Level 5 Study Materials

Finding yourself in Fonts: the success story of Sandoll and Seok Geum-ho

“Choose what you love, and you will never work a day in your life” – Confucius

Pre-reading questions:

  1. If you didn’t have to work, what would you do with your free time? Would you try to improve a hobby?
  2. What is your dream job? Please describe.

Who is Seok Geum-ho? And what is Sandoll? And what is hangeul?

If you are not living in South Korea, you may not be very familiar with Sandoll, or even with the Korean alphabet known as “hangeul”. And even if you live in South Korea, very few people have probably heard of Seok Geum-ho. Regardless, his story is an important one for any person who is looking to find the type of work that they can fall in love with.

Back in December 2016, Yonhap News (South Korea’s leading news service) wrote an article about Seok Geum-ho documenting, or carefully detailing, the events of something that happened or someone’s life, his journey to found Sandoll Communications. As one of South Korea’s biggest stationary and calligraphy companies, it has worked with companies like Hyundai, Samsung, Apple, Intel, and Google developing fonts for their companies in Korea and in hangeul.

If you are not familiar with hangeul, here’s a quick history lesson: it was created by government order by King Sejong the Great, the 4th King of the Joseon Dynasty. His statue sits in the very center of Seoul. The alphabet was designed to be easy for people to understand and learn with little to no education. It is a major point of pride for many in Korea; in 1989 UNESCO initiated the King Sejong Literacy Prize for people who fight against illiteracy around the world.

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King Sejong statue in Gwanghwamun, center city Seoul. SOURCE: Korea Tourism Organization

As for Seok and his story with hangeul, it all began in the late 70s after graduating with a degree in Applied Fine Arts from Hongik University in Seoul. He started working as a designer for the Korean version of “Reader’s Digest,” a popular monthly magazine from the US. He would help design  the headlines and drawings for the cover page. Soon after starting, his company started importing type sets from Japan, and Japanese-made Korean type fonts, because there was no one in Korea making hangeul type fonts.

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Sandoll CEO Seok Geum-ho (SOURCE: Yonhap News)

“I was so shocked to learn that our country was unable to print a single book without using Korean fonts that were made in Japan. For many days, I could neither eat nor sleep,” he explained to Yonhap News. “I thought it didn’t make sense and it hurt my pride.”

This led him to be in a tizzy. He started worrying about what his future children would say about his inaction. He even imagined that they would demand one day, “Daddy, you were a designer when your company imported hangeul from Japan. What did you do to change that?”

Just do it. Just do something.

So Seok left his company after deciding that he needed to “do something” about this issue. Starting in the spring of 1984, he started renting a small studio for studying Korean typography and developing various fonts. From this, Sandoll was born. At first, things were hard; there was little demand for his fonts, and did odd jobs like designing book covers for several years.

“I remember I was always hungry. I ate instant noodles every day but I was just happy because I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it,” he said.

After a few years starting in the late 80s, things began to turn. People started needing type fonts for their personal computers.

“I was like a fish in water. Suddenly I had to work overtime to meet the rising demand from businesses who wanted me to develop Korean fonts for word processor,” the 61-year-old said.

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The image, taken from the website of Sandoll Communications on Dec. 19, 2016, shows various Korean typefaces the company has developed. (Yonhap)

Now, Sandoll is working with over 600 companies from across the world to work on their Korean type fonts. These corporations are increasingly using Sandoll’s type face to define their corporate identity.

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Sandoll Communications developed a custom font for Kakao Talk, a widely used Korean chat application. The image is taken from Sandoll’s website on Dec. 19, 2016. SOURCE: Yonhap

Sandoll is not limited to just creating typography; in 2008, Sandoll launched “Sandoll Tium,” a stationary and emoticon brand. Ranging from notebooks to pencils to large emoticons on South Korea’s popular Kakao app store (which, by the way, Sandoll developed a custom font for) many of the items that Sandoll Tium produces are meant to provoke nostalgia, using designs from South Korean school text books from the 70’s and 80’s while also showing funny or witty phrases written in – you guessed it – hangeul.

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The image, taken from the website of Sandoll Communications on Dec. 19, 2016, shows various badges with Korean phrases. SOURCE: Yonhap.

And it’s hanguel that is at the core of his company and his identity. His company has grown from a small little studio to a major company, as well as diversified into a wide range of products. But Seok and his dedication remain unchanged. As he explained:

“I believe the core to Korean identity could be found in the spirits of King Sejong who sacrificed himself to create hangeul to make the lives of his people better and comfortable…When you fully accept the spirits and live by them, you would never forget who you are and where you came from.”

Discussion questions:

  1. Have you ever thought about starting your own business? If so, what would you like to do and why?
  2. Many times, people who work as entrepreneurs struggle for a bit, but are happy with their jobs (Like Seok, eating instant noodles but loving what he is doing), while many people who work at large corporations might receive lots of money but are unhappy. Which do you think is better? Receiving lots of money but not being happy, or trying your own business and being poor? Why?
  3. Seok connected a lot of his passion to hangeul and Korea. What sorts of things are you very passionate about? Can those things help build a career for you? Why or why not?
  4. Do you know anyone who has “never worked a day in their life” because they love their job? If so, what is their job and why do they love it so much? If not, what types of jobs do you think would be lots of fun to do? Explain.
  5. Have you ever been shocked by something so much that it motivated you to take action, like Seok and his experiences with Japanese-imported type fonts? What happened?

Vocabulary

To document (v.) – to record the events relating to someone or something
in a tizzy (adj) – feeling very nervous, excitement, or agitation.
odd job (n.) – a casual type of work that is usually routine or manual; not a full time career
Corporate identity (phrasal n.) – how a company is able to brand or present itself to consumers, customers, or others
to provoke (v.) – to cause, to rise
nostalgia (n.) – a feeling of longing or affection for the past, often with happy or missing feelings
core (n.) – the center
diversified (adj) – varied, large range of things.

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