He made his first font in his age thirteen. Though it was unintended, letters have been always with his life naturally. So he became a font designer. Designing font is like a process of life. You agonize and give up as you pass certain points step by step, but you choose and you take responsibility. There is no perfection in font design. Released fonts with their own names are also still in the process of growing and polishing. We met designer Yoon Min-gu, who practice both font and graphic design.
How have you been lately?
After working as a researcher three years ago at AG Typography Institute, which is run by famous graphic designer Ahn Sang-soo, I've been working as a font designer cum researcher at Ahn Graphics. The company encourages not only researching works but also my personal font design study and works so this is the optimal workplace for me (laughs). Since it is researching institute, we are all used to study and learn very much. Coworkers are all researchers so I often realize that I still have got many things to learn. Beside the company works, I also participate as a planner with several friends at 17717, art space located in Seongbuk-dong.
By what chance did you get to feel attracted to font?
It was from mid-2001 to early 2002 when I first made font. Making bitmap web font was a sort of fad then. People made their own fonts and distributed them. I just came across a font design program and made a set of web font for fun. Which was named 'Barun Geulkol.' Makes me very embarrassed when I see it now: crude and full of flaws (laughs). I never thought of myself doing font design then. It was just for fun. I didn't know many things like converting web fonts so I had to ask many experts to tell me how to do those things. Further I learnt, bigger the sense of accomplishment.
In 2002… impressive. So it became kind of natural?
I wanted to be a web designer but as teenagers often do, my dream kept changing and then I went to art school by chance. I attended a character design class when I was a freshman but I became serious about Hangeul and font design when I was a junior. I did my class assignment with Latin alphabet design and I couldn't answer when the professor asked why I did the English font design. I didn't have any specific reason to design an English font. I was very shocked and embarrassed that I didn't have reason for my choice. After that, I always did my assignment with Hangeul. It became clear to me that designing a Hangeul font is very difficult. My personal study about why it is difficult to design a Hangeul font even though I am Korean and why the good Hangeul fonts are scarce has led me this far. Like anyone else, I began to see good things which Hangeul has but other characters don't as my study goes deeper.
▶ [Left] Parachute 5th, 2013 [Right] Glorious Silvery Moon, 2014
▶ Hello, Christmas, 2014
▶[Left] Light-Archive-talk. 2013 [Right] Goransal(a Lonely Bird), 2015
What would be your strong points?
It's rather the matter of attitude than strong points, I guess. Attitude towards work. Doing my best when it seems to be achievable. I don't even begin when it doesn't look like my thing. There may be someone who can do everything good but I'm not one. I invest my time and effort intensively on what I can do well, what I've been doing in other words. I think I know very well what I can do well and what I can't. I was lucky to find what I want to do sooner than others. My motto is 'will do if it does.' I won't if it doesn't. In a good way, I have a distinct taste. In a bad way, I would be irresponsible. It's all relative anyway (laughs).
What is the charm of typography?
Probably it would be that it uses characters as raw material. Making things with characters comes very attractive to me. It's a trite metaphor but it's just like a good cooking made of good ingredients. If the characters are good themselves, it could be a good work without specific ornaments. Other thing would be quenching the lack of diversity of fonts. 'Why isn't there a font of this feeling? Gonna make it and use it if there isn't.' This is one of the charms lettering and font design have.
How is it to do font design and graphic design both?
I think it is every font designers' issue—font design deals with very small details. Designer has to consider where a dot in a serif font is to be placed. On the other hand, graphic design requires the eyes that can see the forest rather than a tree: how far you should expand your field of view. A sort of spectrum within which I can move. So I try hard not to fix my view onto a single spot. I just want to keep up with my graphic design works, which requires bigger field of view, along with my font design works which need narrowing down, in order to see the font's usage, characteristic, and expression at the same time.
Elegance was the first of the impressions I got watching your works.
I heard before that my works are dry even though I don't think so (laughs). Maybe that I don't use much colors could be one of the reason. To tell the truth, I'm not good at using colors (laughs). I often work with two-tone colors. It came into my attention if there are more colors and forms in a work, the power of the character itself, which is the most important thing, gets week. A truly completed font needs nothing else, I think. It's what I want to do. My design has lots of flaws but I don't what to cover them with some ornaments. I'd like to present it as raw—then people would say what is good is good and bad is bad. It's also a feedback for me.
▶ if your tears dry, buying a flowerpot, 2015
▶ [Left] 공룡체험장치 Dinosaurs Experimental Device, 2014 [Right] Dinosaurs Poster, 2012
▶ S&C NewYork(Found in Translation), 2014
What do you like the most among your recent works?
Yoonseul font which I recently made. At first I just did the lettering of 10 characters for an exhibition but later began to make it a full font set. While lettering is tilted in favor of the beauty of each characters, a full font set cares about balance among the whole characters. Before I sat on building a full set, I put everything I thought cool into the letters but after I began to work on a full set, there were a lot to give up for the value of the font as a full font set. I had to think about what to choose and what to give up and to trim out. It gave me a feeling that I truly worked on a 'font.'
What's the reason you named the font Yoonseul?
It's a Korean word which means a small ripple on the river or the sea when it glares with sunshine. I want to name my child after it someday. Someone told me why I already put the name, which is my favorite, in case that I later make a real masterpiece. This is the first font which gave me a meaning so I thought it's okay. It's a kind of resolution. And I was also afraid someone might use it before I do (laughs).
What's the most important thing in making a font?
Attitude, I guess. It could be applied to any other territory of design. Revealing my attitude. You can see everything about the designer when you see the font: his character, his thoughts, attitude, and disposition. It's a great thing that one's design philosophy could be manifested in a form that is font. It's a happiness for a designer to have something like that. I want my font to reflect my feeling. Though I still don't know well what it is. Maybe something rigid and dry (laughs)? Same with a Latin alphabet font. Some fonts give us a feeling of who the designer is. Great fonts keep standing even after the designer went away. I want to make a long-lasting font which reflects the life of the designer. That's the reason why I keep studying now.
▶ Illustration of Yoonseul font
▶ Work process of Yoonseul font