?
PK I always needed clarification regarding what I learned from school. I’ve always fought not to limit my creative thinking and the visual style of the school. After I graduated from school, I could test out and see how my thinking and visual style could be expanded and formed to communicate with people these days. My resilience, curiosity, and power of action represent my visual style.
PT Your experimental approach to type is great! What is your opinion on ‘following the rules’ within the field of graphic design?
PK I admire the functionality, history, and rules of traditional typography and design, and I am greatly influenced. However, my visual methodology exists for the present, not the past. Rules within the design must consider functionality very much, which must be very human and flexible in time. My design is a practice that modernises the perspective of traditional design in the past. I re-adjust the rules based on the problems and culture of modern society.
PT What is your process for designing a brand’s identity system? Is it exploratory and spontaneous or do you have a framework that you stick to?
PK I’m basically a very planned person. There is always a plan in my lifestyle and outlook on life. However, when working on a design project, it is very spontaneous in many ways. Therefore, it seems that we can find freer thoughts and new conceptualism. In my branding projects, some improvised processes are taken and planned to derive a rational design solution. Since the most important part of a branding project is scalability and flexibility, this process is very helpful in achieving the purpose.
PT What kind of projects bring you the most joy? Why?
PK The most interesting project is a project on a subject that I didn’t expect or have never done. The process of quickly acquiring/studying new subjects, identifying problems, and systemising them is like reading a book, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.’
The Nike Korea rebranding represents hope and positive energy for Korea’s culture.
PT Out of all the work you’ve done, which project or design would you like to be known for?
PK I don’t have one yet. However, among the projects that have been done, I like the Nike Korea rebranding project. The reason is that it is a project that has gone through the most ideal process I think. The Nike Korea rebranding represents hope and positive energy for Korea’s culture and future while preserving the identity of the company, Nike.
PT What do you think your weaknesses are?
PK I have many weaknesses. I think I’ll have to stay up all night to say it all. My weakness that I feel these days is the will that I couldn’t manage myself more healthily. I can’t stay up a few days like I used to. If I work on a harsh project (tight timeline with lots of changes, and deliverables) I get sick the next day. Health is of great importance. I feel that I should take better care of my health to do a better project.
PT What does an average day look like for you?
PK I usually work at home all day. Because I am doing many things, not just doing design, but production, strategy, business, etc. 24 hours is not enough for a day. I like my daily life very much because I like the house very much and the process of working is fun.
PT What kind of work environment do you most enjoy working in?
PK I don’t really care about my surroundings when I work. I tend to adapt to any kind of environment easily and focus on my work. Hmm... since I usually work alone, I want to work in a place where there are more people around and good music (techno) flows.
PT If you had to pick a typeface that best embodies you as a person – what would it be? Why?
PK Comic Sans! I would like to say! The purpose is very clear. Therefore, it is almost impossible to use for other purposes. It is also visually unique and fun. I think the user’s culture is also well represented.