It was not so long ago that Korea was known as a country which was highly competent at manufacturing goods which ticked all the boxes in terms of functionality and cost, but lacked the wow factor in terms of design. In recent years, Korea has been catching up with the design innovators, with consumer electronics companies producing truly covetable gadgets. But still there is plenty of room to grow, to eliminate what the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy calls “Korea’s Design Deficit”. With this objective in mind, the Korea Institute of Design Promotion was established to strengthen the competitiveness of the Korean design industry.
For the second year running, the KIDP has sponsored a stand at the London design show at Earls Court in order to promote the best in Korean design in one of the leading trade fairs. The products on show this year were predominantly for the home. Quirky, fun lighting designs – lampstands using teapots as lampshades (by the appropriately named “Another Ceramic”), or matches with colourful hats by BD lighting, or silhouettes of traditional table lamps designed to be placed two-dimensionally against the wall (by DMO). The sense of fun extended to the stationary designs by rEDCLOUDY, and to the brightly coloured storage solutions by COZYTEC and the striking tree-shaped bookcase by Shawn Soh of Design Artist. This product in particular was creating a bit of a buzz, with a number of retail enquiries.
Three bathroom companies were presenting. If Finedeal’s bidet toilets were rather too reminiscent of those Japanese contraptions which make one feel for the safety of one’s vital equipment when sitting to do one’s daily business, Cebien’s shower systems were less controversial, while Saturn’s colourful organically shaped wash basins looked like dumpy lilies promising a jacuzzi for the face and maybe a bit of a soaking for the bathroom floor.
Surprisingly, gadgetry was in short supply, with one of the most prominent products on display being DesignMU’s elegant battery booster for that notoriously underpowered but nevertheless most desirable of gizmos, the iPhone. The fact that until last week the iPhone was banned from Korea clearly did not prevent Korea’s designers spotting an export market opportunity and designing a product which, as it happens, was well reviewed in the FT’s How to Spend It magazine two weeks ago.
For me, two winning products stood out – a wall covering by TORO made from ground minerals, earth and herbs – very new age, back to nature, and giving a very pleasing range of ochre colours to the walls, as well as supposedly having health benefits. And an idea by DMO so simple that it’s a wonder that they aren’t to be seen in the shops everywhere: an apron with inbuilt oven gloves, christened the “kangaroo apron” because the gloves look like a pouch. Cute, elegant and practical. I’ll have one of those.
The theme of the pavilion’s exhibits was “designomics”, recognising that design is not an added extra – it has to be embedded in the economy. Any design company will produce misses as well as hits, but the misses are all part of the process without which the world-beating products never come to light.