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Tech firms seek outside help to polish product images

Apple sought assistance for iPod design; Samsung, Kia recruit top foreign talent


Gone are the days when it was enough for a product to be durable and reliable.

Without the added attraction of savvy design, products just won’t sell, and this has become common knowledge in the industry.

For instance, Apple’s revival back in early 2000s was marked by not only technological prowess, but the simple yet suave design of its mega-hit, the iPod. It was not that the iPod was any better than existing MP3 players, but the unique design caught on and the product became an instant success.

The disc-shaped control pad and the vivid colors the players are available in have now become a part of an iconic industrial design.

The results were not the work of a single designer or team, although Apple was initially reticent to admit that it was a collaborative effort.
LG’s Chocolate mobile phones, Samsung’s LED TV 9000, Kia’s K5 sedan
LG’s Chocolate mobile phones, Samsung’s LED TV 9000, Kia’s K5 sedan

The Cupertino-based company had vigorously sought outside assistance, and the iPod was the result of such cooperation, those close to the matter say.

The intensity reflected in Apple’s search for design partners ― and its consequent reluctance to share the glory ― with which companies approach the issue of design explains why Apple and Samsung are currently locked in a fierce legal feud over their design patents.

Taking a cue from the frontrunners, local players also have been looking to differentiate their goods with high-quality design.

Samsung Electronics has a team exclusively for mobile phone designs in its North American offices ― in Los Angeles.

The rest of the story is history, as seen in the spiraling sales of Samsung phones, starting from feature phones to the smartphones being rolled out today that many see to be up to par for competing with Apple’s iPhones.

In July, Samsung Electronics also wooed Chris Bangle, one of the world’s leading car designers.

Their ability and celebrity status aside, industry watchers say it is now essential for companies to be associated with such “star power,” since consumers identify with these designers and want to use their products.

Companies like LG Electronics and Kia Motors are also some of the local brands that have felt the significance of design.

Before the smartphone race, LG had been known for its innovative designs such as the “Chocolate” and “Prada” phones.

Kia Motors also proved itself to be worthy of competing in the design war by becoming one of the main winners in the first-ever Automotive Brand Contest held earlier this year organized by the German Design Council.

Kia was ranked “Best of Best” in the Brand Design category of the contest.

Kia officials said the company’s devotion to design was part of what fueled its recent business upturn.

The automobile company in 2007 was suffering from 55.4 billion won of operating deficit, but was able to reverse its fortunes to an operating profit of 1.68 trillion won last year.

By Kim Ji-hyun  (jemmie@heraldcorp.com)
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