Panel Discussion

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

SPEAKER: Hyunsuk Kim (Professor of Visual Communication Design at Hongik University)

Value of Connection: Creativity and Imagination

In 2015, I served as the secretary-general of the International Design Congress and organized the event held in Gwangju. Victor Margolin, a renowned design historian and theorist who had just published , spoke at the event as one of the speakers. Due to an unfortunate accident in Gwangju, Mr. Margolin was left without movement from the neck down and passed away in 2019. His book, World History of Design, was meant to be a trilogy but the last volume still has not been published.  

Mr. Margolin stressed that “what we call design today is continuous with the basic human need to organize the material environment for survival purposes.” He also defined two types of design. The first is design with a small “d”. According to his definition, it’s an act of creation to satisfy people’s needs and organize their environment. On the other hand, Design with a big “D” is related to mass production and mass communication that may be its closest association today.  As such, he categorized design into two groups. 

Mr. Margolin’s analysis concludes that design is an activity that has always been central to the creation of culture. But he also pointed out that design became marginalized as an artistic or aesthetic practice only which obscured our awareness of all the designing that was going on that did not fit that category. One of his objectives in publishing World History of Design was to show that design and its history are inextricably linked to economic, political, and cultural structures of the past. 

Meanwhile, David Kelley founded IDEO by merging with ID Two. He helped create Stanford University’s Institute of Design and named it In his effort to explain what sets apart from other design schools, he found himself using the word ‘thinking’ repeatedly to describe activities designers carry out. That’s how design thinking became an important term representing the small d. 

The design thinking process is hardly a series of systematic steps. It should be viewed as a system with three overlapping layers – inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is about motivating designers to address an issue and seek new opportunities. Ideation refers to creating, developing, and testing an idea. Lastly, implementation incorporates design projects into people’s life. These three layers do not always occur in order, making the process even more interesting. 

For a long time, design has been perceived as a problem-solving tool in the shape of products, spaces, systems, models, and experiences. In times like these, design and its scope are capable of driving actual changes in various sectors of our society.  

As Mr. Margolin suggested, the most significant issues that design should address as the basic need to organize the material environment for survival purposes can be found in our real world. 

Social and environmental problems are threatening humanity like never before. And design has the best position to address these challenges. As a problem-solving tool, design thinking helps redefine an issue. It includes assessing what is known about the issue to identify abstract, hidden causes. Its goal is to repeatedly understand the issue, venture beyond stereotypes, and conduct a multi-faceted analysis to find the root cause. 

By challenging pre-existing hypotheses, design thinking extends beyond established patterns of thought and offers new ways to think and act. A key factor in this process is a people-centered approach. It enables us to analyze how people interact and understand the existing problem-solving methods. Based on the analysis, we can spot weaknesses in current solutions and discover new opportunities. Accordingly, it is important to collect design cases to understand what has been done before to tackle the issue. 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government started organizing the International Seminar on Universal Design in 2013. The city government decided to expand the scope in 2017 and began hosting the Social Problem-Solving Design International Forum since then. 

Last year, the city government merged the seminar and forum and launched the Seoul Design International Forum. The forums and seminars have served as a venue to discuss various domestic and global examples and strategies for solving problems through design and design thinking. 

While we prepare this year’s event, the main focus was how to connect designers’ efforts and knowledge. We tried to look for ways to turn the forum from a one-time event into a platform for inspiration, which is the first layer of design thinking. As a result, we set up the forum’s website as a digital platform with an archive of previous presentations. A wide range of design-related discussions and case studies in various fields including social problem-solving design, universal design, and small d is also featured.  

I’m excited to share with you that the Seoul Design International Forum’s digital platform is officially launched today. It’s far from perfect, but I hope that diverse discussions will take place on the platform. All in all, design works to connect.  

It connects people with products, with services, and with others. In other words, products, spaces, or services lose their significance without a connection with people. This connection is fueled by our ability to empathize and desire to make the world a better place. In other words, the connection pursues empathy which then creates value.  

This year’s forum is held under the theme of ‘Re-connect: Design as a value creator.’ It poses a question on how to create value and connection through design – the connection between previous forums and today’s event, hardware and software, virtual world and physical world, industry and public sector, and the city government and civil society. What and how can we connect to address global issues ranging from the pandemic to global warming, along with many challenges our society faces? What connections do we need to pursue values based on inclusiveness, recovery, fairness, and empathy while making our cities more interesting by giving people new experiences? This set of questions was a starting point for this year’s forum. 

Finding answers is not an easy journey. As our society is getting more complex, we see innovation in technological advancement and a surge of information. These factors complicate the matter by influencing interests among different stakeholders. 

We claim to live in a hyper-connected society, but sometimes the connections can do more harm than good. Social media that was meant to bring people together instead made us narrow-minded and unsociable. Similarly, platforms for connection were turned into a market that capitalizes on personal data. Despite these facts, we need to bring up the topic of connection again because of its value. 

Steve Jobs said that “creativity is just connecting things.” Connection and collaborative interaction lead to creativity, which can be achieved by reorganizing or transforming what we already have. Creativity and imagination, the values offered by connection, helps us share and spread our thoughts.  

The Seoul Design International Forum aims to serve as a knowledge-connecting platform, supporting people and local governments to leverage creativity and imagination as they address various social issues.

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