What is the significance of the brand called Seoul to you?

What is the significance of the brand called Seoul to you?

Portland, New York, or Berlin

Personally, I have never been to Portland. However, since a few years ago, lifestyles that is known as ‘YOLO life’, and ‘Kinfolk life’ have emerged, and Portland, was mentioned as one of the representative cities. Portland was perceived to be a city that acknowledges open mindsets and lives, as well as one that is filled with a feeling of relaxation while being a little slow, and not a city that is artificially made and attempts are made for improvements and change. Of course, this is the result of successful city branding. This is why I am treasuring the Portland mask that I received as a gift from an acquaintance who recently visited Portland. 

Another keyword that is currently being mentioned as much as ‘design’ is ‘branding’. Branding is a topic that is widely used and with importance almost at the level that it can be applied from branding products to corporations, and from individuals to cities and countries. This proves that it is not something that simply ends after having experienced and consumed it, but there is a growing interest and understanding about who I am, what I am consuming or experiencing, and for what purpose. Thus, the example of Portland that I just mentioned before is very strong even if it is a small experience. Our experience in recalling a certain image, brand or a representative spot immediately after hearing the name of a certain city like New York, Berlin, Milano, Davos, or London is the result of city branding (whether we are conscious of it or not). 

Seoul Design International Forum that was held through Zoom on March 31st was both timely and appropriate in that ‘city brand’ was chosen as the design paradigm. In the forum that was held under the theme of ‘Design trend and direction of policy’, ‘Value of Experience Design in City Brand’, in particular, (Speaker: CEO Choi So-hyun of Perception) triggers us to think about what is required for ‘city branding’ while pointing out the context and meaning of city brand to us, in the current times, where there is a deluge of ‘branding’. 


Portland (Image Source: https://unsplash.com/) 

What completes city branding? 

Branding is ultimately replaced by experience. It is a combination of several contexts such as senses including sight, smell and taste. Here, context is not easy to define. Berlin could position itself as an innovative and artistic city not just because it had a slogan of ‘Be Berlin’, and we don’t want to go to New York just because of the symbolic logo, ‘I love New York’. The ‘desire to live’ or ‘desire to want to go somewhere’ is a result of very complex factors. Considering that the concept of city branding was derived from the theory of corporate branding, ‘consumers’ that we consider in a company can be considered more diversely in a city, as ‘residents’, ‘visitors’, ‘tourists’ and so forth. Also, all possibilities that these consumers experience and mutual interactions are all prerequisites for city branding. Countless factors that shape a city, in addition to the relationship between people, history and nature of a city are embodied here. Therefore, there are no right answers, and city branding continues to change as if it is an organic body. 

Factors that determine city branding

If the word ‘city branding’ sounds a bit difficult or grand, we can take a look at more adjacent cases in Korea. Gangneung is known for coffee, Gyeongju is known for history and historical sites, and Jeju is positioned as a place with natural characteristics. These are various cases where existing assets were used and new keywords and contents were put forth. In addition, branding can be strengthened through corporations, brands or buildings as well. Kyoto, Japan became even more famous through the Hoshinoya Hotel that was established by the Hoshino Resort Group. It attracted people through a concept of enjoying experience, rest and nature, as if a local resident would do, by linking the hotel with the local community. This allowed the city to position itself as one of the lifestyles to create a strong identity in the same way we go on a pilgrimage or visit India to meditate. On the other hand, a small German city, Hamburg, received the attention of not only global musicians but also those of tourists, designers and architects through the opening of the Elbphilharmonie Hall in 2017. This is because the Elbphilharmonie Hall was the work of ‘Herzog & De Meuron’ which is well-known for the construction of ‘Tate Modern’. It has become a venue that you want to visit at least once even if you don’t go to listen to music, as it consists of wide pathways and sound design considering the users, and Hamburg is using this as a landmark of the city, while establishing Hamburg as the center of music and art. 


From left, Jeju, Elbphilharmonie Hall (Image source: https://unsplash.com/)


To become a city that I want to live in and visit

Then, what would be required to successfully lead city branding? The answer does not only lie in a simple policy or visual change. As an example, Eulji-ro could become a place of gathering for the creatives, not as a result of branding, but rather, because creatives were attracted to the place by the history, regional accessibility, unique color of the area with older buildings of Eulji-ro that used to be the mecca of manufacturing industry in the past. Seattle, U.S., is originally known to be a city that rains a lot, but it also reminds us of coffee because the global brand, Starbucks, was born there. A prominent event known as the Busan International Film Festival that continued for almost 30 years played a big role in the abundance of cultural infrastructure in Busan. This allows to provide ‘direct and indirect experience’ to not only the local residents but to those who have never been here. 

