[Viewpoint]Korea can advance by design

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[Viewpoint]Korea can advance by design

According to the Korea National Center for Education Statistics and Information, there are now more than 1 million designers in Korea. If we estimate that the total population of Korea is around 48 million, we can say that there are two designers for every 100 Koreans. At a time when we have to exert all of our efforts toward globalization in every field, including industry and the cultural sectors, I think the figure is a very meaningful statistic for the future of our nation.
Since the successful conclusion of the Korea-United States free trade agreement, the world has paid attention to the Korean economy.
Domestically, the effect of the trade pact on our economy is still being hotly debated. What is clear, however, is that although the timing of the abolition of customs duties differs from item to item, Korean companies will have to compete with foreign products without government protection, even in the domestic market.
The times when businesses could sell their products at home by appealing to patriotism are behind us. We must enhance the competitiveness of our industries at the global level through a complete restructuring.
This is why we should promote the development of our service industry, which is represented by the design industry. When quality and price are on the same level, design is the main element that differentiates the products.
Fortunately, Korea is equipped with the conditions for potential growth in the design industry. First of all, we have abundant human resources.
Every year, 38,000 design majors graduate from universities in Korea. In terms of the total number of design major graduates, it is at the same level as the United States. If we consider the ratio of the graduates to the total population, however, Korea nurtures practically the largest designer workforce in the world.
Ten years ago, there were only about 100 professional design companies, but the number has increased to 2,500 now. The weight of investment in design has also increased to 0.9 percent of total sales, compared to 0.3 percent five to six years ago. As a result, the level of industrial design in information technology products, including cell phones, electric home appliances, automobiles and other daily utensils, has drastically improved. And Korea’s industrial infrastructure in information technology, which has the potential to secure new design technology in high-tech fields, is stronger than that of any other country.
However, the general level of design skill, including at small and medium businesses, is about an 80, when we give a score of 100 to advanced countries. So, there is still a long way to go.
Only about 120,000 designers out of the 1 million who majored in design here are employed. It is a big loss to the nation, too. Even for the purpose of changing our society to make it more creative, it is time for us to try hard to attract designers to the industrial scene.
For example, it would be good to provide work to designers by expanding the design market in the public sector, such as urban landscape design, installations at parks and roadsides, signboards and road signs. If the design market in the public sector is vitalized, it will not only provide opportunities for designers to show off their abilities, but also improve the level of design in the industry.
Since the JoongAng Ilbo started to publish a series that called attention to the importance of design in the public sector, a boom in design has begun at the national level.
The trend exists not only in metropolitan cities and provinces, but also in basic self-governing bodies in the provinces, which are establishing teams to improve design in the public sector. Moreover, while it is important to enhance social leadership in various fields ― especially in small and medium businesses ― on the importance of design, a television broadcasting station has started to broadcast a serialized drama on the topic of design.
We now see signs in our society which indicate that Korea will become a design-strong country. By investing in design and by taking advantage of the design boom in our society, we have to produce as many designers as advanced countries. That will then make the Republic of Korea a younger and more dynamic country.

*The writer is the director of the Korea Institute of Design Promotion. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Il-kyoo
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