Kairos Design recently took home the 2020 MUSE Creative Award for the third year in a row. Sean Kim, the founder and creative director of Kairos Design, was asked to sit down for an interview with the MUSE team. This interview shines a bright spotlight on the creative process and direction behind the award-winning work.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.
My name is Sean and I’m the founder and creative director of Kairos Design. I oversee the creative direction, and usually act as the lead designer, too. As creative director, I collaborate with other creatives and marketers to make a decision in terms of marketing, branding, and web or app design, etc.
I studied general illustrations at the SUNY Fashion Institute of Tech in New York, and after that I worked as a graphic designer in the fashion industry for magazine companies. I eventually transitioned to working as a fashion designer, and my last job before starting Kairos Design was at an apparel company, working as a jeans designer for Original Penguin. Around that time, I started freelancing for other clients, mainly helping with their brand identity and web design, before eventually building a team and offering multiple creative services all under one roof.
Why did you choose to become a creative?
I was always a kid who daydreamed a lot. I was always thinking about other stuff. I was not very focused in class, because I was always doodling, thinking about stories, or at the back of the classroom sketching people and making funny comic strips to share with friends.
I always wanted to study and eventually make a career doing something visually fun and creative, whether related to comic book or becoming an artist. It was my calling. Also, my parents always encouraged me to push my dreams, so that was very helpful.
Tell us more about Kairos Design, and what you do.
Our mission at Kairos is to bridge the gap between our client (usually a business) and their consumers.
You know how when you first interact with a business, the person working seems very friendly… but when you go into their office and meet their receptionist, or interact with their sales person, or see their website, it looks disconnected and you don’t feel the same way? My hope and my mission is to help businesses communicate the same message across all of their platforms, both online and offline, so that the branding is consistent.
What does “creativity” mean to you?
I think my definition changes every year. To me, creativity seems to get more complicated the more time that I spend in this business.
Creativity could mean different things in different industries. Everyone has the ability to be creative, not just artists or designers. Everyone – no matter what the job is – must be creative in some way. And everyone is born with creativity, but it’s like a muscle; you have to exercise that creativity every day to be good at it.
So, speaking as an industry designer in the marketing and product design world, I think creativity is learning how to understand what our client’s need is, and then trying to do whatever we can within their boundaries that aligns with the client’s end goal.
To you, what makes a “creative” idea or design?
If you’re asking what makes a good creative idea or a good creative design, I think it’s all relative to the end-user. A good creative idea is about how the end-user feels, and how they interact with it.
If the end-user is feeling and interacting with the product like you expected them to, and it’s in line with what the client’s goal is, then I think that creative idea was successful.
On the other hand, and idea can be super creative, but maybe it doesn’t align with what the end-user wants or appreciates, or the client’s vision for the company. The idea can be very creative, but it can also be a failure in terms of its success.
Tell us about your creative process.
The process is super simple. First of all, we align on the brand statement – who the client is as a brand, or who they are as a company. After we identity them as a brand, we identity who the users are. We don’t just look at their demographic, but we also look at their geographic and psychographic state of mind so that we can understand their needs and design a solution with the end-user in mind.
Third, we map out our solutions, and their features and functions in terms of what we can do. These solutions can be very different depending our your background. Looking from a design perspective, our tone or message could influence our aesthetic choices. The color palette, the typography, and other design elements will help shape the final solution.
From there the process can be a little different. After we’ve determined our solution, we implement the design, we’ll prototype and test the solution, and gather feedback. Then we re-analyze and go back to the drawing board, if needed.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process, and why?
That’s an interesting question. Not too long ago, my favorite part was design. And I do still like it (especially the UX design and graphic design), because I can see the end result right away. For instance, with web design, I could see the finished product immediately.
Lately, though, I’m more interested in strategy. The way I see strategy these days is that I’m not just designing the graphics or a visual piece, but instead I’m designing a business strategy and its marketing strategy. It’s something on a grander scope.
