We sat down to interview Kihwan Oh, a former MetaDesigner and award-winning graphic artist whose work has influenced the design industry. This is the story of a man who started as an intern and rose to become CEO and Creative Director of one of Korea’s most successful brand creation firms.
We were first introduced to Kihwan back in 2003 when he participated in a year-long international work exchange program. From his humble beginnings as an intern at Infinite’s Korea office, he spent 17 years working his way up the ladder, leading dozens of designers and winning countless awards along the way. He looks at his company and team with fondness, and holds deep attachment to his work. We were privileged to speak to him in our office before he jetted back to Korea.
During your time at MetaDesign, you were responsible for developing the design strategy and packaging for Adobe Creative Suite, which would later become one of the highest selling software packages in the United States. What was your inspiration?
KO: I always had dreams of working abroad and being part of global brand agency, and MetaDesign was part of that dream. My work for Adobe was inspired by nature and all of its creations – everything from the earth and the ground, to butterflies to shells in the ocean. I extended this as a metaphor for the creative process.
In the case of Photoshop CS, my concept was to remove the “eye” image. I proposed images of flowers, leaves and trees which are to be seen on earth as a concept of “Creation”. For Illustrator CS, my inspiration was Venus by Boticcelli, a painter in Renaissance period in Italy. I used the concept “Ocean” for this direction, and started to take use of Venus’s face, with feathers symbolizing two angel wings, and various clams symbolizing the ocean and other fish. For InDesign CS I thought the existing image of a butterfly worked well with the concept of “Sky”. The last one was GoLive CS. This is a software related to Internet which I presumed as mysterious, I so I developed the concept “Universe” and used a galaxy, stars and planets to conceptualize it.
Infinite recently won a Red Dot award for its work for the Modern Museum of Contemporary Art. Congratulations.
KO: Thank you, this was a very big project for us. MMCA represents Korea’s modern art collection. We competed against a lot of firms for this project and are honored that we won. We approached it as a national project – we believe MMCA can compete globally against the most renown museums like Tate and the Louvre. The pride we feel for this project was weaved into the new logo identity and visual system.
What are the differences working in Korea vs. North America?
KO: The United States is a culture focused on work. You come to work at 9am, say hello to your colleagues, work through lunch and maybe eat a salad at your desk, and go home at 6pm. In Korea, we take a lot more breaks. We go out together, get coffee. A few hours later, we’ll go out to lunch together. We are not glued to our seats. Although, it is traditional not to leave work until your boss leaves.
What trends do you see in branding and design?
KO: In the past, a brand was created and sold to the consumer. Now, brands are dictated by the consumer experience and the genuine messaging of the company. With the invention of the Smartphone, feedback is immediate. People get instant gratification. So brands need to be genuine and trustworthy.
What’s big in Korea is service design – a brand experience that involves all five senses. It involves what consumers can see visually, what they hear, what they touch, what they smell, etc – its all part of the brand experience. Hyundai provides great service design, and is considered a best practice.
Interview by Molly Davis, Communication Strategist at MetaDesign San Francisco.