Public design for people, cooperative public design

Design has always evolved as a meaningful means to achieve an objective or a part that is required in the society. Currently, active efforts are being made to resolve the  issues of economy, environment and safety through design. In the recent times where we are transcending the era of industrialization to usher in the era of sustainability, design that improves the competitive industrial products is beginning to contribute to our society as design that improves public values as a part of the strategy to resolve problems from the perspective that design is changing in line with the demand of the society. ‘Public design’ is playing a leading role at the center, and from now on, 'design' will resolve a considerable number of issues that our society will face, and it will be making various contributions as a cultural pillar of life. As a result, design can be considered to be transforming comprehensively and in combination from a meaning that simply refers to the aesthetics of the exterior to meticulous design and creative ideas for business, or from the part that deals with the lifestyle of an individual to the culture that embodies the identity of a nation. Such an expansion of design will be accepted as a good strategy in various areas to discover public values and produce added value through design, and ultimately, it will play a part in improving the quality of life.

If so, what is ‘public design’? Legal definition of public design is stipulated as 'design to improve the public nature and the aesthetics of public facility that a public institution creates, creates, installs, and operates for the general public' in Article 2 of Public Design Promotion Act. Currently, the concept of public design is further expanding through various designs and initiatives, and in the broad sense, it is being understood as 'design' to implement 'public value'. Hence, public design is playing a large role in raising the value of design in each area of our society. 


*Public design in planning the strategy and implementation method for tangible/intangible processes such as planning, analysis, design, installation, management and operation to enhance public values in public areas 

The government is proposing public design business types through the comprehensive public design promotion plan and local public design promotion plan, and public values such as safety, convenience, consideration and dignity have been designated as the core strategy to support realization of public design through 19 execution strategies and 49 implementation initiatives. It is easier to converge projects for public design execution initiatives because public design has the characteristic of granting public values while ensuring non-infringement on the basic content of existing projects of other departments. 


 Safety Lane                   Sunshade canopy               Yellow Carpet

Photo: Guidebook on public design for secondary teachers

Guidance lane, ‘Safety Lane’ of Korea Express Corporation can be considered to be an initiative that corresponds to the 'transportation safety design' of 'public design that adds safety in everyday lives' of the public design promotion plan as an excellent public design example that reduced as much as 27% of accidents on crossroads of highways, and as such, public value known as 'safety' can be enhanced in the facility infrastructure project of existing roads through design strategies. National highways and urban district roads are benchmarking the adoption of safety lanes on highways, and a single design has created massive economic impact and safety with a high level of user satisfaction.

'Yellow carpet' that we can easily see on roads was first installed in front of Gilwon Elementary School in Seongbuk-gu, Seoul on April 2015, and ‘Discussion Session to Seek Out Plan to Guarantee Safety in School Zones through Enhancement of Effectiveness of Yellow Carpet' was held to show that human eyes recognized the objects in the order of sky-car-building in front of the crosswalks before the installation of the Yellow Carpet, while the gaze recognition order was improved to Yellow Carpet-car-sky after the installation of the Yellow Carpet, and it was also shown that the attentive gaze could rise to as much as 79% depending on the installation location of the Yellow Carpet. According to the survey on 800 users, users feel 'safe' and feel as if they are being 'protected' by using the Yellow Carpet, and 62.1% of elementary school students felt safe. 

The sunshade canopy that we can now see across the country started to be installed on 54 sites including crosswalks and traffic islands to protect pedestrians from hthe eat in  April, 2017 in Seocho-gu district. Afterwards, praises about the convenience of the sunshade canopies in front of crosswalks spread explosively through 2,000 or so replies on SNS of Seocho-gu district, and they were additionally installed to respond to the requests of residents. Sunshade canopy in front of the crosswalks was derived from an idea achieved a big impact from small consideration, and the canopy acts as  oasis that cools down the heat for the citizens even if it is only for a short amount of time. In truth, this facility was first regarded as an unauthorized facility because it was not recognized as an ancillary road facility pursuant to the Road Act, but it was praised by the citizens as a convenient facility on the road space to receive various awards at home and abroad including Green Apple Awards in Europe, Silver Award at the Green World Awards, 2018 Korea Public Design Awards, and Presidential Award for Disaster Management Evaluation from the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, and in the end, Ministry of Public Administration and Security designated a guideline to install the sunshade canopy in 2019, enabling it to be recognized as an official facility. 


