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In the Studio: Design as a Tool to Affect Change

Graphic designers Jinyong Choi and Derek Witucki use the discipline to challenge the status quo.

As we prepare for the 41st M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on March 29, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students!

“To me, art and design are not just about aesthetic, but also about changing our society in a better way,” says designer Jinyong Choi.

Inspired by this kind of big picture thinking, he is interested in making design accessible to more people. His recent projects, which are designed for the visually impaired and include a wall of brail in Korean and an “invisible” embossed book, challenges expectations by exploring a tactile sense of touch. 

Fellow graphic designer Derek Witucki is interested in the power of language and type. His recent projects revolve around mass media technologies, the political news arena and the way misinformation has been disseminated through social media. Armed with a background in journalism, Witucki brings a particular sensibility to his research that can be seen reflected in his multimedia and historial investigations.

“My personal love of learning and my alarmism about fake news led me to start making connections between the history and the contemporary context of mass media,” he says.

Learn more about Choi and Witucki in our Q&As below! 

Jinyong Choi, Graphic Design

What project are you currently working on?
I’ve combined Korean Braille with the Korean alphabet, which is called Hangul. I want to bridge the gap between people with and without sight.

If we look around, there is a lot of information with letters, but there is not enough with braille. What if we used the combined letterforms with braille and the alphabet so that blind people can access the same information as those with sight? A couple of designers did a typeface project combining Latin Alphabets, but no one has tried it with Hangul.

What inspired you to explore design for audiences with disabilities?
Two things that inspire me are social justice and expanding the medium of design. Graphic design uses visual communication to convey the meaning to the audience with intention. People who have sight experience and consume graphic design without intentional effort, but people with visual impairment can’t access visually designed information like people with sight. The system for the majority has excluded people with visual impairment.

I want to visualize the problem of marginalization in the visual world. I want to draw attention to the person who is blind and make a small crack in the system. For this reason, I reduced visual elements in my works and used tactile experiences instead. I used embosses papers to provide a tactile experience and made an “invisible” acrylic poster to promote Braille. By doing this, I explored different media and materials that I had never used, like clay carving tools and acrylic panels. It expanded my options to create something different in graphic design. 

What are you most looking forward to about the thesis exhibition?
I feel like it’s a festival for us, the result of three years of research. The exhibition is kind of the end of our work, but it is also the beginning of new work. It is a new starting point, and I feel like there’s never an end to being an artist. I hope that everyone can enjoy this ceremony for our new beginnings as artists and designers.

Derek Witucki, Graphic Design 

How does your journalism background influence your work?
With my current projects, I’m looking at the way new mass media technologies affect society.  I look at how we use Twitter today, which has a lot of problems because the lack of nuance forces people to speak in ways that have moral-emotional coding. People have a tendency to use loaded language with provocative words like “enemy,” hyperbole and virtue signaling on social media; I’m also researching the history of this kind of writing. For example, I have this block of text from the 1600s and even though this is almost incomprehensible for us today, this was short like Twitter for the time. The writing lacked nuance, caused scandals, was used for satire and criticism, and was written to say “I’m angry. Pay attention to me.” The issues with mass communication that I’m addressing aren’t new, but the old problems are manifesting in new ways. 

Where do you look for inspiration?
I tend to be influenced by manifestos and ideals and concepts, rather than specific pieces of work or specific designers. I think this comes out of my personal interest in education and history of the Renaissance Humanist movement. 

How have you grown as a designer in the UH master’s program?
I have been pushed to question the rules of editorial design and typography. Those rules come out of interactional style, and they have their reasons for legibility, but sometimes legibility isn’t always the most concise way of communicating. So I’ve learned to question those things by asking about the true intent of rules of thumb, and I’ve developed an interest in design as a critical asset for examining questions like that.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum on Friday, March 29 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 13.