Eye for design propels Kim to AAF recognition

February 25, 2011
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Herman Miller Inc.’s reputation for design drew Yang Kim from the eastern United States to West Michigan’s farmland.

Last week, Kim was honored by her local peers with the Silver Medal Award from the American Advertising Federation West Michigan — 14 years after leaving the Zeeland office furniture manufacturer and starting Peopledesign in Grand Rapids with her husband, Kevin Budelmann.

“I think this medal is extremely flattering. It is certainly something I did not expect at all,” said Kim, who was feted at a pre-ADDYs reception Thursday at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Kim came to Grand Rapids for a coveted internship at Herman Miller after attending college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

“As a lot of designers would say, I had always been good at art and drawing since I was in kindergarten,” said Kim, who emigrated from South Korea in 1976 with her parents, Dohowan and Chihee Kim, and an older brother.

Kim weighed the Herman Miller internship with a job offer in Washington, D.C., where she grew up and where her parents owned an upholstery business. Steve Frykholm, vice president and creative director at Herman Miller, hired her.

“There really wasn’t very much to do at the time. But it was exciting because Herman Miller has a great reputation, and Steve — he’s a living hero in the design world,” she said.

After a bout of downsizing, Kim and Budelmann founded their own design firm, called BBK Studio, now known as Peopledesign, 648 Monroe Ave. NW. Today, they have 20 to 25 employees and serve the marketing design needs of clients such as Herman Miller, Jaguar and izzydesign.

“Of the 30-plus annual reports I designed for the company, I felt that I hit my stride with the 10 we worked on together, said Frykholm, who was 2009’s Silver Medal winner.

“One reason, I’m sure, was because of her design talent, paying attention to detail, and a questioning and creative mind. She’s a good designer with a wonderful body of work to show for it, and she is deserving of this Silver Medal.”

Kim said her experience as a high-achieving student who helped her parents with their business was a big influence on her. She was 8 years old when her family emigrated, and she learned English in just a few a months. As a teen, she would meet with clients in their homes armed with fabric samples, and help them sort through the colors and patterns until they found the perfect choice.

“I have been working with clients and in front of clients for a long time because of my parents’ experience with their own store and a family business. I’ve seen a lot over the years,” Kim said. “I think that early experience really shapes you. The other component is, because we started at Herman Miller, which is a corporation, we have more business sense. At least we learned that while being there. A lot of designers, they graduate from design school, put up a shingle but never have the experience of working in a corporation.”

The love of her job keeps this mother of three going every day.

“I get to do different things every day. It’s never the same,” Kim said. “There is always a new challenge or a subject matter. That’s fun. And even if it is the same project, there is always a different perspective on it.”

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