Graphic Design as a Tool to Understand the World with Hezin O

The works of Seoul-based graphic designer Hezin O, boasts an innovative eye and a level of undeniably sophisticated craftsmanship. Beginning with a simple love of comic books dating back well into her childhood, Hezin has now built a robust and impressive career as a graphic designer with numerous publications, graphic identities, and exhibited illustrations under her belt. Last year alone, Hezin won the award for Best Book Design from the Republic of Korea 2023 for the magazine l’idiot utile issue 0, initiated by Hubert Crabières, at the Seoul International Book Fair. She was also one of the handful of designers selected to become a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) in 2023, one of two hailing from South Korea.

It’s been some time since her graduation from Hongik University in 2010, majoring in Visual Communication Design. Naturally, over the years, her attitude towards graphic design in general has shifted. “At first, I felt helpless because I thought graphic design was just about making content look nice,” Hezin began, “but looking back now, that was a thought born out of complete ignorance. Now graphic design is my livelihood and a tool to understand the world. Since the topic or content I cover is different each time, I try to do a lot of research when I work, so I always learn a lot through the process and it's enjoyable.” She has since enrolled and graduated from the Visual Communication Design MA program at University of Seoul in 2020.

Her love of books and comics lives on as evidenced by the snapshot of her studio seen on her website, shelves brimming with volumes and volumes of books. They also still play a part in influencing her work as a designer. “I really like reading books. When working on a project, I try to do a variety of research related to the content, and because graphic design deals with different content every time, it is very attractive because it is a job that can be done while learning various aspects of society.” 

In 2014, four years following her undergraduate graduation, Hezin went on to establish her graphic design studio OYE. With this year marking a decade since its establishment, OYE remains a solo project for Hezin. “The size of the office remains the same, but the nature of the project and the relationships surrounding the work have grown significantly,” she remarked. Like all graphic design studios, Hezin deliberated whether or not to expand both the OYE team and the scale of the work taken on. However, she feels that working individually on smaller scale projects suits her best as this gives her more flexibility—allowing her to freely join collectives and dictate where, when, and how she works. “In some ways, it feels more like an artist's activity than a studio, in that most of the work I do is a project that primarily relies on my personal interpretation. Nowadays, most clients know and trust my work and want to entrust it to me. Additionally, as my career progresses, I'm not limited to simply making something, but there are also increasing opportunities to exchange ideas and learn together through exhibitions, talks, workshops, and lectures,” she further elaborates.


Hezin is constantly pushing her work, always striving to bring something new to the table. “Even if it is a small part, there is always a challenge [in each project] because I have a strong tendency to want to implement methods or ideas that have not been tried before as much as possible. But, I think that’s why I can grow and learn little by little.” This is plain to see any of her projects. One such example can be seen in her design for the Korean translation of Requiem for a Manual Typewriter by film director Jonas Mekas. “This book is about Jonas Mekas writing on a typewriter until he runs out of paper after discovering a bundle of paper rolling around the house. When I first started designing this book, my immediate thought was that I never wanted to use a typewriter font. Because it was the easiest method, I wanted to reveal the properties of the typewriter within the structure of the book in a more metaphorical and conceptual way,” Hezin explained. 

She had laid out the content to reveal a growing amount of contained text from the bottom of the page as you gradually leaf through the book, mimicking the visual experience of reading the text emerging as one continues to type away on a typewriter. “This seemed like a way to reveal the temporality of this writing, which is to write until one roll of paper is used up. Therefore, I came up with a structure in which each line of text increases as the page is turned, and I planned to place the text only on the right page so that the increase in text lines as the paper is turned can be seen more clearly. Like this, I tend to not only understand graphic design in terms of its visible form, but I like to proceed critically with a holistic perspective such as structure, form, selection, method, and attitude,” Hezin elaborated

Hezin has also worked extensively with the Korean Society of Typography. The organization changes executive hands every two years and from the beginning of 2022 up until the end of 2023, Hezin along with fellow designer Shin Dokho worked as part of their international exchange team. Hezin recalled, “At that time, we came up with the idea of covering various issues through people with connections, focusing on Korean time. So, we covered issues such as stories of Korean designers working abroad, or conversely, cases of foreign designers working in Korea, a tour of the Hallyu: The Korean Wave exhibition held at the V&A in the UK, and the Bangkok Art Book Fair. Designer Shin Dokho and I worked together on planning, and a total of six issues were produced. Each of us took turns designing, and I also designed issues 2, 4, and 6.”

While Hezin is not a type designer per se, she has masterfully utilized typographic treatments in her work on numerous occasions. Of course, Hangul, or the Korean alphabet, has typographic challenges and requirements that differ from the Latin alphabet. When asked about the things particular to working with Hangul, Hezin elaborated, “This is a very minor story, but since Hangul is a square letter, when mixed with English, it tends to look slightly larger than the Latin alphabet. Also, even if the font size is the same, if the same line spacing is applied, the Latin alphabet appears to have more space, so details are often adjusted differently when laying out Korean and English versions. Also, in general, we only apply Hangul fonts to Hangul and Latin fonts to both Latin alphabets and numbers. In other words, even within one paragraph, various fonts are combined and typeset. There are many interesting points in this, so sometimes graphic ideas that utilize this environment are extracted on purpose.” 

One such example of Hezin using this to her advantage is her design for the Tic-Tock exhibition in 2019. She explained, “This exhibition was an exhibition from the perspective of a disease that causes unexpected pain in daily life. In order to show the unexpected experience of chronic disease by contrasting it with the ordinary experience, I used SM shinshin myeongjo (SM 신신명조) in Hangul to make it easy to read, and then applied Beretta Sans to all letters except Hangul to intentionally disrupt readability.”

After 14 years in the industry, Hezin has bore witness to the South Korean design landscape greatly transforming and evolving. Hezin first forayed into her professional career in 2010 following a period in the late 2000s where many Korean design practitioners who had been studying abroad began returning to the country. As such, she recalls that although she had studied design in South Korea, she found herself coming across many influences from overseas. “And above all,” Hezin recalled, “the introduction of the first smartphone in 2007, Facebook, and Instagram have had a great influence on the acquisition of information. It is now possible even for designers who have just graduated to promote themselves through social networks, and companies do not necessarily entrust work to large agencies. Collaboration and ways of working have become more diverse.” Keeping this in mind, Hezin also finds it somewhat redundant to discuss design based on national borders with social media enabling anyone and everyone to share their creative ventures globally. “This is because I believe that the references in all works are being mixed together without borders. So it feels a bit difficult to say that Korean design is different from other places,” Hezin opined.

While Hezin has mainly engaged with print-based work thus far, she’s keen to try working with objects as her medium instead as well as possibly working on larger-scale projects. “And I'm studying design history these days. I believe that everything in the present was created under the influence of the past,” she mulled. “Therefore, if we don't know history, there is a high risk of ignorant admiration, and at the same time, I feel that we need to know the past in order to think about the future.”

About the Author

Kireina Masri

Kireina Masri has had her nose stuck in a book since she could remember. Majoring in Illustration, she now writes, in both English and Indonesian, of all things visual—pouring her love of the arts into the written word. She aspires to be her neighborhood's quirky cat lady in her later years.