Whirlwind: A Study on the Power of Cultural Belief


Design & Creative Direction

    May 2020


New York Times: A Uniquely Korean Household Worry
The Atlantic: Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?
NPR: Korea’s Quirky Notions about Electric Fans
REPLY 1988: Episode 8
Quiz from God: Season 1 Episode 6
‘Ask a Korean’ Blogpost: THE FAN DEATH IS REAL
Korea Consumer Protection Board: ‘SUMMER HAZARDS’


Chrissi Cowhey & Sarah Birdsall


Communication Arts 2021 Typography Shortlist



Up until Thanksgiving of 2018, I believed that the ‘fan death’ was real. The fan death is a common belief among people with a South Korean background that leaving the electric fan on in an enclosed space will kill you. Despite having no scientific evidence, the fan death has been widely believed by Koreans for almost a century. It was fascinating to me that a culture could be the sole reason for a certain belief that was ridiculed by the rest of the world. The aim became to help non-Koreans not to start believing this “superstition,” but to understand how the cultural belief came to be.


The book focuses on the fan death to substantiate culture as the main factor in shaping belief, through showcasing all possible perspectives of the fan death and letting readers form their own judgements. 

The book is made of three sections: the myth chapter, media chapter, and the truth chapter. Each chapter is a different perspective in the fan death belief spectrum, from 100% myth, to 100% truth. I visualize this through the physical orientation of the book, so the start of each chapter must be turned an extra 90 degrees. At the end of the book, the reader has oriented the book to 180 degrees from when they first started, symbolizing that they have reached the opposite side of the spectrum.

The typefaces that I’ve chosen also refer to the content, as some require attention to its conflicting details on its serifs and transitions, and some actually physically demonstrate the motion being blown away.

As I researched and interviewed Koreans about why they believed the fan death to be true, I realized that the media played a huge part—from seeing advertisements to Korean dramas, there was enough evidence to be convinced. 

The design of Whirlwind pays homage to the Korean newspaper layouts from the 1920s and 30s, which was when the fan death started to be covered by the media. The narrow grid system, asymmetrical image placements and cramming of information in a modern-unconventional style inspired the book’s visual design decisions.

Kyungnam Ilbo(1927) & Chosun Shibo(1934) from the National Library of Korea

The Ten Symbols of Longevity: The Sun, Mountains, Water, Clouds, Rock/Stone, Pine Trees, Mushroom of Immortality, Turtles, White Cranes, and Deer

The color palette of Whirlwind summarizes one of Korea’s traditions that is still most commonly employed and considered meaningful: the Ship-jangseng, or the Ten Symbols of Longevity. It is a very important set for the Korean decorative arts tradition, applied on everything from folk paintings and folding screens to embroidered decorations on fabrics for all kinds of daily uses.

The color stories used are The Sun (constant source of light and warming energy that gives and nourishes life), Mountains (Supreme manifestations of Earth thatt seem to keep their shape forever), and Water (symbol of infinite flexibility of flowing form that avoids harm and destruction). 

© 2021 Jenny SeoYoon Kim