Social Problem Solving Design, Reinforcement of Resiliency Capacity Through Design

The 2020 SEOUL DESIGN INTERNATONAL FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Lee hye Young (Director, Design Policy Division of SMG)

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that no one has ever experienced. Existing social problems, such as economic recession, relative poverty, increased depression due to social isolation, and the intensification of suffering experienced by vulnerable groups such as infants, young children, the elderly, and the disabled, are being exacerbated by the pandemic. Medical staff and other members of society in various fields are making every effort to identify and deal with unpredictable situations in their respective positions, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government is also currently doing its best to overcome the Corona situation.

We are now living in an era where problem-solving strategies are needed more than ever. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in policy to prevent and improve social problems that incur huge social costs, rather than reactive measures. Design is one of the main solutions to improve this, and it is a core competency and process that is already being used by many organizations and companies pursuing innovation as well as the public as a tool for solving problems.

Through the social problem-solving design policy, the Seoul Metropolitan Government breaks away from the microscopic view of physical improvement and applies design to the overall municipal administration, designing a plan and process for problem-solving, and jointly solving it with various stakeholders.

‘Social resilience’ can be said to be the interaction between the vulnerability of a city and its resilience capacity. The vulnerability of a city is affected by many social problems inherent in the city, and the city's recovery capacity means the city's resources and systems that can overcome and solve these problems. Seoul Design wants to work together to increase the resilience of society so that our daily lives, which have been changed by non-contact, isolation, and social distancing, can be more closely connected.

1. Resilience of cities

We would like to share how the city's recovery capacity can be strengthened in a disaster situation through the design case of Seoul's social problem solving design. Albert Einstein said, 'You can never solve a problem by thinking at the time it happened. If I were given an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes solving the problem.’ Seoul city administration is very detailed and specialized, but after experiencing a disaster like COVID19, I came to think that Seoul City Hall should be more immediate and resilient. As Einstein said, considering that the pattern of the problem becomes more complex and the diagnosis is never easy, I realized that thinking training and problem definition for problem solving are very important. In a difficult situation due to Coronavirus, serious issues were coming up every day, but there were different aspects than before COVID19. When the social system is paralyzed and weakened by disasters, the vulnerable groups in society become more and more vulnerable, and ordinary citizens strongly criticize certain groups due to fatigue and stress. These problems have become a great risk to our society. So, which cities are more vulnerable to these disasters and which ones are more efficient?


Indicators for evaluating the resilience of cities and tasks of design to solve social problems in Seoul

We need to take a close look at the concept of city resilience here. Resilience is a term originally used in psychology to refer to a person's crisis or the ability of a person to overcome a crisis or adversity and return to a positive state. It has also been extended to the concept of the ability to recover. It is said that this is determined by the interaction between the city's vulnerability and adaptability, that is, how well it has recovery capacity. Some of the indicators that evaluate this are notable: strengthening the participation capacity of various stakeholders, ensuring the continuity of essential services, encouraging community harmony and participation, and securing and strengthening natural and man-made assets. It was found that this was consistent with the principles pursued by Seoul's design to solve social problems.


12 Keywords of Seoul's Problem Solving Design

2. Design examples to solve COVID-19 and social problems

If we do not actively respond to social problems aggravated by the coronavirus, the city's vulnerability will inevitably worsen. In particular, diversified and detailed problems such as stress, digital addiction, and isolation are occurring at the same time after COVID19, so the problem needs to be defined at the level of civic experience, and the role of design considering psychological and emotional aspects is also required. The 12 keywords of Seoul's problem-solving design are composed of elements that can lead the city's recovery capacity. Through several projects that the city of Seoul has been undertaking so far, I would like to look at cases where design has responded to problems aggravated by the coronavirus.

- Cognitive health design in response to dementia

Recently, the ratio of single-person households is increasing, but as social distancing is strengthened and prolonged due to Coronavirus, the problem of lonely death is emerging. The cognitive health design project in response to dementia, which has been implemented since 2014, aims not only to provide a guide to individual residential areas, which the public has not been interested in, but also to enable the elderly to lead a healthy daily life by utilizing the remaining abilities of the elderly. We tried to present a design that puts safety first, such as preventing falls and fire, while reducing cognitive confusion and ultimately supporting independent living.



