Studio XXX on becoming one of K-pop’s most prolific graphic design studios

As K-pop approached its explosive “third generation”, visuals and physical CD packages quickly grew. Most notably, collectable trading photo cards were added to the inside of an album’s physical release package, making graphic design even more important for the record companies. In an attempt to boost these sales even further, record companies then began to release multiple editions of each album with a different and distinct visual theme. Jiyoon’s talent caught the eye of several record companies, and suddenly she was working with dozens of the biggest names to create unique concepts fans would want to collect. “The process varies, but usually the record company initially tells me the concept of the album and sends me the title track,” Jiyoon explains on working with the K-pop industrial complex. “Then, I come up with multiple proposals of the album logo and the key visual, and they choose one that they think is the best.” Most surprisingly, the artists work around Jiyoon’s design – not vice versa, as so commonly done with Western pop singers. Shooting the artists will often be the last process of creating the visuals, once Studio XXX has successfully pitched an idea to the record companies.
The idea of an album being a visual commodity in and of itself by way of its cover art is something Jiyoon carries forward in her work today. She first got her start in a Seoul-based design firm back in 2010, and designed the cover for South Korean superstar Lee Hyori’s album h-logic. From there, she caught the attention of South Korean record companies and started her own graphic design studio under the name Studio XXX. “After starting my own studio, my first K-pop-related project was just a concert poster design for the boy band Infinite.”
As for a particular style that she works with, Jiyoon says she enjoys “working with big bold fonts and geometric shapes” to bring out the artists and their message. “I personally don’t like asymmetric or organic shapes, or hand-drawn typography. I like perfect geometric shapes like a circle, a square of a cube, and an equilateral triangle.” It’s a trademark style that has disseminated across the entire visual industry of K-pop, and we can’t help but attribute Jiyoon to that success. “I designed eight albums in a row for BTS,” she adds, almost casually. It’s a humble way of glossing over the fact that BTS are the biggest-selling artists in South Korean history, the biggest-selling artists across the entire globe in 2020, and one of the most-streamed artists in digital history. “It was from their very first albums onwards,” Jiyoon adds. “I like to design debut albums of artists because I feel like I help them to start their journey from the beginning,” she says, pointing to her early pre-American breakthrough work with BTS and bands Seventeen and LOONA. “I also like to design multiple albums for the same artists, because I’m able to see how they’ve changed and grown over the years.”
As for what’s next in the ever-growing success of Studio XXX, Jiyoon talks about her desire to work with British or American artists, circling back to the pop and rock album covers she first fell in love with at the Seoul record shops. But, when asked about her huge role in the success story of K-pop, Jiyoon comfortably adds: “It’s very rewarding, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”