Research Questions

1. What is a form of storytelling?

2. How do we explain the meaning of untranslatable words?

3. What is the relationship between ourselves and words?


Connie Hwang, SJSU Graphic Design Professor
Primary Advisor

Julio Martinez, SJSU Graphic Design Lecturer
Secondary Advisor

Damian Bacich, Chair of Dept. of World Languages and Literature
Tertiary Advisor


Each culture has its own unique, invented terms to illustrate a concept or specific expression. There are words from different languages that capture the depth of human experience with no equivalent in English. The phenomenon of untranslatable words is our way of explaining the meaning through a process of storytelling. These stories are based on cultural or individual experiences. When we use stories, it is to make sense of the world we live in and to share that understanding with others.

In a documentary series called “Street Food”, I watched an episode based in Seoul, South Korea. Cho Yonsoon is one of the people they interviewed who mentioned the word “han (한)”. She explained “han (한)” to describe the people and culture of Korea. Most importantly, she associates “han (한)” as her way of life. Her story reminds me of

how I would tell my mom’s story too—a small business owner who didn’t plan to be one, going through hardships and successfully overcoming it. Even though “han (한)” is a Korean culture concept, it is a shared experience among the individuals in the series.

Patches of Stories is a thesis project exploring the complex wonder of untranslatable words. Translating the untranslatable provokes a challenge. In this case, it is to present a unique way of perceiving untranslatable words and to extend our understanding of what is articulated outside of words.


I learned that the symbolic metaphor behind the art of weaving can be perceived as a visual narrative of many cultures. Our explanations for untranslatable words are drawn from stories based on cultural or individual experiences. We share stories with others to make sense of the world we live in. In a way, stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. By taking the method of weaving as a form of storytelling, a visual language is developed.

To start, I created a survey. Collecting responses from family and friends felt personal. It was fitting to the direction I wanted to take for untranslatable words. During this phase, I enjoyed reading the anonymous responses—they were all unique, varying in different emotions of human existence. Reading the stories was something that I look forward to.

Family and friends who participated in my survey


Questions I am constantly asking myself while immersed in the design process:

What colors and textures do I visualize?
What nuances are revealed?

Imagery is drawn from the stories itselfand through additional research. Weaving patterns are developed through a collection of cropped and pixelated images. Through this manipulation, it acts as a reference point for weaving a design. The reason behind this method is to reinvent a visual language that is recognizable yet conceptual enough for open interpretations. In this phase, the process and documentation are unique to each word.

Yeet Hay

Hot air, when your body becomes unbalanced because some foods are more likely to be yeet hay and can make you sick.

My mom loves to give us fruits to eat after dinner. One of my favorites is mango, however she always limited our mango consumption drastically in comparison to other fruits like apples and oranges. She always explained the phenomenon of ‘yeet hay’ where I’d get sick because of it. Being a child of an immigrant I took most words at its literal definition of ‘hot air’ and was confused by the term as mangos made me feel refreshed. But I most definitely felt the effects of the hot aired mango when I cut my own mangos and ate too many. Hot air made my chest warm and made me feel like a fire breathing dragon. I am the dragon of yeet hay.


"Luna" (Moon in spanish) is just a beautiful word, and the Moon has many powerful connotations in Mexican / Nahuatl culture


Urging feeling that you want to squeeze or pinch something because you see something or someone so cute or something that makes you irritated or angry. We may have that uncontrollable urge, but may not act upon it. Similar to English speakers saying "You're so cute I could eat you up," but more uncontrollable and exciting.

Seeing babies makes me feel "gigil" because they are so cute and chubby and makes me want to squeeze them even though they're fragile or pinch their chubby cheeks. Seeing my boyfriend also makes me "gigil" because I get excited seeing him that I squeeze his arm tightly, even though it can accidentally hurt them.

I let the stories speak first and trust the process to reveal itself.

Exhibiting My Reflection

The installation is a reflection of my process and relationship between the stories shared with me. It is designed in such a way to reveal two sides of the patches. The front shows the finalized outcome while the back exposes the remaining process that led to the result. As a designer, I believe the outcome and process are equally important for the audience to acknowledge.

Along with the installation, a pamphlet is provided as a physical takeaway and a guide to follow along the storytelling. One side shows all the patterns next to each other in a square grid layout while the other side is content associated with each pattern.

Moving Forward

The journey is never linear and that’s what makes the process so adventurous. I truly feel like this body of work speaks for me as a designer and an individual. This thesis project is made up of my skills and personal interests in harmony. Moreover, it’s a manifestation of my diligence, patience, wide imagination, and creativity. I learned to approach concepts with curious experimentation and maintained enthusiasm through it all. With that, I will continue to carry that in anything I do.

  2020 timeiswhatyoumakeofit