Not being able to ask for help in an emergency is the biggest fear for the elderly living alone. It is necessary to prepare for falls that may occur in the bathroom through anti-slip flooring, safety handles, and safety chairs. Above all, it is important to fully consider the emotional and psychological aspects that can help the elderly not become discouraged and protect their self-esteem. In this regard, it is important to not only avoid physical discomfort in daily life, but also to place familiar designs of furniture or family photos, etc. The space was designed by reflecting the human factor as well.

When you step out of your personal living space and look outside the house, you will see a nameplate that expresses the happy memories you made yourself, and when you leave the house, there is a color-coded hallway and exit. In the hallway, emergency evacuation routes can be intuitively remembered, and the mailboxes are also zoned by color to reduce confusion. It also reduced confusion by clearly identifying the identity at the entrance to the apartment.



In particular, public rental apartments are home to many elderly people living alone and North Korean defectors with disabilities, and the proportion of the elderly population is increasing significantly. Disease, loneliness, poverty, and depression among the elderly indicate that alternative spaces are urgently needed where they can spend a lot of time free of charge. Providing a resting space where social interaction is possible will be one of the ways to maintain physical and emotional balance.



The Seoul Metropolitan Government is also discussing ways to spread these models with LH and SH so that they can be implemented in various ways in the field. In the case of the Cheongdam Social Welfare Center in Geumcheon-gu, the elderly stopped by every day for a free lunch, but there was no bench where they could sit and rest for a while. So, a walking path called Baekse Garden was built here, and flowers and plants to mark the season were planted. It is a healing space where you can enjoy artists’ work without going to an art museum, touch the tiles painted on 10 leaves, and awaken the five senses by listening to the sound of the scenery. As visits to the elderly in nursing homes were prohibited due to the coronavirus, visits were held through a glass wall. A lobby space will be created at the Municipal Eastern Nursing Center in 2021.


- Design governance to resolve conflicts with neighbors

Following the loneliness issue, the conflict between neighbors intensified. Conflicts with neighbors, such as noise between floors, are also deepening as telecommuting and online classes are prolonged, and time spent at home increases. In the past, it would have been possible to understand and move on, but since it is difficult to communicate smoothly in a sensitive situation, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is promoting a design governance project that completes the design through a six-month process with a topic directly suggested by the citizens. As part of this project, a service design for resolving conflicts between neighbors was implemented.

As an example of design governance business, a communication system that can reduce conflicts between neighbors is established by installing a mailbox and asking for your understanding in advance when moving, housewarming, construction, etc. are scheduled. Sharing cards were also helpful in effective communication. If you don't know who needs what, and you want to tell your neighbors about the wonderful places you've been, but you can't, or if you have something to be thankful for but it's hard to say hello face to face, you can communicate with your neighbors through a card. In fact, after this bulletin board was installed, a total of 200 cards were used, children's items that were not used for 6 months were exchanged and there were even hamster adoptions.


- Design for youth problem-solving in response to digital dependence

As the form of school classes changed to online classes, smartphone addiction among adolescents intensified. Digital media such as smartphones excessively stimulate the audiovisual senses and reduce tactile, olfactory, and brain functions, causing problems such as cognitive ability, learning ability, and lack of attention. Especially in adolescence, it is important to use all five senses, not just one, and it is said that stimuli mediated by plants and nature integrate the senses and activate dormant nerves. Since 2018, the city of Seoul has brought plants into the school, the daily space of students, through the ‘Mindful Project’ as part of the youth problem-solving design. As you can see, you can grow plants in the Maumpool Garden and experience rain indoors through the ceiling hose. Names such as Noonnuna and Dingka Dingka stimulate children's imagination.

