2019

Live
I have friends that I met at school. Precious friends. After getting out of school, I reminisce about the times we worked and played together more often. After we finished our homework, the only worries we had was what to eat and where to go to play. We were so much more passionate back then. We didn’t know what was out there so we were full of curiosity and thirst for growth.  We valued experiences and knowledge over everything else. Maybe too much.
        Friends, family, money, fame, knowledge, health, and life. We once thought if we climbed higher, everything else would follow. We imagined and talked about the ideal future after we have pursued knowledge to grow. A place where all of us can come together again later in life to make money together by doing designs that we love to do with our wives and kids beside us, but it turned out that that’s not how it works out here. Pursuing one thing meant sacrificing all others and surely doing so would make someone to be able to reach higher, but how much are we willing to give up?
        Schools promote academic excellence. Instructors do promote that too, but they always tell their students to sleep well and eat healthy, but ultimately the environment doesn’t end up like that for us to keep the balance. Naturally, those who pursued knowledge were confined in that system. Countless sleepless nights and the conviction to do and spend literally anything for our craft might have allowed us to go a little higher, but was it all alright? If it’s school, then maybe that was fine, but outside, I am seeing people who value other things over their work and they seem to be fine and living well. Seeing the differences made me realize how narrow-minded I have become. I too was only chasing the flame and nothing else. Not even knowing that if I try to get too close while chasing it, I might lose other precious things even my life.
        Life is a steady walk up to the stairs and it’s not about skipping two or three stairs to get to the roof as soon as possible, but to maintain a balance until the end and arriving there safe and sound with your loved ones next to you without anyone getting left behind. All of us are people before designers. Aren’t we forgetting about that too often? Loosen up. Back to basics. Just live.


Thoughts
As time passes by, there are thoughts that stay the same or completely change. When the things that one once thought were not it seemed to be, there is a great confusion of many different feelings. Some of them are found and changed by merely observing, but some other thoughts require someone to actually experience it to be altered. The thoughts of working at certain companies, the thoughts of pursuing the meaning of design, and the thoughts of oneself. These thoughts make us move and lead us to wherever we desire to be.
        Some designers try to pursue joy by outputting fast designs and risking meaning while other designers risk joy in pursuit of depth. Some designers try to protect the traditions while others try to break it. Wherever you are on these kind of spectrums, I think it’s important to have an objective point of view most of the time while letting those thoughts keep you passionate and pursue at least something. The most dangerous thing to do would be telling yourself that what you are pursuing at the moment is the ultimate truth.
        What kind of perspective can I have as a young designer looking up to so many of the great ones? The methodologies, ideas, and thoughts are powerful because when the similar thoughts and people are merged, it creates a belief–a conviction and they color my thoughts. Knowing that the nature of a belief of a group is based in subjectivity, they tend to view other subjectivity as inferior in pursuit of greater depths within their ideas and this kind of act may be designed to get rid of the unfit and keep the ideals to get closer to the truth or perfection whatever those may mean to them and to us. There are definitely pros to this, but there are unavoidable cons as well because people change and clock will never stop ticking.
        We are all like moths chasing flame. People see things and once they see the good in something, they desire it and pursue it. I think it’s good to be skeptical about everything all the time even to oneself. Too many times, we are blinded by what looked or felt good around us and not being able to or choose not to see what would be on the other side of the coin. Completely disregarding the good won’t be good, but just need to see the bad sides more often to dig a little bit to what is going on beneath it.


Cuts
Bright red flowers
Bloom on the flesh
Delicate sharp curves
Smile in the light

Droplets like berries
Shed from above
Seductive red river
I watch it flow





2018

Style
Swiss and Dutch. These are the two major styles that are widely used in the world and in my school too. Most of the students embrace Dutch style to their practice and I belong to the Swiss. The reason I prefer Swiss over Dutch may be influenced by my first encounter with abstract corporate identities since those come from the Swiss design philosophies and forms. The maniac-like level of adjusting proportion, composition, and refinement of form was the optimised aesthetic for a rational and strategy-heavy designer like myself. It was my comfort zone since the beginning.
        Everyone else around me seemed to have more fun with Dutch which was more gestural, experimental, expressive, and direct than Swiss. The complexities and organized chaos within the Dutch compositions were more interesting visually. They were different than trying to draw abstract and suggestive forms and logic from the strategy because they were more experiential and emotion-focused. Compared to Swiss where the strategy and logic seemed to be the functioning gears behind the forms, Dutch designs seemed to lead the design with the form first. There were logic behind those forms, but they didn’t take a lot of strategy surrounding the form into account as much as Swiss did.
        Here, style isn’t used for the sake of style, nor do I conceive one style better than the other. Designers just don’t pick one style and run with it for his or her entire career. There are times when one aesthetic is more appropriate over the other and it’s just a simple intuitive decision that designers make, but the standard of outstanding became someone who uses certain style well and they mostly use Dutch style. When I view their designs, forms reign over logic. The forms are so interesting and powerful that I could care less about the reason behind every single design decision behind the aesthetics. People see their designs and presentations and get excited with emotions and I am one of them too, but if I think about the functionality of such forms, most often times, they don’t communicate anything and the real problem is that these kind of designs are viewed as superior within my community. To catch up and produce similar results, other students deploy the same aesthetic. This became the cycle and from thinking about what design means, it became a parade of forms for the sake of pleasing other designers.
        There was a time for me when I had to deal with my identity as a designer because I would see the other kind of designs everywhere and the places where people gather around were where forms reigned. I asked myself multiple times if what I was doing right now was the right kind of design. Shouldn’t I be producing more designs that would awe people and please more designers because in the school, the audience is always a group of designers. There is never enough time to think about the shape of a form than the efficiency, purpose, meaning, and experience of the real audience. The professors certainly do not promote such practice of valuing form over logic, but they do not stop the students from using such process either. I could care less about this cycle, but it worries that this might affect other students to question their process and identities like it did for me. The learning environment should foster the growth of unique individualities and not the refinement of certain style within a community.


