Lee Ho is a veteran type designer with twenty-one years’ work experience. He started his career in 1993 at the font development office of Qnix Computer, and worked at Sandoll Communication from 2002 until 2012, before founding his own studio Dr. Font. Projects he was involved in or responsible for include typefaces for the newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun and corporations including CJ, Samsung and Hyundai Card.
The Sandoll City typeface series that Lee oversaw are particularly noteworthy as a daring yet convincing experiment on the modular structure of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Hangul is a unique writing system by which two or more phonetic symbols—or graphemes—are grouped as a combination of the initial (syllable onset), the medial (syllable nucleus) and the final (syllable coda) to form a syllabic character. Defining the dynamic relationship between the syllabic characters and their component graphemes has been a challenge to Korean typeface designers. The advent of the three-set keyboard and non-square letterforms marked the liberation of the Hangul graphemes whose inherent modular nature had been repressed in the traditional square-frame styles. Non-square Korean letterform meant not only a departure in appearance, but also a new dynamic model for combining graphemes into characters.
Ahn Sang-soo-che (1985), for example, was designed in a way that graphemes could maintain their shapes rather than be distorted and squeezed into syllabic square frames. While the graphemes of Ahn Sang-soo-che are assigned absolute positions that visually align them to the top line of the initials, Myrrh-che (1992) and Mano-che (1993), also designed by Ahn Sang-soo, took another step and allowed the medials and the finals to find their positions relative to the bottom line of the initials. Sandoll City typefaces, released in 2010 as a family of three fonts—Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai—follow and extend this line of modular experiments. The graphemes of Sandoll Seoul, for example, are variously aligned to the horizontal elements of the medials. The grapheme “ㄹ” has more horizontal strokes than, say, “ㄷ,” and is consequently rendered much taller. The position of the initial “ㄹ” may vary, however, depending on the nature of the following medial, and thus the spatial relation to it. As a result, the graphemes are organized around the “gravitational center” of the medials, creating a unique rhythm in text that reminds of irregular urban skylines.
Lee Ho’s new “grid Hangul project,” The Season of Ripening Green Grapes, again follows and extends the line of modular experiments from Sandoll City typefaces. Inspired by the mimetic expressions in Lee Yuksa’s poem “Green Grapes,” he arranges his Hangul graphemes in the exhibition space in a way that combines them organically. The materials he uses are not the abstract strokes of printing types, but physical structures derived from building materials. While Hangul as a writing system is characterized by its abstract principles of organizing graphemes, the uniquely geometric shapes of the graphemes themselves have inspired mimetic imaginations. Since the discovery of the original documentation, Hunminjeongeum, in 1940, an accepted explanation has been that the design of the consonant graphemes was based on the shapes of human vocal organs. Before then, however, a theory that they were inspired by the shapes of the traditional Korean window frames was also held feasible. Lee Ho’s Hangul takes the letterform back to the architectural surface, playing with both the abstract principles and the mimetic potentials.