[Outlook]A passport to success

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[Outlook]A passport to success

When he was running for the presidency, President Lee Myung-bak promised to create a national design commission, use more design in the public sector and enhance design education.
This is truly good news for people like me who work in the design field and teach students. Moreover, in Seoul and other areas across the country, people are paying more attention to design.
Design plays many important roles in society, such as increasing the value of items, improving the quality of life by changing living space, fostering creativity and sensitivity to culture and enhancing the competitiveness of both a city and a country. Considering these roles, the attention being paid to design now seems quite belated.
I would like to write about a design competition I took part in.
The project was to change the design of passports, which serve as the face of the country.
In May of last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism decided to improve the passport design because an electric passport was to be introduced.
In June of that year, a commission to improve the design was created with people representing the design field and civil workers from both ministries.
To draw attention away from the people and get ideas for the project, a month-long public competition was held on the Internet starting in July. Professional designers were also chosen and asked to submit their designs.
In the designated competition, 10 outstanding Korean designers took part. The ideal design for the new passport would blend Korea’s culture, nature, history and art appreciation.
In the public competition for ideas, six out of 289 were selected for further consideration. From the work of professional designers, one was selected as best and another as second best.
Last month, the best designs from both the public and professional competitions were exhibited at the National Folk Museum.
The foreign ministry will examine the functionality and economic factors before it selects and announces which design will be used for the electronic passport.
I talk about this project wherever I go. This is not only because the best designs are as beautiful as the Swiss passport, which people around the world praise, but also because the procedure for soliciting designs deserves the attention of the world’s design field.
First, the project to improve the design of a passport, something used in everyday life, was led by the government. Its goal was bettering people’s lives as well as our country’s image. This project could be the first successful case of developing and distributing design in the public sector, which contrasts to the chaos created when replacing automobile license plates in 2004.
Second, according to the law governing passports, the foreign affairs and trade minister issues passports, but the foreign ministry and the cultural ministry worked together on designing the new passport. This suggests new models of cooperation between government agencies.
Third, Korea set a good example with the procedure of designating the 10 professional designers considered based on the recommendations of design institutes and organizations. The government selected the best through fierce competition and fair evaluation. Participating designers got paid at every stage of the process, which acknowledged the value of their ideas.
Fourth, the formation of the commission for the new passport design set a model of governance for both the private and the public sector. When the government wants to nurture a certain sector, it often uses subsidies as a means of support. However, just as in other sectors, the design sector can’t blossom overnight just because a tremendous amount of money is poured into it.
As Ahn Chul-soo pointed out, blind support can lead to destructive results. To develop the design field, the design culture must be nurtured and infrastructure for design must be prepared, as opposed to just providing support for certain items or certain companies.
For instance, people’s understanding of design must be enhanced, fair market principles and order must be established and the government support system must be improved.
In this regard, the passport project deserves praise and credit.

*The writer is a professor at Hongik University and president of the International Council of Graphic Design Associations. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chang Dong-ryun
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