Absolute Value of Design and Innovation – Thinking Beyond Competitiveness

The 2021 SEOUL DESIGN INTERNATIONAL FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Sung-gul, Hwang (Head of CX (Customer eXperience) Lab of LG Electronics)

Previous design innovation aimed at gaining a competitive edge, but today’s design innovation in products, services, or policies raises the necessity of absolute values.

In order to establish “good brands,” companies and institutions should bear in mind that unlike the past, it is hard to build trust when there is no originality as distribution channels of content diversify, resulting in intensifying competition. Customers can now compare and analyze various brands thanks to increasing data and diversified channels conveying such information. In other words, creating innovative momentum or developing brands using previous method is no longer effective. As customers today access numerous contents, unforgettable consumer experiences can only be made through a new dimension of challenges; hence, the need for absolute innovation. Companies mainly consider “the targets to connect their products, services, and policies with” for absolute innovation. Still, the most significant thing is to understand the core value of services, products, and policies which have strong chemistry with customers based on understanding the momentum of customers.

I will present the three ways to pursue an absolute innovation. First, specific commitments must be made for customers to consider the brand premium. Second, rather than pursuing quantitative innovation, qualitative innovation that make a deep impression should be promoted. Third, the virtuous circle of social values should be induced from a macro perspective.

Previously, companies provided common premium values to attract customers. Korea’s rapid growth was driven by benchmarking, a considerably objective strategy and a unified goal for all, which was considered best to avoid risks. However, everyone pursuing a unified goal intensifies competition, leading our markets into a red ocean. The recent development of various distribution channels spread more goods, services, and policies, and people pursue premium values with personalized features and differentiated values. Companies might think that such diversity potentially incurs risks, but this strategy actually reduces competition and leads toward a blue ocean. Customers prefer products, policies, or services with unique characteristics that set them apart from featureless ones. Then, what are the unique, personalized, and absolute values?

It can be explained with four elements with the acronym HALO: Heritage, Authenticity, Locality and Originality of a company. Absolute value can be found in the worldwide popularity of BTS, the Squid Game, and various webtoons (a type of digital comic) in terms of having heritage, authenticity, locality, and originality.

Compared with many cities worldwide, Seoul is a unique and attractive city with distinctive features. Although not large in size, it has many satellite cities and shows a large diversity. The broad Hangang River diving Seoul into two might seem to split and polarize the north and south. However, Hangang River does not divide but connects the areas instead. In this era, Hangang River must function as a platform that shares and activates various cultures for mutual respect transcending time. Moreover, Seoul boasts long history and abundant stories and preserves many contents. Thus, it is significant to form a consensus based on numerous and various content.

What measures should we take to draw qualitative innovation, which has much more influence than quantitative innovation? In the past, the future was predictable based on an understanding of environmental and social values; now, however, we face variables surrounded by numerous types of innovation that often bring us fatigue. Variables include environmental elements, technical platforms such as 5G, politics, economics, changes in social value, cultural content, and unpredictable risk such as the recent pandemic. These variables and risks hinder us from predicting the future.

We pursued fundamental innovation for the distant future ahead and planned effective time management. With so many risks today, however, it is better to attempt innovation for the near future. In an ever-changing environment, agility and timing are significant indicators. In addition, pursuing a meaningful innovation, though not as impressive as an explosive innovation, will be more reliable and achievable. Previously, cities, products, and services were formed by the collection and reference of data; even though the content was not precisely the one we were looking for, we considered it innovative. However, as the era and environment have changed, we now have to ask ourselves the following questions: Are the pain points easily detectable in our daily life? Does the solution fit our situations? And do we serve as an exemplary case for the other cities and communities? Customers today consider the focus point more important than the scale of innovation. Instead of mass production and populism for a unified target, an innovation targeting the specific target which may have many pros and cons are more suitable for today’s society.

An innovation is achieved when many people accept and adapt to it, thus requiring a long period of time. Whether it be policies or services, a probation period is essential for long-term innovation. We must wait patiently for the innovation output that takes as long as its development period until the people accept and adapt to it.

Our final discussion concerns analyzing the situation from a macro view and inducing the virtuous cycle of value.

Unlike the past where product designers focused mainly on the item’s outer appearance and features, macroscopic and multidimensional approach is required for designers today. A broader view is necessary for an overall system analysis instead of taking a profound yet narrow approach for solutions. Only systems approached with macro views can lead to durable solutions.

Seeing the big picture is essential for both private and public institutions as sales or marketing targeting a specific group could neglect other people. As creating the image of corporate or institution is a significant task today, social promotions must be jointly considered while including a broad target to form a positive triangular relationship. According to the corporate case of GENTLE MONSTER, it promotes open marketing to raise awareness and recognition of customers through social innovation. Its stable continuance of corporate activities verifies the effectiveness of its marketing strategy. Technological innovation usually discusses perfection and outcome, but beneath all that is social innovation that firmly drives general innovation.

Designers must not only concentrate on the product or target but also consider about its influence on the entire society and ecosystem. Furthermore, design innovation should no longer be considered entry barriers for businesses but a social and cultural service enabling virtuous cycles. We must also look at the big picture from a macro perspective to pursue value circulation in the future.

Quantitative innovation overwhelms concrete commitment and quantitative change for customers when it comes to the absolute value of innovation. The potential for innovation must be measured by its connectivity with other ecosystems and value circulation. In addition, absolute strategies must be applied to create a good brand that people can relate to. We have to supply personalized, absolute solutions based on a person-oriented mindset. Absolute values will be the main engine that fuels innovations in design.

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