I especially enjoy the collaboration aspect, where I get to collaborate with different clients and teammates, listen to their ideas, and help to come up with a solution.
Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.
I don’t think I have just one creative style. Maybe the only thing that’s consistent about my style is that I like minimalistic, simple designs.
Other than that, when I’m using color palettes and typography, I try to stay away from making a subjective decision. I try to think outside of myself, and instead focus on the end-user’s perspective, and then I design for them.
Congratulations! As the winner of the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?
This was our shortest project timeframe to date, where we had to create a brand identity for a client. We had to refresh their existing brand logo, and updated it to seem like a more modern and up-to-date aesthetic. We made that decision based on our core strategy session, and it was challenging because we had to execute it in about 2 weeks.
But we were able to execute this brand refresh really well, and it gave me as well as my team reassurance and confidence. We were able to still come up with a whole brand identity and a comprehensive brand guide within shorter timeframe, and it was award-winning quality. It was also a fun and very satisfying project, so the recognition is just the cherry on top.
Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?
We had other projects for the same client, but branding is a big category for us. Our brand strategy is the strongest and most foundational cornerstone that we offer as a company, and is a starting point for other projects. We wanted to execute the brand identity really well, and we were proud of the end result, so we submitted.
What was the biggest challenge with this project?
Definitely timing. We were working on this client’s brand identity while we were also working on their new web design, their content strategy, and their marketing strategy. So, as a small agency, we were working on multiple projects simultaneously, but also with a shorter timeframe.
We were also starting with an existing logo, and were tasked with refreshing it to create a better version. We had to be careful that it didn’t look too alien to their existing customers, because they’d already had 20 years of experience as a company. We didn’t want the new brand and logo to seem too new or lose their reputation, so that was also a challenge. At first the client was surprised, and it took some time for them to get used to it – but a few months later, they were getting a lot of compliments from their long-time customers.
What are your top three favorite things about our industry?
Collaboration, the ability to experiment, and pushing the existing boundaries with the latest technology.
Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?
I think a lot of things are happening in the creative industry right now. There’s always new technology and new innovation that’s consistently happening. My overall prediction for the future of the industry is that the design process will get faster, and a lot of the legwork will become automated.
Years ago, if you worked for a design agency, you would have an assistant searching for inspiration, and then you’d put together the mood board, and then collaborate with a team to review it. People used to literally cut little pictures out of magazines and paste everything together to make a graphic. And now with technology, a lot of those steps are skipped or streamlined.
I think that a lot of the steps that we spend a lot of time on but aren’t necessarily part of the creative process will naturally become automated, and creatives will focus more on the project at hand, and see the final result more quickly.
Also, there will be new areas and industries of creativity that will explode in the near future, what with AR and VR industries opening up and becoming more adaptive to the mainstream. I would say that there’s going to be plenty of room for upcoming creatives to explore new jobs and new areas of expertise.
What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?
I think it really depends on what industry you’re interested in, but I would try to arm yourself with as many resources as you can. These days, it’s really easy to access resources instantly. It’s easier than ever to connect with industry influencers, legendary designers and strategists on social media. Your can even find lectures!
Try to surround yourself with as many good creatives as much as possible, and read books or listen to audiobooks and podcasts on new subjects in the industry. Youtube, Masterclass and even TedTalks are great ways to pick up new information, too.
What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
To me, success is when our projects are launched successfully, and our clients are happy with all of our work. I think that all of our success has had to do with our alignment. We focus on aligning with our client and our team before ever stepping into a meeting about the product.
Our big focus is setting the right goal, one that’s both measurable and attainable. Then, we follow the creative process. We always try to achieve more than what we were supposed to do, and over-deliver to our clients, and that’s been a huge proponent of our success.
And in general, it never hurts to always be on time.
Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?
I’d like to thank my team for the awesome teamwork and collaboration, their passion, and their talent. Also, I want to thank our client, MEK Review, for giving us the opportunity to win this award.