The Korea Herald


How stories make compelling design

By Claire Lee

Published : Sept. 21, 2012 - 22:07

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Park Seo-won (left), CEO of Big Ant International, and Jungwook Hong, chairman of Herald Corporation, discuss the theme of “Sharing Wisdom: Classic, an Everlasting Source of Creativity” during the Herald Design Forum 2012 at COEX Auditorium in southern Seoul on Friday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald) Park Seo-won (left), CEO of Big Ant International, and Jungwook Hong, chairman of Herald Corporation, discuss the theme of “Sharing Wisdom: Classic, an Everlasting Source of Creativity” during the Herald Design Forum 2012 at COEX Auditorium in southern Seoul on Friday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Leading design figures talk about their career, inspirations and vision

Two leading design figures talked on Friday about their sources of inspiration during a special session at the Herald Design Forum at COEX Auditorium in southern Seoul.

The event, hosted by Herald Corp.’s chairman Jungwook Hong, featured Korea’s young ad wiz Park Seo-won and automotive design legend Chris Bangle.

The session was relatively casual compared to other events that took place during the forum, such as lectures and speeches. The two figures answered Hong’s questions about their life and career with humor and laughs.

Maverick ad designer

Ad wiz Park Seo-won is, in many ways, an unusual figure in Korea’s advertising industry.

He’s got about 20 tattoos only on the left side of his body, once got expelled from school, switched his major five times and, eventually, became a sensation after winning five major international awards with his ads.

“I just didn’t really enjoy studying and kept searching for things that I’d be good at,” Park said during the special session.

“And one day, I ran into a friend who was making a spaceship model for a school project. And what he was doing didn’t seem like school work at all. It just looked like he was having fun.”

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York for graphic design, Park currently runs the advertising agency Big Ant International.

During the session, viewers were given an opportunity to see some of Park’s previous works, including the groundbreaking anti-war campaign “What goes around, comes around,” as well as the famous public ashtray that takes the form of a human body.

Based on the fact that up to 60 percent of the human body is made of liquid, the transparent ashtray is filled with real water. Once people place cigarettes in it, the color of the water changes to yellow as it mixes with the tar.

Park said he designed the ashtray to campaign against smoking, after seeing a large number of office workers smoking outside their building. The yellow water indirectly shows how smoking can severely damage one’s health.

“I used to be a heavy smoker and I know how strong it is when water gets mixed with tobacco residue,” said Park, adding that 90 percent of his ads are inspired by his personal experiences.

“I’m sure many people have mistakenly drunk nicotine-mixed liquid after forgetting that they’d placed their cigarettes in cups or cans. I’ve drunk it as well, and I know how it feels when the liquid goes down your chest.”

During the session, Park also openly expressed his love for clubbing. He said “having fun,” which can take many forms including traveling, is another great resource for his inspiration. “My favorite clubs are Eden and Octagon (in Gangnam),” he said, when asked by one of the young audience members.

Park is also famous for his upbringing. His father is Park Yong-maan, chairman of local conglomerate company Doosan Group. The tattoos on the left side of his body reflect his emotional ties with his family, Park said.

“My job requires creativity and fun,” Park said. “But I was brought up by my parents who are very strict and business-minded. The left and right divide of my body with the tattoos reflect the two different worlds that have shaped my life.”

Importance of narrative

American automobile designer Chris Bangle, who is best known for his work as Chief of Design for BMW Group, thinks having a “story narrative” is important for designs.

“When you get to the highest level of a story, which I think is a novel,” Bangle said, “different elements of a design conflict with one another, but they still have to work with one another. It’s like a ‘he loves her, but he hates her’ kind of situation. If you have a design, things work together, but at the same time, they conflict and inspire.”

Bangle in fact used Park Seo-won’s public ashtray as a good example of narrative-driven design.

“I think the smoking stand works because I think it has a very high narrative level,” he said. “It has very simple elements that work with each other, but they conflict with each other. Supposedly it is there for you to use, at the same time, you do not want to use it (because it shows how bad smoking is for one’s health). There’s this attraction and reversal. This is something that only when you study a lot of literature you can find out why these things are important for design.”

The designer also shared his design philosophy reflected in the name of his company, Chris Bangle Associates.

The title reflects “the relationship between everyone involved in the project: the customers, the clients, engineers and marketers, so on. We have this metaphorical presentation that we say that ‘design is like a baby in the blanket,’” he said. “We all play the role to keep this baby happy.”

Bangle, who said he likes kids and is happily married for 20 years, gave some advice for Koreans on work-life balance.

“I see many hyper-dedicated Koreans who say they have to work, work, work, work 24/7, otherwise the company would think they are not working,” he said. “I think you should establish your own idea of work-life balance. There is no wrong time or right time to take a vacation. If you say, I know this is a bad time to ask for a vacation ― it’s always a bad time. You are doing this for you. Your health is important.”

By Claire Lee (