Design Couples: Min and Sulki Choi

Posted inDesigner Interviews
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By: Caitlin Dover | May 31, 2010

How did you meet?

Sulki: Min came to Yale in 2000, and I did a year after him. When I was doing my phone interview as part of the application process, Min was one of the people on the other side. That was the first time we spoke.

Where do you both live and work now?

Sulki: It’s more complicated than it needs to be. I teach full-time at Kaywon School of Art and Design, which is located in Uiwang, a small city in the southwest of Seoul. Min also teaches full-time at the University of Seoul. I teach two or three days per week, so does Min. We have our studio in the old city center of Seoul. And we live in Yongin, another city approximately 40 km south of Seoul. Each point is almost unreachable from another by public transport, taking up to two and a half hours, so we find ourselves driving all the time.

How much work do you do together?

Min: We do most of our design work together, but the degree and nature of collaboration can be different for each project. For larger projects we share work, but usually either one of us would take up the responsibility to manage a project, depending on schedule, the nature of the project, or simply who receives the initial phone call. In any case, we always discuss the ideas and concepts before we start actually making stuff, and once a concrete idea is formulated, it doesn’t matter much who takes up the control in realizing it. We also do a lot of collaborative work with the artists Sasa [44] and MeeNa Park.

What’s your favorite thing that you’ve done or created together?

Min: I am particularly proud of the books we made together as Specter Press since 2006. We always wanted to publish, partly because we wanted to directly contribute to the content and the editing of publications. At first we weren’t sure whether starting up a small-scale publishing imprint was a good idea, because it would most certainly mean financial problems. But we have managed to survive, producing books that we like.

Sulki: I especially like the invitation/poster for the Yale Graphic Design MFA Thesis Show 2002, because it was the first project we collaborated on. I think Min’s obsession with invisibility and my own diagrammatic approaches are nicely fused in the piece.

How do you think you each influence each other’s practice?

Min: I don’t think there are much aesthetic differences between us. What I feel good about is usually what Sulki feels good about, too. But there are some differences in how one develops work. I tend to become really immersed in my work, driving things to this or that direction, forgetting about where the work started and where it’s meant to go. And I’ll lose my sense of balance and judgment. Then Sulki will interfere, by saying “Wait! Just stop there and think about where you’re going.” Many times she makes judgments for me, and they always prove right.

Sulki: Min is more obsessed with details, and I tend to see bigger pictures. Sometimes Min works like an editor: he reads the Chicago Manual of Style just for fun! He’s very much a word person, while I am more visually oriented. But perhaps this characterization is somewhat exaggerated, because I think the difference between us and other designers may be much bigger than the ones between us.

How are your working lives and home lives integrated?

Sulki: We have a studio in Seoul, which we share with three other independent designers. But we also work at home, in a cafe, or in a car. So there isn’t such a clear division between our work and our lives. Maybe it’s not such a good thing after all, but that’s the arrangement we made and have managed without much trouble so far.

How do you approach your children’s connection to design and the visual arts?

Sulki: We have a daughter, Edam, and she’s still too young to make any meaningful connection to design and the visual arts. In any case, I don’t think she particularly appreciates our design! She listens to the music that I listen to, so maybe she’ll grow up as a musician. Her favorite songs include David Bowie’s “Changes” and Dirty Projectors’ ”Stillness Is the Move.”

What’s the best thing about being a couple working in design?

Min: Since we work together, we don’t have to feel sorry for working too much.

Sulki: Agreed.

Next: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast

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