Joonghyun Cho

11.05 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

Dogs, Graphic Designer

Seongsu-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul

Joonghyun Cho works at Naver, takes charge of the design category for its mobile app and doubles as a graphic designer for a design studio named ‘Dogs.’ Joined together with his college friends, they found their ever-first studio space three years ago in Seongsu-dong. And today he shares his second studio with his buddies after overhauling an old detached house with a small yard, spending his time without a boundary between work and play. At such special hideout gathered with friends, a likely place where we've all once dreamed of when we were little, we talked about what it is like to create a studio in Seoul.

Hyemin Kwon

Could you share us what triggered you to open up a studio in Seongsu-dong?

I went to Konkuk University. Being close to Seongsu-dong, projects related to developing the region was always included in one of the themes for our graduation thesis. I had experienced a branding project for the first time during college which was a project for a small café called ‘Zagmachi’ in Seongsu-dong. So that sparked my relationship with the neighborhood. I didn’t want to bind myself in college so I went searching for a nice place for me and my friends to work, which was a tiny, less than 25sqm space next to the Seoul Forest. It was five of is in total but actually, it was more like a place to hang out and drink.(laugh)

Is there a specific reason you moved?

We got kicked out. I don’t know if you call it a gentrification but really like on TV, the landlord one day told us to leave, telling us that his daughter was returning from the US and that she’ll be taking over our place to open up her own little café. Those were his exact words. So we hurriedly searched for a new place and finally found this house. First of all it was the cheapest and the best part was that it was a detached house. Also, this area has a great sense of energy.(laugh) This house used to belong to the legendary Go player Hunhyeon Joh

You share this place with five of your friends. How did you all gather here?

In the beginning it was simply me and my college friends. Same college, same department. Then later people from other college started to join and from then on we’ve had a wide range of people. We don’t have a specific standard or anything, it was just people passionate to do something that gradually got together.

Does it cost to join?

Of course it does. We can’t just offer our space free of charge. We go by headcount.(laugh)

So the more you take in, the better it gets, right?

Yes, the more the better.(laugh) We sometimes have friends over short term so there are times when we accommodate up to ten people. Then each of us only has to pay 100,000 won (US $80) a month.

This shared space with friends should spark a great synergy.

For example, if there’s a fashion designer friend, I would naturally start working on the package design or brand identity. And when I work on a brand identity, this other friend could assist by creating motion graphics for me. We help out each other pretty intensely. If there’s a physical distance it’s hard to keep a smooth communication going but for us, it’s just a tap on the shoulder, saying “hey could you do it this way?” so it’s pretty amazing to get things done right away.

This studio is a working space but also a hideout for you and your friends. What does this space mean to you?

People normally think it’s tough to create a place like this. When I get asked by others about my studio, I reply them; “This place is possible with only 100,000 won a month. Anyone can do it.” It seems hard but actually it’s not. In a way, we all have this feeling of a reward by facing the challenge. And as a matter of fact we’ve all come this far together so we feel like we can succeed in whatever we do. I wish our place could keep being a collaborative, win-win space. 

It’s not an easy journey to get to the point where you realize something hard was actually not a hard thing to do.

A lot of people think of it as an unrealistic story, like a fantasy, but it’s not. I wish more people realize that. I think bravery is key. And bringing up that bravery in you is also something less harder than you think.(laugh) My first studio cost 20 million won (us$18,000) for the deposit money and 600,000 won ($500) monthly and this current one is 110sqm, cost us half the deposit money and 1 million won ($800) monthly. I feel like I should go public so that it can encourage others to start. It’s not a life in fantasy once you solve the deposit payment. As for us, we each paid our share for the deposit. Young people like us should gather and play our role to change small things in the neighborhood, which can actually bring change to a neighborhood as a whole and eventually change Seoul.

Is there perhaps any interesting episode related to the location?

The first studio next to Seoul Forest was located on the first floor of a store building. That led to the curious passersby step inside to see what we were doing and eventually the rumors spread and everyone in the neighborhood became aware of who we were and what we did. And then we were able to design posters, signs and menus for places like the Bonanza Bakery, DdukDduck. People walking around the streets were our clients.(laugh) Regionally speaking, I think we had more fun working in those times. But if we were located in Hongdae for instance, it wouldn’t have been the same. Hongdae has long experienced the heat of local development. Seongsu-dong is still abundant with small, local merchants, passionate with their works in their own league, so I guess this air enabled them to easily take us in.

The six of you share only the space but not projects—is that correct?

Yes. I work under the design studio named ‘Dogs’ with my friend Giyoung Gwon.

Why did you name it ‘Dogs?’

We don’t anymore but we used to raise a cat in our studio. And that was simply the reason; we agreed to be dogs since we owned a cat.(laugh) It also means the ‘dogs’ from the word ‘paradox.’ We love things ironic. Also, both of our favorite filmmaker is Quentin Tarantino and you know, one of his best movies is <Reservoir Dogs> so it relates to that as well. We registered our studio on Instagram and if you search the location, it appears as a reservoir.(laugh) Our practice is mainly focused on branding. 

We were told you live in Gwangmyeong. Naver, the company you’re employed in, is located in Bundang. Is there actually enough time to spend in your studio?

I think when us Koreans dig into our own things, the concentration levels with the seniors in high school (senior high school students in Korea study intensely to prepare for the college entrance exams). We tend to devote our times entirely on our pursuit. And that applies to myself as well.(laugh) I get off work in Bundang around 7pm and arrive at the studio around 8, work till midnight and head home, arriving at 12:30am. And this pattern repeats. On weekends there’s not much to do so I usually stay at the studio most of the time.

Sounds like you work too much.

Actually, I don’t think there’s a certain boundary between work and play. And in a way design seems to tie in with play. It has this context of visual play but the work itself, if it’s something that gives you satisfaction along the way, then it can definitely be considered as a fun play. And for that I think I’m really blessed.(laugh)

RECOMMENDED PLACE

First lane of the Olympic Highway(Road) below the Hangang Railroad Bridge, Jamsil Stadium direction

Yeoui IC junction -> Noryang Bridge section

“Everytime I pass the Hangang Railroad Bridge, I look further above to view the vast sky.”

The most impressive spot in Seoul for designer Junghyeon Joh is the Olympic Road built in 1986, just below the Hangang Railroad Bridge. This is the point where he encounters everyday on the way to his studio. The view suddenly opens widely as the long rotation road joins the other road and Joh explains that the Han River that flows along the the 10 lane road and the green Hangang Railroad Bridge that crosses above your head creates a grand view. Where it enables you to acknowledge the overwhelming impression and the liveliness of Seoul, according to Joh, it makes you feel like you’re driving along the artery and passing through the atrium (Yeouido) of the city.