Long-life Chair    Photo: Public Design Festival 2022

Long-life chair is public facility that was designed to resolve issues that were identified while carrying out discussions on the difficulties the elderly population have while waiting for the traffic lights to change at the crosswalks during the transportation safety promotion meeting and discussions held at the senior citizens' center. Identified issue was that the senior citizens end up jaywalking on roads because they desire to cross quickly without waiting at the traffic lights of the crosswalks due to knee pain or back pain. The chair aims to reduce jaywalking by guiding senior citizens to sit down while waiting.

By installing the chair that considers the senior citizens, the number of jaywalking cases by the senior citizens in the region decreased, and the satisfaction level of the senior users was very high. Currently, the long-life chair has been selected as a case that can be considerate of citizens on crosswalks like Seoripul Wondoomak(sunshade canopy), and many local governments are installing the chairs as public facilities that allow the citizens to take a rest at the crosswalks without jaywalking. Long-life chair is a public design that secures safety by adding consideration that allows the senior  citizens and the weaker pedestrians to rest while waiting at the crosswalks.

Korean Yellow Fish Campaign ‘Smile Project’  

Photo: LOUD

'Smile Project' design, the Korean Yellow Fish Campaign, is a nudge campaign-type public design that leverages the psychological side of humans who disposes of garbage for clean management of non-point source of pollution.

Yellow Fish campaign is a non-point source pollution-related education campaign for children that was started by a non-profit Canadian organization called Trout Unlimited Canada in 1991, and main activities consist of having local elementary school students draw yellow fish on the sewage of the region that the students reside in and handing out Yellow Fish brochures by visiting households in the region, and ‘Yellow Fish’ is a symbol that represents the environment that we should protect.

Garbage in the rainwater drain, one of the main causes that damages human lives and leads to flooding from backflow of rainwater in the city, is a serious issue, and according to the material from the Ministry of Environment, non-point source pollution accounts for 22~37% of the entire water pollution load. The amount of garbage that is collected from the rainwater drain in a year is close to 400 containers, which required approximately KRW 7.8 billion to be treated. Rainwater drain that is filled with garbage damages the aesthetics of a city and causes odor. 'Smile Project', the Korean Yellow Fish campaign is designed to resolve such issues, and it naturally causes the citizens to litter less through campaign slogan and face with a wide smile by using the proverb 'You cannot spit on a smiling face' as a motif. It also improves the issue involving garbage being discarded in the rainwater drain through a design that drives behaviors. Smile project is a public design case that resolved problems by changing the behaviors of people who litter with smile stickers that express widely smiling faces in order to resolve the issue of a large amount of cigarette butts and garbage being thrown out into rainwater drains.


Public restroom design made with 'Slastick'   

Photo: Amorepacific

Social contribution activities such as ESG and CSR of private companies aim for the same values as public design, and thus, can be a part of a good cooperation mode. Public restrooms and bench design made through 'Slastic' that uses the empty bottles of cosmetic products is an exemplary case.

Amorepacific collected 2,354 ton until 2021 to conduct research on various recycling methods to make sure that containers of cosmetic products do not harm nature. Amorepacific has set a target to recycle 100% of empty bottles by 2025, and donated and installed benches made by mixing  UHPC (Ultra High Performance Concrete), known as super concrete, and empty plastic bottles in Chollipo Arboretum and public spaces in Jongno-gu, Seoul in 2020. The benches that were exhibited were made with recycled empty bottles and were created through the collaboration of 3 artists in Amore Store in Gwanggyo region.

‘Beautiful Powder Room’, public restroom made with 'slastic', is a project that turned a public restroom in Itaewon to a pleasant and beautiful space using recycled materials from containers of cosmetic projects through a cooperation between Amorepacific and Yongsan-gu Office, and it uses the eco-friendly material 'slastic' that was provided by Posco as the exterior finishing material of the public restroom. 

 ‘Bench Addition Project’ that makes good benches that considers the environment as a part of public design, provides resting space to citizens by distributing benches that are called 'your seat', and these benches that had been donated are eco-friendly benches that were made by using recycled empty bottles of cosmetic products and concrete of Amorepacific and Sampyo Group. Sampyo Group used special concrete that was developed through the R&D Center, and Amorepacific used empty plastic bottles of cosmetic products that have been discarded as garbage. The name of the bench, 'your seat' has the meaning of 'comfortable resting space for neighbors', and it can be made to seat 1 person to 3 people depending on the donation amount and installation location. Message to be conveyed by the donor is attached to the bench to be passed onto the citizens. The bench donation project is being carried out in Gangnam-gu in addition to Jongno-gu, and is expanding. It has value as public design from the perspective that it presents comfort to citizens that need rest from their daily activities while donors and donating organizations carry out meaningful activities and gain advertisement impact, and through the upcycling benches donated by companies, interest on the environment and social contribution (CSR) of companies are shared while driving awareness. 


