The Korean Wave - Samsung Defines Design


As Universal Design diffuses it localizes. In Korea it has meant a reassesment at Samsung where the Tao of balance plays a part.

Samsung's instinct was to develop a design language that grew out of Korean culture.

Samsung's in-house school gave its designers the tools and confidence to risk thinking differently. But there remained an equally vexing challenge: The company lacked a universal design ethos* --a measurable, clearly defined set of principles that its designers could replicate and its customers could intuitively understand. Samsung's instinct was to develop a design language that grew out of Korean culture. But that proved equally hard to define. China's Han, Ming, and Tung dynasties, as well as the Mongols, Russians, Japanese, and even American missionaries had all left elements of their cultures on the peninsula. Unearthing a true Korean character proved difficult, but Samsung discovered it in the Tae Kuk--the yin-yang symbol found on the South Korean flag that represents the simultaneous unity and duality of all things. From the Tae Kuk, Samsung developed its touchstone: "Balance of Reason and Feeling."

"Reason and feeling are opposites, but they are essential to each other," says Sangyeon Lee, who heads Samsung's San Francisco design studio. "In design terms, 'reason' is rational, sharp-edged, and very geometric. 'Feeling' is soft and organic--it makes an emotional connection with the user. Taken together, reason and feeling give us a way to frame our design identity, which is always evolving."

A task force spent a year developing and perfecting a scale, with reason at one end and feeling on the other, which is now used to ensure that every single product design hews to Samsung's brand positioning. That generally falls near the scale's center--thereby striking a balance. Samsung did the same with two other key words: "simplicity" and "complexity."

* Note that this usage, "universal design ethos," does not refer to the seven principles of Universal Design but rather refers to an "integrated design approach" or "school of design" which Universal Design is decidedly not.

The Seoul of Design

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