Discussing South Korean contemporary design through the medium of a podcast has been an interesting experience. I had never recorded a podcast before so the process was new to me. Similar to writing articles there is a central topic or topics that is discussed in a podcast but contrary to articles, the register is quite different. You’re not just writing for the purpose of someone else reading it, it’s rather an auditory essay of sorts. I think this was the most interesting aspect for me when preparing for the podcast. When writing I’m often thinking about how I can deliver tone, emphasis and expression with just words but with a podcast it’s a completely different experience. We had prepared a script but reading through it the first time we realised how formal our wording was; it didn’t sound like a natural human conversation. There was a lot of “how would you say it?” when reviewing the script which is the complete reversal of the writing process. I realised when speaking we often use extra words that are not necessarily necessary. I was adding words like “yeah”, “like” and “I think” just to make the conversation sound less robotic. Another factor was that it was a back and forth conversation, adding to the difficulties of having a scripted podcast. You know what the other person is going to say and you have to respond like you don’t, it’s like your voice acting at times except…well… you’re playing yourself.
Ok but what about the actual podcast topic? Yes, South Korean contemporary design. What have I learned from it? Well, the overarching theme of the topic was Innovation or Imitation?; is Korean design original? And we concluded that because Korea has a relatively young economy they’ve used imitation as a sort of economic catalyst to reach the top before then starting to innovate to stay there. However this has had it’s consequences on companies such as Hyundai and LG and perhaps previously Samsung who have now defined their spot in the global tech sector.
But how does this affect me as a designer? I’m not a multinational corporation striving for profit, or an ambitious economy looking to climb the ladder. So I wasn’t really sure what I could “learn” from our discussion. But I later came across a completely unrelated video from the Surface team at Microsoft where they talk about originality. For their recent Original by Design campaign they teamed up with various creators. One of creators, Martellus Bennet, says in the campaign video:
“Am I original or am I the sum of a lot of ideas I’ve accumulated over time?”
This made me think about my design process but also about South Korean design trends. Is anything we design actually original by definition? We are always inspired by something, is this essentially imitation? The campaign video later says, “Inspiration can come from anywhere, originality is where you take it”. Korean design was and is often inspired by successful design around the world and copying it can make a company successful to a point, but it’s originality that really sets a company’s design identity apart. It’s taking that inspiration and doing your own thing with it that helps you come up with more unique designs. And as we discussed in the podcast, I think Samsung is now doing this quite well. They’ve set themselves apart from Apple and Android phone manufacturers. Their phones, software and other products are recognisably Samsung even without the logo. On the other hand, I would struggle to identify a Hyundai car without their logo as after all these years they haven’t really established a unique design identity.
So, as a designer I want to be original with my designs, as in I want to be inspired but then take that inspiration to somewhere it hasn’t been taken before hence establishing my own design identity.