Design of donated benches that use discarded empty bottles of cosmetic products   Photo: Amorepacific

Approximately 3,000 car accidents are happening on crosswalks in a year, and with the increase in the use of smartphones, more people are in danger because many people are less aware of cars and traffic lights on crosswalks. Floor traffic lights is a design that that drives visual effect to secure safety by inducing people who tend to look downwards when they are holding smartphones to naturally perceive traffic lights with the adoption of floor lights on the boundaries of the pedestrian walks. Yellow footprints prevent car accidents by inducing people to wait at the traffic lights by standing approximately 1m away from the road by printing yellow footprints and yellow pedestrian stop lines, and it is a public design that prevents people from taking a step towards the road by having smartphone users or children stop temporarily through a metaphorical perception to stop after looking at the footprints. Yellow footprint was developed to prevent car accidents of children around schools. It applies the nudge technique and drives children to wait for the signal to change while standing behind the yellow footprint that was drawn behind the stop line, almost as if they are playing a game, to reduce the risk of car accidents that occur while students stand too close to the road or wait for the signal to change out on the road when they are waiting at the traffic lights in front of the crosswalks in accident-prone regions or around schools.

Yellow footprints and floor traffic lights provide safety to the users to discover and resolve parts that could become unconscious issues that arise from excessive behaviors on crosswalks or frequent use of smartphones, and these were designed to naturally induce safe and positive behaviors through a consideration of the psychological and cognitive characteristics rather than through the application of regulations.


Yellow footprint                                                                            Floor traffic lights 

Photo: Asphalt Art                                                                           Photo: Namyangju-si


Talking fire extinguisher             Disaster Aid Kit Life Clock          

Photo: Policy Briefing of Korea      Photo: Public Design Exhibition 'Familiar Future'


It is often the case that many people do now know how to use fire extinguishers because they are not used often in daily lives, and even if people are aware of how to use them, they often forget to use them because they are perplexed in case of an actual fire. Talking fire extinguishers that inform the users about the method of using fire extinguishers and throwing-type fire extinguishers that allow people to extinguish fire through an intuitive behavior to throw something in case of a fire are easy-to-use public safety design products that resolve aforementioned issues.

According to an investigation conducted by Gyeonggi-do Women & Family Foundation, only 40% of men and 8.5% of women replied that they know how to use the fire extinguishers, and in order to resolve this issue and to prepare against everyday disasters, the fire extinguishers were designed to enable ease of use through design that improves the usability from cognitive perspective and user behavior.

Gyeonggi-do Province and Gyeonggi-do Fire Services formed a partnership with Korea Fire Industry Cooperative to commercialize the 'talking fire extinguisher’, and in addition to this, 'talking hydrant' was designed with the same method using the same principle to provide a lot of help in improving the safety of public space. In the experiment to test the use of general fire extinguisher and the talking fire extinguisher, result showed that the group that used the talking fire extinguisher was faster in suppressing fire.

Image  Disaster Aid Kit Life Clock 

Photo: KGC Brand


Disaster Aid Kit Life Clock  

Photo: KGC Brand

Life Clock was designed by prioritizing the function to primarily prepare against disasters so that people can protect themselves and call for help in case of a disaster. Life Clock consists of 5 types of rescue request items including light stick, thermo blanket, compression bandage, whistle and rescue request flags, In Case of Emergency card(ICE card) and educational material, and it is cube shaped with each side being 20cm in length. Its usage in everyday lives was improved by designing it in such a manner that normally, it can be placed on a table or hung on the wall to be used as a clock, and reached easily in case of emergency.

Life Clock was planned as a product that is appropriate as the material for training on safety, and designed to respond to 3rd stage, Pending rescue, in 4 stages of disaster  ‘Pending disaster -> Occurrence of disaster -> Pending rescue -> Rescue activities’. Design strategy that prioritizes the safety value of public items provides means to maintain safety in public areas and prepare against disasters.

The strategy that is pursued by public design is very closely linked to our lives. Factors of safety, convenience, consideration, and dignity are directly linked to daily lives, and public design is creating alternatives through the means of design. Public design reduces the level of stress in subways, prevents dementia for the elderly, reduces accidents in school zones and crossings, lowers crime rate in a town and allows even those with disabilities to be at ease in using the beach areas. As such, user experience-driven public design that provides safety, convenience and consideration that citizens require may be small in size but can create immense result in value. In terms of various policies and projects, public design is the optimal strategy that can satisfy citizens from resolution of small civil complaints to creation of various public values. 

Writer | Hyunsung Lee (Professor, HongIk University)

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