Those who debate in favour of the possible dawning of a new design era being led by Asian companies would have their argument backed by the jury presiding over the international ‘red dot’ awards in Essen, Germany, recently.

Korean electronics giant LG scooped the coveted Radius trophy for design team of the year, as well as design awards in a record-breaking 20 product categories.

LG’s wall-mounted projector and dual-core widescreen notebook PC both won red dot’s Best of the Best design awards, which, as the 5000+ entrants from over fifty countries worldwide would acknowledge, is no easy feat.

Professor Peter Zec, president of the red dot awards, explains the intended purpose of the awards: “Design is nowadays a major instrument for the promotion of trade and industry in a competitive market.

"The red dot design award is about making the achievements of companies and designers communicable with the help of a recognised quality label such as the ‘red dot’. The success of the red dot design award also shows the growing importance of the role design plays in a company’s strategy”.

In reaction to LG’s successes, Cha Kangheui, chief mobile handset designer at LG’s Korean headquarters, says: “Such international recognition means a lot to us because it acknowledges our company-wide commitment to the user experience.

"This is only the second time an Asian company’s design department has won the Radius trophy – Sony was the other one. So for us, this reaffirms LG’s focus on using technology to enhance consumers’ lifestyles, rather than just technology for technology’s sake”.

It is this approach that has seen LG investing in a design team structure that boasts bases in Milan, Beijing, Tokyo and New Jersey, as well as their corporate design centre in Seoul. “Designers at our corporate design centre communicate on a daily basis with these overseas centres.

"This system allows LG the flexibility to develop both universal designs and region-specific products. While LG’s design not only focuses on developing creative product platforms, LG Life Soft Research Centre (another of LG’s specialist departments) conducts research such as customer lifestyle analysis, colour trend analysis and forecasting, and next-generation materials and concept development to lead the 21st-century consumer electronics and mobile market.”

So, out of all of this high-profile investment in design, what is it that sets LG apart from its competitors in a market as saturated as consumer electronics? Kangheui says: “Design has recently emerged as the new ‘it’ factor, a counterbalance in today’s technologically saturated market.

"Everybody seems to have recently discovered design, and the market is full of pointless but cool-looking gadgets. However, the soul of design is not just about looking good. LG designs products to create a personal experience that connects to a user’s lifestyle.

"We imagine all the sensory and emotional experiences involving a specific product and make them part of a design. At LG the designers come up with ideas first, and then the engineers make them happen. It is our high level of technological expertise that narrows the gap between the idea and the actual product.

"At this point, we have very few limitations in terms of technology. We can craft a design into a real product very quickly because we can do so much with technology. That is why design has become so important. It’s no longer about what we can do – rather, it’s about what we want to do, and how we do it”.

Peter Zec agrees. “LG has been impressing the industry with a stringent use of forms in product design and a coherent brand appearance in business communication and marketing recently, thus consistently conveying the company’s philosophy, which can
be summarised in LG’s slogan, ‘Life’s good’. Via technology and design, LG has made the step from pursuer to contender. All its activities and products focus on human needs in the digital age.”

It is this focus on the integration of advanced technologies through seamless and innovative design that is helping to propel Asian designers to the forefront of the international design stage.

The success of companies leading this progression, such as LG, is helping to create an environment capable of producing truly fresh approaches to product design. Kangheui says: “The keyword representing the modern Korean vibe is ‘dynamic’. Against old stereotypes, Asians are less conservative than Europeans these days.

"Today’s Asians, especially Koreans, are fascinated by new approaches to things, and this is often the driving force in offering a fresh take on familiar products”.

Although those who believe Europe will always be the true home of design may think of Asia as more of a manufacturing hub, the Koreans have a very different perception of where their design abilities can take them. Kangheui continues: “It is true that Korea’s strategic focus on manufacturing sparked an astonishingly fast growth in its industrialisation process.

"A decade ago, our country was known for decent product quality at a reasonable price, and this was the driving force behind the Korean economy. But the time has come to move on.

"To shift to the next phase of Korea’s manufacturing history, we began eyeing the premium market instead of the low-end market – so the new focus on design was inevitable.

"At the same time, Korean domestic customers were also undergoing a transformation. As the standard of living has climbed higher, customer needs have also shifted from function to design”.

“Everybody knows Europe is the home of style and sophistication. But honestly, European design is a bit stagnant and not producing much that’s new these days. I think it’s because the region is kind of resistant to new technologies. Design is not just about pretty sketches.

"It also has to evolve as our lifestyle changes. In that sense, Korea can offer fresh approaches through technological advances coupled with innovative product designs.”

As an audience to the force and passion in which Asian design is attacking the world market, it seems there is much to look forward to. LG, for one, are not likely to rest on their laurels. “There is a classic design quote: ‘form follows function’.

"But here at LG we say form is function. Today at LG, technology no longer limits a designer’s imagination and creativity but, rather, is an inspiration. We see designers as more than stylists. We see them as visionaries, creating and leading a new culture.

"Therefore, our mission is to visualise the future, using cutting-edge technologies and imagination to make a new reality.”

Allow the debate to continue!  

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Carlos Hinrichsen

Carlos Hinrichsen

Professor Carlos Hinrichsen is president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid; 2007-2009); director of the School of Design, Instituto Profesional DuocUC de la Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile; and design director of Design Innovation in the 
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