What can we learn from the above cases? We need various conditions such as people, region, history, brand or their items for city branding. Above all, we need to be given a sufficient amount of time. It is almost impossible to immediately create a brand and imprint it into the minds of people in a very short amount of time. Countless hours and efforts are required, and we also need patience to continuously accumulate the contents within. Therefore, we cannot think of this simply as policies, a few programs or souvenirs and such.

In order from left: Busan International Film Festival, Eulji-ro art festival 'Eulji-ro Fantasia' 

(Image source: https://unsplash.com/, https://www.caci.or.kr/caci/main/contents.do?menuNo=200137)

Experience design for city branding 

Therefore, the importance of ‘experience design’, the content of this forum’s presentation, is emphasized even more. The term, in itself, may be misinterpreted to be limited in scope to ‘design’, but the key to experience design is ‘communication’ and ‘cooperation’. There are numerous variables that exist here. Various factors such as social change and issues, trend, natural elements, residents and incomers, their lifestyle patterns and so forth have to be considered along with these variables. It is clear that a mature city brand can be created if a more comprehensive approach and a proper process were to accompany the aforementioned items. Against this backdrop, if we were to look at ‘Seoul’ with the right approach and process on city branding, we should not think firstly about what to visualize and which items should stand out. First, we have to connect and expand various contexts such as identity of Seoul, definition of the meaning of existence, clear setting of target, experience designed with consistent context, and engagement of stakeholders including the members. Before we think about ‘like a certain city’, or ‘like a certain region’, we should first look into what we have, such as the asset of Seoul, residents in Seoul, history of Seoul and landmarks. 

All of these processes boil down to ‘where we want to live in’, ‘which city we want to visit’, or ‘how we want to welcome someone’. This is due to that fact that if someone wants to live in Seoul, or visit Seoul, this is because this person can find where the attractive story that the city continues to show lies in. This can be discovered and expanded from various sources such as people, buildings, food, festivals or events. This is the start of branding. The ultimate target of branding is coming up with the definition of existence and behaviors, consistently conveying values, and discovering the mechanism of experience and love through the aforementioned items. 

City as a sustainable organic body 

Keyword called ‘sustainability’ is recently being used frequently across the entire country and the industry, but there is no doubt that ‘sustainability’ is the basis and the target of city branding. Sustainability is inevitable for a city that is alive to evolve. In particular, sincere there are many relevant parties and networks that form this organism called the ‘city’, we need a more prudent and a longer-term approach. I want to clearly reiterate once more that the approach that I mention here is not referring to something ‘new’ for city branding. In a forum, CEO Choi So-hyun, at the end of her presentation, mentioned the need for a ‘mature design’ that creates a ‘mature city’, and also said that this cannot be achieved by a single person. She emphasized how the responsibility lies in everyone by saying that in order to expand the scope that can be proposed by the design and to ensure that the expanded experience design is effectively implemented, citizens would have to overcome selfishness to clearly outline a shared target, while the public institutions should play the role of connecting various points and piecing together what had been severed, along with designers who should be able to make professional and bold propositions. We also need a ‘clear criteria for what to do and what not to do’. This is because city branding is not only for us that we live in the present world, but it should also be a design for the later generations who will live the future as well as those people who have lived here in the past. We all need to recreate the starting point from this perspective. 

Where should we start? 

If so, how can we engage people to experience the city and the city brand? At this point, in 2022. For this to be possible, we would need various components such as visual factors including public space, facilities and signage. In addition, we would need contents that can be shared while fully understanding the values. Moreover, the efforts of Seoul to plan experience design, analysis of recent trends, and the recognition of the importance of experience design that drives the competitiveness of the city are critical in raising the ‘value of experience design for city brand’. Of course, Seoul has the assets to create such starting points. This also means that, in truth, it is dependent on how Seoul, its citizens, institutions and designers would discover, identify and develop tangible and intangible values. 

Presenter | Choi So-hyun (CEO of Perception)

Writer | Oh Sang-hee (former Senior Reporter of monthly "Design")

Image Source | Unsplash, Jung-gu Cultural Foundation

* This article is writer's opinion related to one of the Presentations of the 1st Pre-Forum for 2022 Seoul Design International Forum.

Introduction of the Writer

Oh Sang-hee

A former senior reporter of monthly "Design". She majored in philosophy and design, and worked as a feature reporter for Shinsegae S Magazine, Seoul Media Group, and TNS Media. In the monthly "Design", she created space, architecture, brand, and lifestyle content as a senior reporter. Currently she performs branding work and content planning and production with IT, F&B, eco-friendly packages, and metaverse-related companies. Moreover, space and branding project planning and management are also being carried out. She is also contributing to various media such as Monthly "Design", "Naver Design Edition", "Naver Business Edition", "Low Press", "Belive", and "Fortune Korea".

Shortcut to presentation summary: https://sdif.org/html/ko/view.php?no=112 

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