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NEA Taps Alum to Promote Art Works


At first glance, this new identity, which Jeong-Hoon Kim MFA 08 GD designed for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Art Works campaign, is remarkably simple: the three equilateral triangles in primary colors delineate the letters A and W, and the name of the new program is spelled out below in black. However, there’s more to the design than initially meets the eye. Look at the triangles a little longer, and they become the negative space defined by an A and a W – the letters become visible in the white space surrounding the triangles.

The clever illusion is no accident, notes Kim, principal of Why Not Smile, a small design studio in New York City. In fact, his graphic design solutions for a wide range of clients have proven to be as visually compelling as they are conceptually strong. “I want our studio to… create designs that ‘think and take action’ by placing importance on the process as much as the outcome,” he explains.

It was this emphasis on careful planning, as well as the conceptual quality of the design itself, that made Kim’s proposal stand out above the 600-plus designers who competed for the NEA commission. The identity is now being widely used to help the national arts organization underscore the value of art and artists in the economy.

Since the NEA’s request for proposals was primarily aimed at large design firms, Kim says he didn’t actually expect to win the competition. But with nothing to lose, he decided to submit a “bold and advanced design” in hopes that it would get noticed. He credits his success, in part, to a voracious visual curiosity, his habit of reading all sorts of materials and his need to document things visually.

“Creativity involves putting together various pieces, rather than creating something from scratch,” Kim notes. In fact, he points to Sol Lewitt’s artwork Isometric Figure with Bars of Color as among the inspirations behind the Art Works identity. It’s this considered approach – combined with Kim’s willingness to take risks – that is quickly establishing Why Not Smile as a studio to watch.

NEA announces Art Works program and new identity design
Why Not Smile
Korea Institute of Design’s interview with Hoon Kim 
NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman’s Postcard from Rhode Island


tags: alumni, governmental, Graphic Design, local/global, nonprofits

The façade of the Chace Center, a new multipurpose hub that opened
in 2008, offers an interesting contrast to the historic campus
buildings that surround it.