|Korean designers Joon Oh! (left) and Don Tae Lee conduct a Q&A session. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Understanding the needs of the customers as well as the power of the soft industry are key factors to developing Korea into a design powerhouse, according to two leading Korean designers.
Don Tae Lee, co-president of London-based strategic design consultancy tangerine direction & design, and Joon Oh!, the creative director of Amorepacific, a leading Korean chemical and cosmetics company, gave a duo-lecture, sharing their past and current innovative projects.
Lee is known for redesigning British Airways’ business class cabin and its seating configuration. Tangerine reportedly increased the airline’s annual profit by $738 million in 2000, as a result. The design won Lee the Interior Design Excellence Awards’ Grand Prix the following year.
“British Airways held a special workshop with its first and business class passengers,” he said during the lecture.
“And from the workshop we found out that what they wanted the most is the kind of seats where they can completely lie down. But that would have taken up too much space on the plane, and it would have affected the company’s profit margin. So we came up with a space-efficient design in which half its passengers sit backward while each of them has a private space of his own. I’ve flown many different airlines and the business class cabin of British Airways is the most space-efficient one that I know.”
While many would worry about sitting backward on a plane, one cannot tell in which direction the plane is flying once aboard, and that’s where his foresight played into the project.
Born in the late 1960s in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Lee graduated from Hongik University’s industrial design program in Seoul and he moved to London, England, at age 30, where he received his M.A. in Design Products at the Royal College of Art. He then started working as a designer at tangerine in 1998.
Lee said both “insight and foresight” are important when creating successful design. One of his past projects was to rearrange seats for first class on the Heathrow Express, an airport rail link between London’s Heathrow Airport and Paddington station. Lee said he paid special attention to how many passengers felt unsafe about placing their luggage in a separate compartment away from their seats on the train.
“I wanted to design seats where passengers can conveniently place their luggage right beside them,” he said.
While he is a firm believer in observation, Lee said he personally does not trust what customers tell him in interviews held for research purposes ― mostly because usually they don’t exactly know what they want. “That’s where foresight comes in,” Lee said. “It’s important to create scientific data based on keen observation and find out exactly what your customer wants and needs. But sometimes that’s not enough. You have to use your instincts and go with it.”
Joon Oh!, on the other hand, stressed the importance of soft industries in Korea such as health, beauty and fashion. Oh!, who currently serves as the creative director of Amorepacific, formerly worked as Hyundai Card Design Lab’s creative director from 2009 to 2012.
At Hyundai Card, Oh! introduced a series of design-conscious credit cards named after an alphabet letter based on each customer’s lifestyle.
Oh! said Korean design firms have been mostly focusing on IT, automobile, shipbuilding, steel and energy industries and should expand its influence to soft industries.
“Many questioned whether design could make a difference in the finance industry,” he said during his lecture. “And now you all have witnessed that it can (with the case of Hyundai Card). And design can play a major role in soft industries that shape our contemporary culture.”
According to Oh!, Korean contemporary design only dates back to 1989, when the government lifted all overseas travel restrictions. True contemporary design can only evolve in places where people can interact freely with the rest of the world, Oh! said.
Just like products of Tiffany & Co. sell images of New York and the ones of Chanel sell Paris, Oh! said it is important for soft industries to brand Seoul and Korea.
Some of the successful examples Oh! shared was O’Sulloc, a Korean green tea company that successfully commercialized Korea’s Jeju Island and its tea leaves, as well as Amorepacific’s Sulwhasoo, the leading brand in the traditional Korean cosmetics market, that also commercialized “what’s traditional in Korea” and met the needs of contemporary customers.
“One of Amorepacific’s cosmetics brands, Mamonde, has about 1,000 branches in China,” he said. “But about one-sixth of the Chinese population travel overseas. Yes, it is important to do well in China, but it is also important to do well in Myeong-dong, where these Korean beauty products originate. Foreign visitors come to Myeong-dong to experience the authentic version of what they’ve known as Korean culture, just like many do the same in Paris and New York.”
Oh! graduated from Hongik University’s wood working and furniture design program and studied furniture design at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in France.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)