System
Imperialism is bound by colonization. It’s an act to expand an empire. Imperialism is also a system in which a cultural work is viewed dominant and other cultural works are viewed as inferior and marginal. It is also a system of organizing political or social class on the global stage. When the second World War ended, the rising demand for rebuilding global economy led to creating international corporate identities by using objective universal visual language. The countries that were marginalized from the corporate identity world struggled to create when they developed and came into power, because they were never in the position of creating. Instead, they resorted to imitation.
        We have to be aware that the system itself is a manifestation of colonization. In foundation design classes, we are taught Eurocentric design principles, such as Swiss typography. This is problematic, because every visual problem comes from different cultural and sociological backgrounds. However, the system teaches us how to solve those problems through the same dominant colonized design methods and ideas. Because we are constantly pushed by the dominant ideals from day one, we lose the opportunity to develop and create our own system and ideals. The result is that every project being executed robotically hindered our pathways to exploration and experimentation needed to provide appropriate solutions for each different design problem. In the end, most of the solutions are unified by the same idea, culture, and system.
        When we look back and examine our works, we don’t even think about the design decisions we’ve made after a while; we just accept it and think that they look ideal. Our styles, thinking, and seeing have been colonized by the system. In order to break away from the system that governs us, we must be courageous and explore beyond the boundaries with the same passion we had at the beginning.


Purpose
I had to present one of my works to a professor. It was a one-on-one session. I briefly described the company and its visions, then went on to the designs. After the presentation, he told me that the branding felt like it was done by an insider of that company. That day, I didn’t exactly know what he meant by that and didn’t bother to ask him because it was the last day of the class and I was eager to get out of there.
        Today, I realized what he meant. The class I presented my work for was a branding strategies class. There, we learned about branding without doing much designing. Strategies and charts like brand pyramid and positioning maps. I am certain that majority of us overlook those strategy processes when we start branding projects. In reality we all come up with our hand-picked five or six key attributes to start designing right away after doing research for a couple of weeks, but we are not told to focus on the very core idea of the whole process in our design classes.
        I am sure most of us had a problem developing a visual style to hit all the key attributes of that brand. “How can I make this brand feel warm and gentle, but loud and experimental at the same time?” If you asked this kind of question to yourself, you should not spend more hours and try to make it work. A brand pyramid is built from bottom-up, but design should start from top to bottom. Focusing on the key attributes to revolve the design around means that the process is starting from the middle of the pyramid and it’s going whoever knows where.
        The first thing to nail down is the brand essence. The brand essence is on the very top of the brand pyramid. It’s an idea. It can just be one word, or two, but not usually more than three words. This one idea defines everything. It nullifies the boundaries within the brand, unifying everything to a single idea. Design should be appropriate to the key attributes, but those key attributes ultimately come from the brand essence. By focusing on that singular idea, rather than multiple key attributes, the designs come out more simple and clear because the idea and processes are simple and clear.
        By adopting this method, the end product becomes meaningful because the rationale of every design decision respects that one idea. By designing for the brand essence, the brand gets a style that is highly meaningful and appropriate. This makes a branding project look and feel like it was done by an insider with care and heart. The process shouldn’t feel like going through a maze. A simple design comes from a simple idea and it penetrates the communication barriers to deliver the message with impact and clarity.


