Crime, School Violence, Stress, Obesity... Can We Find Solutions Through “Design?”

Shift of Seoul design paradigm — social problem-solving design 


 Life safety design / Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu

Narrow and complex alleys where criminals could hide and flee easily were improved with healthy community content. This region formed a strong bond among residents by closely cooperating with the community service center, district office, and police. “A” is a 31-year-old office worker who gets scared on the way home from work late at night. The shanty town crowded with old houses has somehow become gloomier after the termination of the rebuilding project. “B” living in Gasan-dong, Geumcheon-gu, is in a similar circumstance. “B” feels bleak to walk in a place packed with houses and small factories where there is no one else in sight. The way to go home, the most comfortable place, became the scariest route. In response to this unfortunate paradox, the SMG prepared for a realistic countermeasure with “design.” This solution was derived from the process of changing the scariest route to an enjoyable route, gathering residents, and letting criminals know.

It sounds as if one is chasing rainbows, but the numbers prove the success. Five months after applying Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) to the scary alleyway in Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu, the crime prevention effect was reported to be 78.6% and the satisfaction rate reached 83.3%. This is the story of the 1.7-kilometer-long “Salt Road” that developed an exercise course by connecting points at which residents felt anxious. Gasan-dong, Geumcheon-gu, responded in a different way. It distinguished between the public domain and private domain while providing clear information using gobo lights and sound systems. It was a case that developed the life safety design using sound and light.

The project of the SMG to solve social problems with design started in Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu. It has since built pleasant spaces based on 20 life safety design packages and systems in areas clustered with single-person households, hillside areas, and maze-like alleys. The purpose of the project is to make a livable city by understanding the desperate needs of citizens and proposing solutions.



Life safety design / Sinwol 3-dong, Yangcheon-gu

Plants blocking the view were removed to eliminate unstable factors of an unmanaged public space due to dense alleys and lack of open space.


Life safety design / Samyang-dong, Gangbuk-gu

A safety screen fence blocked the visually disordered environment and deserted houses where people dumped garbage illegally to add psychological stability. 

The principle of the SMG can be summarized as follows. It is to seek an “efficient” solution through “design” by cooperating with “citizens.” It is the so-called “social problem-solving design.” The targets and fields of application have been expanding consistently. Fields other than life safety design include cognitive health design, stress-free design, youth problem-solving design, and design governance. Design thinking is promoted to find social problems felt by citizens and derive solutions. Of course, the scope of design is not limited to the change of the physical space. Topics are expanded to relationship-centered projects such as “communication” and “awareness improvement.” There can be other problem types and targets besides crimes, dementia, aging, stress, and school violence. Thus, the range of designs can be broadened at any time depending on the social issues. It shows the commitment of the SMG to make a transition of its policies from hardware-centered design which focused on functions and efficiencies to software-centered design to “improve the quality of life.”

Youth problem-solving design / PLAY Park 

Go boards, board games, and simple exercise equipment was arranged in the park that lacked things for the youth to play with, allowing people of different age groups to enjoy together. Korean chess boards made by the youth for seniors of the region were attached, and lively energy was added to the space with games that can be played on a ground and gobo lights. 

The key is to solve the problems of citizens in collaboration with citizens. Social problems always become complicated by conflicting or interdependent values of various stakeholders. Fragmentary and shortsighted approaches sometimes lead to unexpected conflicts, tensions, and new problems. Therefore, the success and failure of social problem-solving design projects depend on the cooperation of citizens, experts, agencies, and stakeholders. This is the reason why the SMG implemented its projects while placing emphasis on the participation of residents. The representative project is design governance. Cases that maximized governance through the participation of citizens, stakeholders, and experts include service designs to cure the mind of children who are victims of abuse, service designs to solve clothing problems of children with cerebral palsy, and service designs for the proper disposal of pharmaceuticals. This project uses the method of taking opinions from citizens on the Seoul Design Governance website ( where topics are selected through voting after expert review, and projects are implemented by recruiting team members.

Above all, we live in an era that demands “service designs” to understand various aspects of social problems. The contemporary society is moving at a faster rate than any time before, and the competitiveness of a city is felt through the “quality of life” beyond beautiful sceneries, high levels of education, cultural arts, and economic value. In pursuit of happy citizens and a safe city, the SMG plans to promote design policies in the long term.


Design governance / Safe night bicycle riding design at Hangang Park

Accidents are increasing as more people ride high-performance bicycles at parks at night when it is difficult to secure visibility. The SMG provided safety services allowing pedestrians to use crosswalks and riders to ride at adequate speeds. Such services include “Parenthesis Lights” informing risks to pedestrians when bicycles approach and “Comma Lights” informing riders of pedestrians ahead. 

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