In Seoul 서울
with Studio

Words by Nikolas Wrobel

For our very first interview on Nikolas Type, I am pleased to elevate your senses to the neighbourhood of "Seongsu-dong" 성수동 in the heart of Seoul 서울, and give you a in-depth look behind the curtains of an extraordinary graphic design practice. With three outstanding, fully enchanting graphic design works using Grand Slang and Cosi Times, they discovered hearts and souls, capturing global plaudits, mentiones, staff picks, publications, awards. But all of that, in an effortless, understated, non-pushy manner. Feet on the ground. Dignity. Respect. No showing off needed. For me, they are Romancer. Dreamer. Showing us, that it's the little things that make a difference. Their works are a soothing balsam for a spoiled, overdriven, fast paced eye. Light, rich, calm, beautiful, vibrant, inspiring, refreshing. Gentle creatives, dear reader, It is my pleasure, to introduce you to the very special, South Korean finest, STUDIO GOMIN.

Who is the team behind Studio Gomin?

Seo-young Ahn, Young-ha Lee.

We are a graphic designer duo based in Seoul.

What moved you to become Designers?

Seo-young: When I was a child, I wanted to be a comic book artist, influenced by the Japanese animation that was popular at the time, such as Sailor Moon and Cowboy Bebop. Looking back, I think I was more interested in the aesthetics of the covers, artwork, etc. than the content of the comics. Then, when I became a teenager, I really got into listening to various genres of music and naturally came across music videos and album covers with great artwork. That's when I started dreaming of creating album covers for creative musicians like Björk and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Young-ha: I was surprised to read Seo-young's answer, and I'm not much different. As a child, I loved comics and had a hobby of drawing characters and tracing the typography on the covers, and as a student, I was fascinated by album covers and book covers, so I naturally became interested in the profession of a designer.

Seo-young: We met at the same art college, majoring in graphic design. After graduating from school, I experienced several internships and design agency for about a year, while Young-ha was interested in studying art and psychology and was furthering his education. At some point, we both agreed on the idea of having our own voice, and we started a small studio in Young-ha's small room by designing posters with slogans as designers.

We can transcend the boundary that divides reality and the world of imagination.

I really loved our small talks so far, you’re full of positivity! Your beautiful work also transcends that: Looking at your work is wonderful for the soul, and makes one feel so satisfied. It is very dreamy, romantic, yet clear and very together. I think what makes your work stand out is that calm, structured, effortless beauty, but in a very unorthodox, unseen way. Your choices and design decision are very untypical — as an example: you are from South Korea and designed a Book about Norway, why do you went with our font Cosi Times for this? 

Seo-young: Thank you so much for the positive feedback on our design. We've been fans of 'Nikolas Type' for a long time. 'Cosi Times' was one of our favorite typefaces when we first saw it because of its flowing and elegant impression, and since then, we've always wanted to design with it if there is a content that fits the concept well.


'Times of Norway' is a book written by a Korean fashion brand director living in Norway that provides an in-depth look at the culture, gastronomy, and design of the country. Nordic design has a special place in Korea. The Nordic minimalist design and "hygge" have been influential in all areas of Korean design since the beginning of the trend. The Nordic lifestyle has also become a highly sophisticated image. The artist wanted to show the uniqueness of Nordic design with the glaciers of Norway and the grandeur of nature. We chose 'cosi times' as a typeface that could fulfill both the fluidity and geometry of nature. We wanted to convey a cultural image with a beautiful and unique font formulation.

We chose Cosi Times as a typeface that could fulfill both the fluidity and geometry of nature

I was wondering about the relative broad use of the latin alphabet in South Korea's landscape. How is Latin perceived in South Korea? How’s the situation of using Latin Letters vs. Hangul Glyphs, and for what occasion are people choosing Latin?

Seo-young: The Latin alphabet is used when you want to present text first as a visual impression. This is because Hangul, the native Korean language, is read by Koreans as soon as they recognize the letters. (Interestingly, Hangul is also often recognized by foreigners as a interesting form rather than a letter.)

Also, the Latin alphabet is used when aiming for content that can be used globally as well as domestically.

In your about page of your website, you’re writing about "the attitude that is necessary to make each day a celebration..." Can you share more about this? What is that Attitude, and how can we achieve this?

Seo-young: Actually, Our About page was written over a decade ago when we founded the studio gomin. We use it as a reminder of our beginnings. Back then, even if we didn't have a lot of design project requests, we would spend our days making slogan typography posters. It was a daily project of creating a poster with one sentence each day, a kind of typography training and a process of developing myself as a designer. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I did it so hard.(Haha) But I think it's a process that has helped us in our current life and work.

Can design and typography make us feel better and more happy as humans? 

Seo-young: Absolutely. We're always happy to see something well-designed. My favorite thing is to read a book that tells a great story in beautiful typeface. It makes us happy to know that the people who see our work enjoy it, and that we contribute a little to the beauty of the world we live in. I wouldn't say that 'beautiful is always right', but I do believe that it enriches the everyday life that people see and feel.