In addition, the names and characteristics of each plant were written down so that children could manage and observe them on their own. As the students watered the plants themselves, they smelled the soil, touched the plants, and watched the growth of the plants together. They wrote down the things that upset them, and also experienced how to relieve them by rinsing with water. They used plants to make delicious food and also made flowerpots for their friends. As such, the city of Seoul tried to provide an opportunity for children who are accustomed to smartphones to grow while using not only one sense but all five senses by conducting various activities. As a result, the students showed good results, such as finding emotional stability and improving friendships.


- Stress-free design to improve mental health

According to the results of the Corona 19 National Mental Health Survey conducted by the Korean Trauma Stress Society of the Ministry of Health and Welfare from September 10 to 21 on 2,063 adults aged 19 to 70 across the country, it has been shown that COVID-19 continues to adversely affect people’s mental health. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been promoting this project since 2016 to improve the mental health through design. As a result of a survey by life cycle in 2016, it was found that teenagers had the highest stress perception rate. Adolescence is a physical and emotional transition period, and it can cause more maladaptation problems and more severe stress than adults. 


There were empty classrooms in the school where students spend the longest time, and using these, the stress free zone was constructed to understand and diagnose stress, and to relieve stress easily in the space according to the result. When the state of mind is input through the pad, the result is presented as a solution such as listening to music, color therapy, and aromatherapy, thereby reducing stress. This project was very meaningful in that it can help them lead a healthy social life when they become adults in the future through proper understanding of and management of stress during adolescence.

In addition, the stress-free project for the elderly was targeted at the elderly using the general welfare center for the elderly. It was designed to match the program operated by the welfare center by examining daily stress and depression and analyzing individual tendencies with MBTI. Psychological counseling was conducted on a regular basis, and if a severe level of stress was detected, video telemedicine was made possible by connecting with a mental health specialist at a university hospital. This model is a service that actively connects spaces and programs that did not exist before, and is scheduled to expand in earnest in 2021, centering on facilities related to the elderly.


In 2020, we plan to analyze various stress factors for the young generation following the youth and the elderly, analyze the stress factors that occur in the residential environment with the youth housing as the base, and announce the results in the first half of 2021. Psychological counseling will also be provided in connection with public services where young people can share their concerns. As such, the stress-free design is characterized by focusing on continuous diagnosis and management of mental health in various daily life, not in the physical environment.

4. Potentials of Design, Opportunity Factors: Cities' Resilient Capabilities

I think that the design policy to solve social problems that Seoul has been actively promoting has opportunity factors. It is more urgent than ever to focus on problem-solving, encourage public design projects that can overcome vulnerability, and enhance the participatory design process that can enhance the city's resilience. We would like to share 12 strategies derived from implementing various social problem-solving design projects and policies.

<12 Design Strategies to Solve Social Problems>

1. Focus on problem definition from a design thinking perspective

2. Aim for a field-oriented problem-solving method.

3. Pay attention to the psychological and emotional reactions and behaviors of the citizens concerned.

4. Visualize and share the process of the design process.

5. Maximize the connection of local human, material and program resources.

6. Aim for a convergence solution in various fields.

7. Solutions should ensure a balance of hardware, software and humanware.

8. The results of the design project should serve as a starting point for sustainable problem solving.

9. When composing the results of the project, plan it considering the ease of maintenance as much as possible.

10. Fully plan and promote the participation process.

11. Repeat the solution process to verify.

12. Focus on educating and empowering citizens for sustainability.

In summary, in defining the problem, it is necessary to approach it from the point of view of design thinking, a convergent and iterative verification method centered on the field, and to seek a balanced composition of hardware and software human ware in coming up with a solution, and to solve it by linking resources. In terms of sustainability, it is a strategy that prioritizes maintenance efficiency and civic empowerment education.

While we are going through a difficult time due to the coronavirus, we thought that social distancing and minimizing contact was the most active way to prevent its spread. However, if the majority of groups in society are marginalized for safety and the weak networks are not even managed or protected, eventually all of our society will inevitably become vulnerable. Our society is all connected. In a new era, Seoul will connect social resources with various participants to define problems from a new perspective and find optimal solutions.

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