Graphic designer Phillip Kim uses his work to explore everything from history to modern-day loneliness

How much can really change in the space of two years? Well, for starters – and evidently shown through the work of Korean graphic designer Phillip Kim – two years is more than enough time to evolve, both professionally and on a more personal level. “Well, 2019 was the year that brought a lot of changes to me as a designer,” he tells us, looking back at the moment we last spoke. “While working at different agencies and studios, I gained a lot of experience that made me contemplate myself, Phillip – a designer, a person.”

Phillip started to reevaluate his ethos, philosophy and methodology through a conscious effort to take on more personal projects. “I had a lot of conversations with people outside the graphic design industry. From those conversations, I learned a lot of things that I hadn’t been aware of,” he says. With Covid-19 only making the past two years more self-evaluative and, of course, difficult, Phillip began contemplating what it means to be a designer in today’s world. Once he understood “what he had to do”, he says, that’s when he started to establish his own label named Smile Flower, launched with his friend and based between Korea and the US. Additionally, he also holds the title of designer at Wieden+Kennedy, and freelances for various clients in New York. “Through Smile Flower and other experiences, I want to expand the boundary of graphic design and eventually establish a design ideology that is crucial to the present.”

Before, Phillip’s work was driven mostly by the experimental intersection found between fashion and philosophy. Continuing to play with boundaries and the limits of type and form, Phillip’s recent portfolio is still wildly exploratory. But rather than defining his own style through words or categories, he prefers to look at it through a fluid and spontaneous lens. “Visual solutions come out from the process. A process has to be rational and I work towards that. All the subjective matters should be translated and visually objective,” he says. For instance, the most recent project he’s embarked on is a collaboration with the Nike store in New York City. Briefed to centre the work on the keywords “New York” and “fast”, Phillip applied his usual intuitive methodology with the bustling atmosphere of the city, consequently producing a bespoke and highly illustrative identity for the store.

“People felt New York is a fast-paced city with a high leave of energy, but also a place where there is a lot of loneliness, emptiness and despair,” he explains. “Given these contrasting emotions, people have a love-hate relationship with the city. You can see the mixed emotions of people in the streets of New York, so I wanted to convey this phenomenon through my interpretations using custom typography and shapes.”

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