I wouldn't say that 'beautiful is always right', but I do believe that it enriches the everyday life that people see and feel.

Exactly Seo-young. „Beautiful“ doesn’t lies as much in the eye of the beholder like many do assume. Freely interpreted from German Philosopher and Thinker Immanuel Kant, beauty is more: a certain, "uninvolved pleasure" (german: "interessenloses wohlgefallen)" that everyone can relate to. And if we believe Biophysics Prof. Dr. Pawelzik, beauty is beneficial not only to humans, but also animals and artificial intelligences. In that sense, it is indeed contributing to make everyday a celebration, and the world a better place. And it's about the little things. The details. Those, I would ambassador at large, are the things that count. Because those are the things WE can change. Today. Right now.

But how you with Studio Gomin are approaching this quest, is beyond traditional. For instance, if we have a closer look to your recent work for Céline Sciamma.

We experience Grand Slang in a very unexpected, yet logical in itself, beautiful way. Can you explain more about this very special in use?

Seo-young: The Céline Sciamma Coming-Of-Age Trilogy Blu-ray Box Set is a Blu-ray collection of three coming-of-age films by filmmaker Céline Sciamma. It was officially released in South Korea for the first time in the world. Naissance des pieuvres(Water Lilies) (2007), Tomboy (2011), and Bande de filles (Girlhood) (2014). The protagonists of each movie go on a journey near and far to find their true 'self'. Inwardly, they feel a range of emotions and search for their true identity, and outwardly, they express the bonds, jealousies, and desires that arise from their relationships with the people around them. We wanted to create a mood of these unsettling, exciting, and beautiful times. Grand slang is a very beautiful typeface that we used for this task. We wanted to express imperfection by giving this perfect typeface a purposeful twist, so we transformed Grand slang into long, shadowy, tense typography to represent the complexities of growing up that we all experienced.

Your second Grand Slang, and third (!!!) Nikolas Type Font in use is for the book „차의 계절 The Seasons of Tea“. A tea guide, coming with a selection of Tea selected by the author Jeong Da-hyung 정다형. The move of bringing real tea backs to a book, that are uniquely designed for it, are making it a multisensory experience, rather than "just" a book. Personally speaking, this brings back a certain childhood memory in me, where magazines do come with a gimmick or little toy. Again: making everyday life a "little" celebration. Again, those "little" things truly make all the difference.

How sensitive and appreciative are the People towards Graphic Design in Seoul, and how is the creative scene in South Korea overall? 

Seo-young: People in Seoul are very sensitive to trends, and everyone tends to follow them quickly. Compared to when we first started our graphic design studio, the level of graphic design in Seoul has come a long way. Generation MZ in Korea wants and needs to have cool and new experiences, and that's why food, travel, and local culture have evolved so much in the three years since we couldn't go abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. I think people have tried to bring the sensibilities they've experienced while traveling around the world to Seoul, and the result is a city that offers a variety of experiences, with different scenery and shops in every alley. The content has also become rich and diverse. In that respect, I feel that graphic design have also been leveled upwards.

I feel that graphic design have also been leveled upwards

Where do you get your inspiration from? How important is your work environment and location for you? 

Seo-young: We get a lot of inspiration from walking around Seongsu-dong, where our studio is located. Seongsu-dong was originally an industrial area with handmade shoe factories, printing houses, and automobile factories, but in recent years it has become a trendsetting neighborhood with an influx of designers, startups, and hipster culture. Someone says similar to Brooklyn, New York, with its red brick buildings covered in murals and the gritty landscape of trains traveling on overpasses. Amidst the gritty factories, you'll find colorful and sophisticated cafes, concept stores, galleries, and the vast Seoul Forest. It's a must-visit if you want to see the latest and greatest in Seoul. We've had an office here for four years now. Both of us are homebodies, so rather than traveling and collecting inspiration, we tend to get ideas from different and interesting spots in the everyday landscape. In that sense, I think it's a big advantage to have a studio in a place where you can quickly absorb different cultures and set trends.

What do you love most about Seoul? What is your favorite food and your favorite place, that makes you truly feel happy and recharged. 

Seo-young: Our favorite thing about Seoul is how dynamic it is, and our least favorite thing is how fast it is. There's a very popular meme that the first phrase foreigners learn in Seoul is "ppalli-ppalli"(which means 'hurry' or 'quickly'). Thanks to the speed at which trends are adopted and changed, the coffee culture we love has also evolved remarkably. There are many local roastery cafes near the studio that serve quality coffee, such as 'mesh coffee', 'lowkey', and 'BBC'. We rely heavily on caffeine, so a good cup of coffee is an invaluable start to the day.

Seo-young Ahn and Young-ha Lee, it was always a pleasure talking to you! We can't wait to see more from you stunning work!