Jaemin Lee, graphic designer and founder of studio fnt, Seoul.

Hello Jaemin Lee, how are you?

Good. A little busy. Very nice meeting you.

Can you introduce yourself?

I established studio fnt, a graphic design studio, in 2006. These days, my partners and I are working on variety of projects such as printed matters, brand identity and digital media designs among many. At other times, I teach at Seoul National University and University of Seoul, and I am a full-time dad of two beautiful cats.

Where does your interest in graphic design come from?

Strolling around town one day, I saw this giant text signage which I forgot what it said but it looked very picturesque to me than text. I did not read it but admired its visual aesthetics for the first time. Since that incident, I’ve always kept an interest in typography, especially in how it can be portrayed as an indefinite image between text and visual art. What the final imagery conveys can be more vague or more explicit depending how letters are visualized. As a medium to communicate a meaning, I believe that typography has a unique charm that other graphic elements don’t, and this is what keeps me interested in my specialty.

How did you come to start up your studio?

This is a question I often receive from people who are curious to why I left a stable office job and started my own studio. I do not believe that stable jobs exist. I believe that it is impossible to control stability or income rate solely by our will. What we can control is merely a personal attitude or a standpoint. From my experiences of working in a few different companies that varied in size, I learnt that I am better suited to working in smaller studios that tend to have less risk and more flexibility than larger studios that usually have a good system but need consuming work to make it work.

Can you tell us more about your work for the Record & CD Fair in Seoul you designed several times?

Record & CD Fair in Seoul is the first domestic sale event to embody record labels, musicians and music fans. Our project was to art direct the visual language and graphics of the entire event, including teaser and main posters, banners, postcards, fliers, web banners, leaflets, signage, etc.

In United States, as the biggest market in the music industry, vinyl records are still being produced and its market is still growing. Despite the decrease of sales growth in the general music industry, LP market growth continues to increase. Empowered by this situation, three underground record labels united to bring a new wave in the domestic music market. The main design challenge was to appeal the new audience while making old fans happy. While maintaining the retro look of the vinyl records, the design output has to be contemporary enough to attract the young audience. As Korean music industry is having hard time, even considered as being collapsed, another challenge was to manage the project with the extremely low budget.

The event brings together many different vendors, and so it was important that the main graphics were strong enough to bring together the individual labels. Without much twist, we simply used a solid black color of vinyl record as a graphic motif. It also helped us to minimize the cost of production (by using just one black color for printing), eventually killing two birds with one stone.

The 5th Record & CD Fair in Seoul that happened in June ended up a success. I have been involved in designing the identity and art directing the event since the opening of the Record & CD Fair in Seoul. This project received a 2015 CORE77 Design Awards in Communication Design, and the yearly progression of the event is resulting in positive public reaction.

You designed several album covers too. Designing for the music industry is a big part of your work?

I cannot say that designing for the music industry is a big part of my work, in terms of time I spend in creating them and income they bring to our studio. However, these types of designs mean a lot to me. When I was a child, my house held a big collection of famous heavy metal LP records of that time, such as KISS, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I used to sit anxiously in a dark room surrounded by the collection, admiring the scary but attractive cover designs as though it was a prohibited area for me to be in. As I grew older, my affection towards these covers grew in awe of their first impressions. Since college, I started listening to Jazz, appreciating Blue Note and ECM label covers. Album cover designs aren’t my must-do projects, but they are the most desirable ones to do.

Do you have a favorite typeface?

I wouldn’t call them favorites but there are some I thought were interesting. These are what come to my mind for now:
– Radim Pesko’s Boymans typeface, which carries a great deal of expressions and has so much room for endless expansion.
– NORM’s Normetica typeface, which I find interesting to discover the little humors in such restricted and rigid looking type.
– Min Oh’s Girl typeface family, how the different emphasis (italics, bold, etc.) vary so much from one another and daringly ignore the regular typeface rules.

A designer that you admire?

There are too many designers in the world whom I admire, from the young ones to the living legends. Right now, that I have just answered questions on album cover design and Record & CD Fair in Seoul, Hipgnosis comes to mind. All of the powerful images that struck my imagination in my youth were all works of Hipgnosis.

Which books are on your bedside table?

The Cat That Lived a Million Times by Yoko Sano.

The last word…

Thank you for featuring me. Summer is coming to an end in Seoul, it’s still hot but autumn is surely on its way. Enjoy the falling leaves.

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>   leejaemin.net

>   studiofnt.com

Interview: Dennis Moya & Tiffany Baehler — 09.15

Images ©Jaemin Lee.

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