‘Design x Seoul’, the Role of Design in the Public Administration of Seoul City

The 2022 Seoul Design International Forum has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

‘Design x Seoul’, the Role of Design in the Public Administration of Seoul City

Kim Gyu-ri 

(Director/Design Policy Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government)

This year’s Seoul Design International Forum is held under the theme of ‘Design x Seoul’. The underlying idea is that when the design is incorporated into the city of Seoul where we live, our citizens will have greater exposure to joyful, enriching experiences. A city that gives its citizens the joy of life – what does it look like? We feel happier in a pleasant place where everyone is respected and can share quality time together. 


The ultimate goal of our design administration is to design people, places, and time in between. Shin Young-bok, a renowned thinker, once said that every being in this world including time, spaces, and people has its essence rooted not in itself but in relationships between each other. The Chinese character ‘gan’, which can be found in Korean words for human, space, and time, means ‘between’. It can refer to steps or various situations and states. The role of design to make a better city to live in should start from the spectrum of ‘between’ and understand the different situations and circumstances of our citizens. Moreover, it should focus on providing appealing urban spaces for their everyday lives so that they can spend both familiar and new quality times. Assuming this is our way forward, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to look back on the changes the city of Seoul has gone through over the years. 


Just 13 or 14 years back, the landscape of Seoul was mostly comprised of identical-looking apartments and incoherent signboards that caused visual pollution. Streets looked untidy as they were covered with road facilities. The city also didn’t do justice to the Han River, a natural gem of Seoul, as the waterfronts were not accessible. With buildings that had architectural styles from all over the place, Seoul looked completely different from what it is today. Our urban environment went through many changes. And now, let’s explore the future direction of the design administration under the vision of building a soft city. 

Human-centered Design to Embrace the Vulnerable

First is the role of design to better understand people. In this sense, the city of Seoul aims to incorporate design into its ‘embracing the vulnerable’ policy. A diversified and advanced society should be able to respect citizens with different backgrounds and needs. Until now, our focus has been on creating a universal environment for all citizens. To ensure an inclusive environment regardless of age, gender, disabilities, or nationality, we established and institutionalized the universal design guideline. Under the theme of ‘each and all’, we also offered and expanded customized design for people with special needs to actively discover best practice cases that can ultimately become convenient, resonating designs. In particular, we coordinated with the Office of Education to include the universal design in the official character-building & creativity program. It showed that teaching our children to understand different people need different products and environments can help their character development. In line with these efforts, the Universal Design Virtual Center is to be opened at the end of this year to give more opportunities to experience different situations firsthand in the metaverse.  


Our focus going forward should include the state of our citizens as well as the situations they face in between. For instance, we need to think about a dad who has to change his daughter’s diaper while he’s out or those without sufficient energy sources during the extremely hot or cold seasons. Other examples can be found in a family on an outing with kids with and without disabilities or people who suffered from a flood this summer. In our city administration, user-centered research and behavior analysis based on big data will be fully utilized while the persona technique of service design will also be applied. We aim to look closely into the daily lives of our citizens through the design policy embracing the vulnerable to ensure no one is left behind. 


Creating Public Places

The role of design in creating a better city to live in is about creating more abundant and appealing places in everyday lives as well as in the urban environment within the spectrum of in-between spaces. Indeed, our daily lives will be enriched with more layers of space to choose from as we make our ways from home to work and enjoy spare time. Until now, Seoul has been working on the urban landscape to enhance the city’s brand value. As a result, inner-city plazas and parks along the Han River were created and the urban night scenery has improved. 


Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), now a famous landmark of the city, is building a strong identity with the media façade. The cloud veils installed along the Han River to offer a place of relaxation for citizens enduring COVID-19 are very popular as their witty design resembles fleecy clouds in the sky. We can now spend more quality time in the waterfront spaces, experiencing and enjoying various installations along the Han River. There’s also joy in taking a walk in the area and discovering the work. These urban designs have become a part of the daily lives of our citizens and sometimes turn an unknown place into a must-see spot. ‘Hongje Yuyeon’ is a great example as it successfully revitalized an abandoned area and addressed issues we face in everyday life. There are more initiatives enabling or upgrading the level of both tangible and intangible services required in our society through design. Residential areas were transformed and improved with the new living design that ensures the safety and ease of mind of our citizens. In preparation for the superaged society, a longevity garden was designed to prevent dementia by facilitating physical activities, stimulation of the five senses, and social exchange. Public buildings and welfare facilities were also enhanced. 


It’s important to create more spaces for our citizens to relax, recharge, and find pleasure. But going forward, rather than existing as independent dots, these places should be integrated and designed with the perspectives of the citizens in mind to offer continuous experiences. Public spaces, green areas, and sidewalks are currently designed and constructed individually, making it difficult to improve the experience of pedestrians. A more integrated approach to urban development is required to help establish a design strategy from the early stage.  

Creating Public Places – Times of Memories·Significance·New Experiences

Creating a more abundant, competitive city requires design that incorporates familiar and new quality times. We’re said to live by two different times – Kairos and Chronos. Chronos refers to the sequential time we spend in our everyday lives whereas Kairos indicates quality time that is engraved by a specific event and has clear significance. To experience quality time in cities, we need a strengthened connection with content. An aesthetically pleasing product will fail to satisfy its users if the level of intangible service falls short, making the time spent using the product less worthwhile. But the design with strengthened content is a very effective strategy in taking an aesthetically pleasing product to the next level. 

Recently, we carried out a program to grant the wishes of senior members at the Seoul Nowon Senior Center. A list was created consisting of places the senior citizens wanted to visit during their lifetime but were unable to do so due to financial or physical reasons. The Citizen Design Governance team went to these places and put together a VR video which was shared with the senior citizens. Some longed for their hometowns, some wanted to visit the workplace of their early years, and some hoped to go back to the traditional market where they ran shops selling fruits and vegetables. The project helped us hold on to quality time and the senior citizens shed tears of joy. 


Futurologists forecast an era in which the boundary between the virtual and real worlds is blurred. Crossing this boundary and creating meaningful experiences will strengthen the charm and competitiveness of a city. And design will serve as a crucial strategy in this process. In light of this, the Design Policy Division will coordinate with different departments in the local government to enhance the quality of tangible designs including visuals, products, and spaces and act as a facilitator who plans and drives intangible designs to offer more meaningful experiences to our citizens. 

A city is a growing organism. As mentioned in the beginning, the goal of the design administration is to design people, places, and time in between. Design is not something that should exist on its own. Instead, as shown by the theme of this forum, it’s a strategy and tool that can increase the quality of output when combined with other areas or agents. The municipal administration ultimately aims to enhance the quality of life for its citizens so that they feel happy and impressed. We’ll continue to leverage opportunities like this forum and actively incorporate suggestions or ideas in planning and executing services for our citizens. 

Category related contents
Hashtag related contents