Hangul: You either know it or you don’t. It’s surprisingly simple, yet incredibly daunting at first glance. They say it takes the average person about three hours to learn how to read it, but it’s difficult to master. Whether Korean is your native tongue or you speak just enough of it to communicate with taxi drivers and get that extra service at restaurants, Hangul’s growing presence, driven by the art and fashion scene or agents of its relentless globalization and promotion, abounds here in Seoul and beyond.
We’re not going to give you a lesson on the history of Hangul. That’s what Wikipedia is for. (Unless you’re interested in something a little more in-depth, in which case we encourage you to read this three-part series on the evolution of Hangul and its modern day struggle with technology.) Instead, we’ve rounded up the best of Hangul: the people, projects and trends that have caught our attention.
Once upon a time in Seoul, all things western and imported were next to godliness. But these days, prodigal Koreans have returned to embrace the “han” within, including Hangul. One man at the forefront of the cultural restoration of Hangul is one of Korea’s premier fashion designers, Lie Sang Bong (이상봉). In addition to being one of a few Korean designers invited year after year to Paris Fashion Week (pictured left: S/S ‘07 Paris prêt-à-porter) and being sought after by celebrities like Lady Gaga and Rihanna, Lie has served as a spokesperson for Hangul Day. That’s not surprising, considering the “Korean McQueen,” as he’s often referred to, is known for incorporating Hangul into his wearable art.
The 11,172 syllable combinations used in modern Korean is said to make designing Hangul exponentially more complex than designing a Latin typeface. Knowing that, it’s hard not to admire designers like Ahn Sang-soo (안상수) who has defined the topography of typography in Korea. Ahn is best known for his eponymous typeface which broke barriers—literally breaching the traditionally square typeface of Hangul with its radically elongated, high-impact design. Since its debut in 1985, the Ahn Sang-soo typeface is now one of the most recognizable fonts in the city, and especially visible in and around Hongik University, where Ahn is a professor.
Open fonts for everyone
One typeface we love is Nanum Gothic by Naver, Korea’s biggest internet portal. Not only did they create an open font, they created a significant campaign around Hangul. Find out more about the history of the campaign (Korean) and download the Nanum Gothic family here or the entire Nanum Gothic package that includes the user-submitted and user-selected handwritten font here.
Seoul’s very own
Under the baton of a former design-loving mayor, the city of Seoul has bolstered its cultural assets in the past few years by undertaking profile-raising initiatives in architecture and design. One of those initiatives include creating the Seoul typeface. The elegant and thoroughly modern Seoul-chae was apparently designed to pay homage to the “openness” of hanok architecture and to resemble the curvature of traditional roofing tiles. Named after definitive Seoul landmarks—the Hangang and Namsan—these fonts are also free for download and use via Design Seoul’s website (Korean)
Young at heart, with Hangul
Not surprisingly, some of the coolest interpretations of Hangul can be traced to young artists and students. Exhibit A: Jaejin Lee, a Korean graphic designer living in Scotland, captures the movement and transitive qualities of Hangul characters in a way we’ve never imagined them before in this video.
Tipping the cute scale is jewelry and trinket designer Aein Hope of Okitokki. The half-Korean, half-American designer creates adorable, Korean-ish designs in her home studio. Visit her online store to see Hangul through her whimsical, bilingual lens.
We were able to coax Seoulist Design Director, Jungho Kim, to share some of his own renditions of the Hangul type created during his college years (pictured left).
Periodic Table of Hangul
Since this innovative approach to learning Hangul surfaced on the web a few years ago, the designer has implemented some strict licensing rules but you can still view bits and pieces and buy it online. If you’re looking for a larger, more legible version for “personal screen viewing purposes,” someone at Seoulist might have one if you ask nicely. :]
Ing isn’t exactly a Seoulist project, but many of our contributors are involved in this open collective. What started as a writing lab began to attract those who enjoyed photographing, blogging and creating in general, and ing was born. By replacing the “g” in Ing with a visually compatible “잉” (also pronounced “ing”), we married the two alphabets to create a logo that reads the same in both English and Korean.
If you want a more hands-on and interactive look at Hangul, drop by Hangeultium (한글티움), a Hangul museum in Heyri. Run by design firm Sandoll Communications, the museum offers workshops and houses a store where you can buy everything from Hangul totebags to necklaces with your Hangul initials dangling from it. Be sure to have your photo op with the iconic LOVE sculpture out front. At first glance, it seems like a poor replica of Robert Indiana’s original design, but upon closer inspection, you’ll notice the letters that compromise “love” are actually strategically rotated Hangul characters.