"Be kind and be courageous."
CNN graphic designer Sam Kim isn't just relegated to chyron graphics. Instead, his work marries in-depth journalism with our need for beautiful aesthetics.
He takes us through his favorite projects (both print and digital), how he gets into his creative mindset, and the Disney quote that could inspire designers everywhere.
DesignRush: What inspired you to become a designer?
Sam Kim: I’ve always wanted to pursue my life in the arts; however, I didn’t have much knowledge about careers in the field and was plagued by my insecurities about a life in the arts. Would it be financially viable? Would I retain an interest in art throughout my career? Would I gain recognition for my work or slide into obscurity?
With my desire to create, I took several art classes in high school and then decided to attend an art school to explore the field further. I applied to many different schools and planned to choose a major based on the specialty of the school that I attended. Lucky for me, I ended up at School of Visual Arts and decided on a graphic design major, which led me to my role today.
DR: What are some projects of your own that you are particularly proud of?
SK: I’m deeply proud of my personal work called “I am What I am." This is an editorial design project that features the work of legendary photographer Nick Knight’s and the song from the Broadway musical “La Cage aux Folles.” The combination of overlapping images and song lyrics breaks the typical editorial layout “rules” and reflects flamboyance, a word that exemplifies who I am as a visual designer. As the lyric says, “I am what I am, I do what I do and I live how I live my life without questions.” I hope this project inspires both designers and non-designers alike to be proud of who they are and live their lives accordingly.
I’m also particularly proud of my work to support CNN brand studio Courageous’ campaign for the Warner Bros. film “Sully.” The unique VR project recently received gold recognition by the MMA Smarties Awards within the 360-degree video and AR/VR categories.
DR: Take us through your creative process.
SK: As soon as a project lands on my desk, I research similar projects that other designers have created and try to learn how they created their work. I take what I observe and use that in creating my own pieces. To people who may say I am copying someone’s work, my answer would be: “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” My art, like most art, uses everything I see as material for my own creations, and I run that through my own filter to create new designs. The work I learn from changes as I reinterpret it. It becomes my own. I am my own filter. I am what I am.
DR: Where do you find inspiration in your day-to-day life?
SK: My greatest and most resourceful inspiration is humans. I actually will go to the grocery store or shopping mall just to observe people. I’m not a big fan of crowded areas, but it’s so fascinating to watch people as they shop. You can learn so many different things by just observing them: Their outfit, voice, personality, race, gender, etc. Graphic design is visual communication. In other words, a graphic designer should be able to understand people and know how to communicate with them through visual work. If you don’t have an interest in other people, how can you create the work that communicates with them?
DR: What are some of your favorite design tools?
SK: It might not count as “design tool,” but my favorite tool (or object) is my desk phone. My job demands that I work with so many different people from different teams: Pre-sales, post-sales, production team, client’s agencies, etc. Of course, email and chat apps on the computer are communication tools, but they aren’t expressive enough. So, I always prefer to chat on the phone, which helps foster understanding and faster, more creative design work. I can’t imagine my working days without my work phone on my desk.
DR: What designers or brands speak to you?
SK: I like the Equinox brand identity and appreciate how they took visual direction to a higher level to elevate the brand’s luxury look and service. Their recent campaign, The LGBTQAlphabet, was very impressive. The costumes, sounds, visual effects, script, and overall performance and collaboration are all well-executed. The most notable aspect is how each letter is treated within the campaign concept and theme, and all letters are meaningful.
DR: You have the day off. What can we find you doing?
SK: You can find me in my bed playing with my iPad and iPhone all day, or out exploring - walking around the city, visiting museums and parks, or just spending time at a cafe while people watching.
DR: Is there anything that helps you beat designer’s block?
SK: Whenever I’m stuck, I always ask my design colleagues at work for help. They are my greatest resource, always see things differently and find ideas that I wasn’t able to discover, which helps complete my work more quickly and creatively.
DR: Any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you’d like to share with someone in the industry?
SK: “Be kind and be courageous.” This is the quote from Disney’s Cinderella that can apply to anyone, design industry or not. It is important to always be kind to others and be courageous, as well as have faith in what you want to do. No one is going to appreciate and recognize you until you appreciate your own dream.
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