The Modernists
Ever since I started designing abstract symbols, I tried to find meaning behind the aesthetics of abstraction and simplicity. Whenever I start a branding project, I would look through books that contained logos designed during the Mid-Century modern movement. I looked up to those aesthetics and tried to imitate them often, and their aesthetics still take part in most of my projects. Today, I became to embrace their philosophy and mentality even more.
        In the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the vertical line meant heaven and the horizontal line symbolized the world. Human figures were used as grids to communicate ideas of power and law during the Enlightenment period. After the first World War, paintings showed pure lines and colors. When the artists and architects saw the devastated world after the war, they wanted to have a positive and constructive role in society. Seeing nationalism as one of the major factors behind the start of such conflicts, that saw subjectivity as a dangerous form of communication; thus, promoting a rational-objective form of communication that could be universal and pure with the language of form. The need to rebuild the world economy triggered multinational corporations to rise and they utilized the visual language developed by the Modernist to communicate their utopian ideals.
        From this kind of history, I found inspiration and it helped me develop my own vision. I think it’s good to put myself into a broader context. To a level where it becomes more philosophical than practical and more elusive than definite. I came across a video made by the UBS Bank. There, a university professor talked about the manner in which a corporation behaves within our society. When a corporation uses natural resources and pollution happens within the process of manufacturing demanded goods, there needs to be an effort to stop and restore the pollution to how it was like before, but if the corporation used a manufacturing process that didn’t result in pollution in the first place, then the cost and resources needed to clean up the mess wouldn’t even be required in the first place, thus making the cycle far more efficient.
        I wanted to use my craft for those kind of thinkers and corporations. For the people who make good deeds to the world, but to make those things possible, I believe in the resources and power of corporations. I think they are the ones who are capable of making significant impact to our world and it is our job as designers to make sure that they function better and don’t let them fall off to a wrong path. Corporations got bad reputations since a long time ago, but I want to be one of the many who strive to change that.


Literacy
In my opinion, writing is the most effective way of communication. It is writing that we can inspire and conspire. The most convenient way for designers and non-designers to communicate could be writing. There wouldn’t be such satisfaction than a person understanding a whole visual system just by reading a couple of lines of writing that describes it.
      Over the years, I felt the need of writing better not for the sake of writing, but to communicate and present my ideas and designs better in a very logical manner. The feeling of seeing my audience’s faces that suggested that they understood my intentions and ideas was so ensuring. The power of writing and speaking about ideas and bringing other people to the same page so we could have proper and engaging conversation seemed to be one of the most rewarding processes of design for me. To a very introverted person like myself, public speaking and talking about my thoughts and ideas in front of many people has been a challenge since I was little and I wanted to overcome the anxiety. I am not very good at debating and arguing either, but when I had time to write my ideas down and think about it, I could think deeper.

        I think designers are most effective when they are generating and working with their own content, but in most cases, we are asked to solve problems for other people and just thinking about the process of trying to understand the subject matter is already stressful, but by becoming familiar with writing and authorship, wouldn’t designers be more capable in understanding others and having empathy? The best designs don’t just come from good research and visual sensibilities. I think the best designs are the result of how deep a designer understands his or her content. It’s less about how attractive something looks, but how well something is communicated and writing fosters that.
        It’s a place where a designer can design with words. Words that not only establish logic to a form, but words that put emotion and empathy into a content.




2017

Brick
Would an architect think a brick is precious? I want to believe that they do, and I think only those who think a brick is precious are able to construct great architectures. This is a notion in which designers see and treat the things around them. This must transcend to other discplines as well and not just in visual design. An architect may value a single brick, a musician might value the quality of a violine string, and a writer might value certain words. Some of these things that catch our appreciation are more intagible than others, but in the end, they became valuable as we made ourselves more sensitive to our crafts.
        We learn to appreciate small things that are related to our craft. Since when did we value the bright colors of an inkjet printer? The tactility of different papers? The angle of a serif on a letter? Compared to these tangible aspects of design, we also learn the intagible side of our craft as well such as having empathy, setting design in certain ways for better user experiences, and etc. I started valuing many different things related to my craft that by the time I realized, there was so many bricks piled up together. They are building blocks required to make things that look, feel, and sounds designed. It’s good to appreciate the things around us and not only when we are designing, but when we are simply living too.


Thinker
During the early days of our design education, we develop an eye to see details in basic visual elements, such as form and color. These technical abilities are crucial, but there is another skill we develop as designers. From time to time and project to project, we are challenged to come up with creative and striking solutions to problems, so we develop an intuitive skill that identifies and recognizes an interesting idea faster than other people.
        As I climbed my school’s curriculum, I realized how fearless and intriguing the ideas in my portfolio have become in comparison to my earlier works. I thought this meant that designers are capable of generating compelling stories and ideas to clients better than anyone else if the end product is in the form of design. Some of these would have caused by the catalystic effect that occurs when a designer is creating his or her own content especially in school. Nonetheless, designers need to realize this and try to take control of everything as much as possible, but some of us seem to be only concerned about the end results. To some extent, I think the ability to simply think has been under-rated to young designers because that seems to be more interesting and stimulating area.
        Surely the ability to distill ideas into forms is the other half that make up a designer, but there needs to be a fine balance between the two. One should constantly think about constructing good concepts while never losing the creative spirit to explore forms. Neither one of them should overpower one another. When we put the two sides of design this way, then it makes sense that the thinking refers to logic while the form talks about emotion just like the two cerebral hemispheres in our brains. Designers need both just like how we can’t live without both of them.


Mark
© Hyek Im