As a creative strategist at Facebook, Ji Lee operates at the cross-section between creativity and technology, creating art that reflects both worlds. After a long career in the ad world, where he worked as creative director for agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi and Droga5, Ji moved into the tech sector in 2008, working as a creative director at Google before moving into his current role at Facebook at 2011. With a fondness for personal projects – many of which have a strong presence on the internet – Ji’s work takes on many modern cultural tableaux with a strong element of humor and a focus on collaboration and participation from his audience.
Born in Korea, Ji spent his first 10 years there unil his family relocated to Brazil for another 10 years. Ji attributes much of his sense of humor to his upbringing in these countries, with both cultures sharing a love for wordplay, taking something that already exists, and hijacking it by twisting the meaning. “Because language has been a struggle throughout my life, moving from place to place, I think I learned how to communicate in a way that is simple and visual,” says Ji, reflecting on how his background influenced him. “A sense of humor – something funny – is immediately connecting.” His intelligent sense of humor informs almost of all of Ji’s work work, using it as a simple way to inform people to complex topics in a way they can understand.
While much of his creative output is devoted to his professional career, the work Ji is most proud of comes from his personal projects, ones he undertakes on his own to flex his creative muscles. His love of personal projects began during his time in the ad world, taking them on in his free time as a way to do something just for himself while most of his creative efforts were directed towards meeting the needs of his clients. Though each project is inspired by something different they all come from a deeply personal place for Ji. His longest running project, “Word As Image” began as a school project when he was at Parsons – though Ji has continuing the project in his free time for over 15 years. “Famous Objects from Classic Movies” came from his love of film, while his most famous project, “The Bubble Project” came from his increasing frustration with the advertisements he was forced to create during his time in the ad world. “I try to make my life as fun and interesting as possible,” says Ji, “so I try to turn my life into playful games.”
Though Ji is the first to admit he prefers the fast-paced life of the tech sector to that of the ad world, he sees even more importance in frequently doing personal projects than ever before. “I still see them as a fun side thing, says Ji, “but I see them as a really important part of who I am as a creative person.” He tries to work on personal projects as frequently as possible, and considers them a major reason he’s had so much success in his professional life. “When you’re doing personal projects you’re taking care of all of the aspects,” says Ji. “From coming up with an idea, to how to develop that idea with other people, to how to fund the idea, how you package the idea, how you market it. You have to do everything yourself. Whereas working on a professional project, there are production folks, there are account people, there are clients-partners, there are media people, so you don’t tend to worry about all the aspects. Doing personal projects, I learn something about a different aspect every time.”
Exploring Ji’s work brings up a very interesting conversation about the nature of collaboration in the modern era. Though he’ll frequently collaborate with other creatives such as filmmakers, web designers, and photographers, Ji views each of his projects as a collaboration with his audience. To this end he focuses on making very participatory works, creating platforms for his audience to be creative. “Some people really appreciate that,” says Ji, “because maybe they just need a little push to do something creative. Maybe they just need a little push to express themselves.”
Even before his time in the tech sector, Ji has always seen the importance of technology to make these kinds of participatory projects. He’s frequently used technology to help connect his audience via the internet, showing them their various Bubble Project ads via Google maps, and collecting images of Mysterabbit on Facebook and Instagram. Not only do these tools allow him to collaborate with an audience he’s never met, but they allow him to work with creatives in other mediums while he gets the project ready for the public. “It doesn’t take a lot of people to create something amazing,” says Ji, referring to the small teams he works with in creating his projects. “It can take one or four people who are really driven and like minded to create something that has amazing meaning and value to millions of people in the world.”
Ji’s devotion to personal projects continues to produce frequent and interesting projects. He’s spent much of the year placing clown nose stickers on ads around Manhattan as part of his “Clownify” project, and released a series of Word as Image style graphics for major events of the world cup. He’s also released “Word as Image” as an animated ebook, and regularly updates his website as he announces new projects. Constantly pushing creativity to his audience, students, and co-workers, Ji sees the current age as a great time for creative people. “I think we live in an age of self empowerment and possibilities,” says Ji, “the only excuse to not do something is yourself.”
Header Image Credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Flikr