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Improving the quality of Seoul with design : Choi Kyung-ran wants to support designers, develop new talent

Aug 25,2018
Choi Kyung-ran, the new president of the Seoul Design Foundation, at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in central Seoul. Choi was appointed president on April 16 and will direct the foundation for the next three years. [JOONGANG ILBO]
The Seoul Design Foundation was established in 2008, pledging to create a thriving design industry in Korea and help Korean designers fully realize their potential in order to compete globally. For the past 10 years, the foundation has endeavored to do just that, and this year, the foundation welcomed Choi Kyung-ran as its new president for the next three years.

Choi’s resume is filled with notable titles, from the director of 2015 Gwangju Biennale, to the dean of the graduate school of Techno Design at Kookmin University in 2016. And now, as the head of Korea’s largest design organization, Choi wishes to bring quality design to people living in Seoul. It’s been four months since her inauguration, and the president has finally settled in her new office. The JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, sat with Choi to talk about her plans for the foundation.

The following are edited excerpts.



Q. It’s been four months since you were named president of the Seoul Design Foundation. How do you feel about your new post?

A
. I’ve done a lot of work in the design field, from education to industry. And I think this is a position that covers all of those fields as a whole. For us to become an institution that thinks more about the citizens, I think this is high time for the design ecosystem [in Korea] to reboot. So, we made a business agreement with the Korean Federation of Design Associations and also launched an advisory panel made up of 73 experts from 27 design organizations. We’re planning to form a citizen panel as well, with a total of 150 representatives from people in their teens up to their 50s.



Next year will be the Dongdaemun Design Plaza’s (DDP) fifth anniversary, but the design foundation rented out more exhibition halls than hold its own exhibitions. Why was that so?

It’s true that DDP has become an architectural landmark, but we haven’t established a clear understanding of what the DDP is here for. And because we run 100 percent on our own money, we fell short of making our own content. It’s actually very rare for a public culture or design facility to be run 100 percent by itself [without government funding], even looking at examples like New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It was hard for us to kill two birds - content development and revenue - with one stone.



What do you want to show for the next three years?

We put forward a vision to bring about quality design for those living in Seoul. It is divided into three parts. One revolves around citizen welfare that focuses on people’s life cycles, building a happy city that brings the design industry and ordinary people closer together and creating a dignified life inside Seoul. We’ll be focusing mostly on making DDP an Asian design mecca in Asia and providing people with various design experiences, such as design education for people of different generations and other cultural and leisure events.



How do you plan on building a close network with the Dongdaemun business district nearby?

The DDP itself was born close to the Dongdaemun region, but we haven’t really done something together with the small business owners nearby. So, at Seoul Design Week 2018, which is now named Seoul Design Cloud and take place this September, we’re planning on an exhibition called “Design by Dongdaemun” in which we have 10 fashion merchandisers, such as fashion editors Seong Beom-su and Kim Min-hyang, choose high-quality clothes made by 50 brands based in Dongdaemun.



What is Seoul Design Cloud?

It’s an event where we’ve put together everything we’ve done for the past Design Week festivals, in order for us to attract more people to the DDP and help Seoul’s design industry grow. We’ll be inviting design experts from 19 cities, holding design conferences and exhibitions where they will share tips on urban designs and [talk about] building people-oriented design for Seoul’s future.



What are some things in store for the average citizen?

There will be a stationery exhibition where small business owners from Korea, China and Japan will display their products. And there’s also a hanbok [traditional Korean dress] fashion show where students from 16 universities in Korea exhibit their designs at the Changdeok Palace [in central Seoul]. We hope to find talented young designers, and at the same time, help the textiles market in Dongdaemun flourish. It will be fun for everyone.



You once mentioned that a city’s quality is determined by design. What do you mean by that?

I believe that, if the design that we use in our everyday lives is of high quality and not just something made for a single event, and if that design is developed into an industry of its own, then the city naturally becomes better. We have something unique in our designs. If we put both humanity and quality into our designs, then we will be able to get it out into the world.



What do you have planned for helping start-up design companies?

In design, it’s all about experience. It’s no use telling tired young people with no goal and no work to enjoy themselves. So we’re building a youth start-up center, set to open next June, at which we will help nurture young talent for the future. We’ll be providing a shared office for start-ups of one to three people in a building complex near Hongik Univesity station in Yeonnam-dong [western Seoul] and have a consultant there as well for them to learn from. It will be a place for them to teach, learn and work altogether.



It is true that the first thing you bought after your inauguration was a round table?

I believe it’s important that people get to freely express their thoughts and for people to listen. I want to create synergy with the round table in which people of all levels get to speak and get creative.



What do you want to say to the citizens of Seoul?

Design isn’t that far away. It can make you happy, and it can also help you heal you when you’re lonely. The doors of the DDP will always be wide open for us to do just that. It’s also a good place for people to have an outdoor picnic. I actually think it might be better for the [subway] station’s name to be changed to “DDP” instead of “Dongdaemun History and Culture Park,” because it’s hard to tell apart from “Dongdaemun” station [on line No. 1] and also it’s really not suitable for Seoul’s identity as a global city.


BY SEO JEONG-MIN [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]


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