[essay]Musings on Changing Tides in Korean Design

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[essay]Musings on Changing Tides in Korean Design

"Why design?" This question has been asked by many designers, from William Morris to Paul Rand. Korean designers - including Lee Sun-Seok, the pioneer of Korean design, and Kim Jin-Pyong - have asked the same question in the context of cultural politics. In Korea, since liberation from the Japanese rule in 1945, we have continued a cultural politics which grafts together our history and our reality through "design" - and all that that term connotes. It would not be an overstatement to say that all East Asian countries share this cultural state. The Icograda Millennium Congress will be an event which also reflects this cultural condition.

It is my sincere hope that the Icograda Millennium Congress will not turn out to be a "novel magic show" in which we talk about the similarities and differences between 20th-century graphic design and 21st-century communication design and attempt to integrate the similarities and differences of the East and West, the Americas, Europe. Asia and Africa.

What was Korean design in the past century? Korean graphic design of the past 100 years can be divided into two parts: Design before the Korean War (the period of functional artistic drawing) and after the Korean War (the period of graphic design). The post-war period can be divided into three parts. The phase before the 1970s can be characterized as the phase of design as applied art. In this phase, graphic design experimented within the social realm of activities and pursued its own way of existing. In the 1970s and 1980s, the genre of design was shaped with the advance of the graphic technology used by the social communication sector such as advertising, publishing, corporate PR, marketing, CI management, design of Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and illustration.

What we need to focus on in the 100 years of Korean design is its failures and achievements. Let us begin with failure. In Korea, nationalism and authoritarianism damaged the inherent nature of design and its social meaning. In other words, whether during the Japanese occupation of the 1930s, the economic development of the 1960s and '70s or the movement for democracy of the 1980s, design was either reduced to a tool for promoting the ruling political powers and ideologies of the time.

Then we turn to a more enlightened period. Starting in the 1970s and '80s, through a total awareness of the uniqueness and tradition of plastic design, and the contemporaneousness and functionality of the language of design, the era of utilitarian design came to an end, and an original set of design principles and reality took shape. In this period, various experiments set out to find the identity of Korean graphic art, such as research into traditional folk culture, interpretations of traditional design patterns, the study of Hangul design in print and advertising, the development of illustration technology, CI, and maximizing the communicative effectiveness of the moving image, thus completing the formation of communication design. As artists, we began to gain confidence in the social status and the cultural value of graphic communication design.

The 100 years of Korean graphic communication design can be summed up as a period of failings and achievements in creating a identity of design, that is, the social linguistic system and method of communication. At this juncture, as we prepare for the new century, we need to go through a process of rereading and rewriting these failings and achievements. Looking at our "failings" in forming an identity, we need to ask "Why didn't we respond?" and with our "achievements" we need to answer with another question "What are we going to do now?" In this day and age, when it is widely accepted that designers are producers of culture and design is a social cultural pattern, we need to clarify our attitude on the failings and achievements of design presented by the past history. This is a confession regarding our modern design. It is not a personal confession like "I hate myself" or "What does it matter to me?," but a confession of the genre itself in a social context.

Design is structure and also a phenomenon. That is, our design is graphic design and also communication design. The duality is directed towards one principle: Dialogue.

It is a dialogue between different worlds, regions and races. It is a dialogue in which words are engaged in a give-and-take from organization to organization, between here and there, between families and neighbours, between you and me. Graphism and communalism exist as ideologies or strategies for achieving this dialogue. A discussion on the background, conditions, motivations and effect of "dialogue" as the principle of design should precede ideas or strategies. This is the assignment of graphic design and communication design in the 21st century.

I hope there will be "oullim" between people at the Icograda Millennium Congress. Oullim is conversation; what is discussed in a harmonious exchange of form and content. At the "madang" (open space) of the Icograda Millennium Congress we will make our confessions and reflect on modern Korean design. We will design the modern. We will invite such disparate voices William Morris, Paul Rand, Lee Sun-Seok, Kim Jin-Pyong, Le Corbusier, Kim Jung-Up, Norman Rockwell, Kim Yong-Hwan, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Choi Young-Mi, and Chun Tae-Il and we will listen to their words.

By Kwon Hyeok-Soo

Design Director at I&I and Adjunct Professor at Kyongwon University, Department of Visual Design
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