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[Herald Interview] Design at heart of Samsung’s evolution to better satisfy consumers: exec

Samsung‘s chief designer on firm’s recent design feats, human-centric approach to post-pandemic era

Executive Vice President Lee Don-tae (Samsung Electronics)
Executive Vice President Lee Don-tae (Samsung Electronics)

In the field of consumer electronics, Samsung Electronics has taken strides design-wise.

Following the success of the trendy and ingenious Bespoke home appliance lineup, its latest smartphone releases, Galaxy Z Fold3 and Flip3, became a hit among design-conscious consumers, heralding a new era of foldable devices.

Behind the feats is the company’s dual focus on technology and design, or its strenuous effort to mingle the two worlds, with the aim of bringing real benefits to consumers, said Lee Don-tae, head of Corporate Design Center at Samsung Electronics, in an emailed interview with The Korea Herald and the Herald Business, ahead of the 11th Herald Design Forum slated for Oct. 14.

“The Bespoke series is an outcome of our efforts to read the minds of customers who prioritize uniqueness and personal tastes, while the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Flip3 are the examples that show how we can provide new experiences and values by combining innovative technologies with design,” the executive vice president of Samsung’s Corporate Design Center said.

As chief designer, Lee tries to be always attentive to changes in the way of people pursue various values in their life.

Although the fundamental things in life, like the pursuit of food, clothing and shelter, or self-actualization, never change, people’s emotional and physical desires do over time, such as empathy or human connections. So, it is important to constantly observe changing values, he explained.

Samsung’s “Lifestyle TV” series is another example of the company’s attention to these changes in consumer life from the very early of product development, Lee said.

“The Serif TV is designed to inspire people only with its existence, the Frame TV gives customers the special experience of owning a prestigious (art) frame, and the Sero TV has reflected flexibility in the lifestyles of millennials and Gen. Zs,” he said.

“We keep thinking on what roles design can play to fill our lives with meaningful experiences with values.”

Life under the pandemic and post-pandemic, therefore, is a question that he often ponders upon these days, as a designer. There is both hope and fear for what the future holds, he said.

At the upcoming Herald Design Forum, he will be sharing his insights through a presentation titled “Design for a Better Tomorrow.”

“For a better and more sustainable future than now, as a designer, I would like to talk about different ways of approaching this era of change,” he said.

Design, he said, is “what resonates with people and delivers sustainable values with meaningfully connected experiences for all mankind,” beyond individual levels. 

An exhibition booth created by Samsung Electronics with the theme of resonance at Salone del mobile Milan in 2019. (Samsung Electronics)
An exhibition booth created by Samsung Electronics with the theme of resonance at Salone del mobile Milan in 2019. (Samsung Electronics)

Lee started his design career at UK-based design firm Tangerine and joined Samsung C&T’s housing business in 2006 before moving to Samsung Electronics in 2015.

At the mammoth tech firm, his team is dedicated to materializing “human-centric designs.”

“Be bold and resonate with soul,” he tells his team, as they try to share feelings with customers and create designs that touch their hearts.

“Close collaboration with experts from different fields has become ever more crucial in a bid to realize designs well blended with innovative technologies that contribute to customers’ lives and our society,” he said.

Their work has been acknowledged globally, winning of as many as 71 awards at 2021 iF Product Design Award.

So how will Samsung’s design evolve for the post COVID-19 pandemic era?

“After the pandemic, Samsung’s design philosophy will remain the same as before, but we will have to be more committed to grasping and understanding changing values of customers for a sustainable future,” Lee said. “Samsung’s design logic will always include in-depth approaches to customers’ experiences and lifestyles and this should be complementary with technologies.”

“Samsung will continue suggesting and leading new lifestyles with new designs through open innovation with other research institutes,” he added.

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