A conversation with Don Ryun Chang

Don Ryun Chang was educated at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the Parsons School of Design, and received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. He currently holds the role of Dean of the Graduate School of Advertising at Hongik University in Seoul, Korea, where he also heads the Brand Media Evolution Lab. Chang is the former CEO of Interbrand Korea and currently advises KT&G and Eeung in Korea. He is the current Chief Event Director for the 2015 International Design Alliance Congress, to be held in Gwangju Korea. Don travels the globe to share his wisdom and experience on branding and advertising by lecturing on a wide variety of topics affecting our industry. We had the pleasure of speaking with him after his Fall 2014 lecture at California Institute of the Arts. 

Who has influenced you most as a designer?

I went to Cal Arts for my MFA program and actually on Saturday there was this great talk at MOCA. It was very cool because it talked about a great period from 1936 to 1986 when design was in the formative stage in LA until the great peak right before and after the Olympics. So it had Lou Danziger and April Greiman and Richard Taylor and John Van Hamersveld. So three of the people I knew personally. Particularly Lou Danziger who was my mentor at Cal Arts. He taught me quite a lot about pragmatism and how to really sort of define one great idea. And another person that had a very important influence on me was Neil Fujita. He taught at Parsons. He passed away, but he’s well known for creating the “God Father” logo and “The Today Show” logo. If you look at Google or Wikipedia, you can see his work. He’s a very nonchalant person. But he had kind of a very Yoda-like quality. His greatest advice to me was everyday when you come to school, use a different method of transportation. Walk. Take the Bus. Ride a Bicycle. Because it’s all about seeing things from different perspectives.

What’s one of your favorite typefaces?

I’ve always liked Universe Italic. Regular. Because it has that kind of aesthetic of modernism. But I also sometimes enjoy Bodoni. When I want a more classic feel.

If you could transport yourself into the future, what brand would you eventually covet having in your portfolio?

I almost had the opportunity to work with Korean Air. Ten years ago I participated in a pitch and we almost got it. But unfortunately we did not. But I think that’s the only thing that my portfolio is missing, a transportation identity. Sort of on the scale of an airline. With my recent research in terms of trans-branding, my whole theory is that the logo is overrated now. It’s not about the logo, but it’s all about how to create a holistic branding culture. Creating a unique style. And I see a day when the traditional expression of advertising and branding will converge. It has already with many companies. It’s not about creating a catalogue or creating a logo or creating a sign. But it’s actually about creating a philosophy within a corporate culture of how to use that style. Because in the end, the normal person is actually feeling a particular touchpoint, not only the sign, but his impression is created through the whole experience.

What would you consider the way in which agencies are going to have to evolve? How do you think agencies have to evolve to meet the demands?

 I read an article about San Francisco where a lot of the designers are now going to work for tech companies. That trend is already happening in Asia. A lot of the good designers are working within companies rather than outside. In-house. So “In-house” is not such a dirty word anymore. It’s an option. And I think emerging designers have to keep their eyes open in terms of what is the best opportunity to work where they can participate in a scale that fits their capabilities. 

Is there anything else that you feel would be important to share with our members?

We have a very important design conference that’s happening in Gongju, Korea in October, and I’m the organizing chair. It’s the International Design Congress: EEUM Design Connects. It is from October 17th to the 23rd. We already have 20 invited speakers, but we’re planning to have 100. And we would love to have many of the AIGA chapter members from LA.

By Patricia Aguilar
Published January 16, 2015
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