South Korea by Design

Walking around the streets of Seoul, one can’t help but notice the signs that validate South Korea as an economically booming country.

It is often considered the leader of the pack of the four “Asian Tiger” (or “Asian Dragon”) countries. Design and manufacturing especially have seen explosive growth recently, with tech companies such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundaibecoming big household names.


With Korea’s rapid economic growth combined with the current global “Green Revolution”, I was more than mildly interested in the perspective Koreans had on the subjects. Are “reduce”, “reuse”, and/or “recycle” words of importance to most Koreans? How about “repurpose”, “reclaim”, and “restore”?

I recently spoke with local professionals very involved with both the Korean and North American views on design and marketing. Jaewoo Joo, marketing professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University and graduate of the University of Toronto’s Doctorate program, was the first. He feels that most Koreans are aware of the problem of climate change and landfill overflow.  However, the price of reusing, repurposing, reclaiming, and restoring is actually more expensive in most cases than purchasing new supplies. He does note that this is not a disregard for the treatment of the earth. It is simply economically best for young families with no pocket change to spare.

This leads me to another point Professor Joo made. Mothers across Korea are known to use a network of sharing and support to help raise their children. Reusing, recycling, repurposing, reclaiming, and restoring are all words in their vocabulary and have been for quite some time. It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. It also takes that village’s toys, clothes, and food to raise the child, and Korean mothers work together within their “Villages” [networks] to give their children the best supplies they can.

I also spoke with Professor Soren Petersen, graduate of the Art Center College of Design and Stanford University, about the subject. Soren believes that like most nations in the world, South Korea is currently attempting some level of involvement with the green revolution, but in reality, the timing is not yet right. He has also noticed that not many Korean design students are involving green technology or thinking in their projects. Perhaps rewards for work that reduces the impact on the environment would help increase the students’ interests in practicing what is preached. Without proper training, the next generation of designers will be ill-equipped to incorporate environmentally friendly materials and processes.

I feel that knowing all that we know about our climate issues, incorporation of environmentally friendly design into products is now essential. I think that the time to begin green practices within Korean business is now. With time, the “Green” culture will be passed from the big corporations to the rest of the Korean population. Starting somewhere is the key here. The first step may be the most difficult, but it is the most important.