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Mr. Young-Ill KimMr Young-Ill Kim currently holds the position of Executive Vice-President for Design and Brand at Hyundai & Kia Motors, Korea. As a professional designer he has been involved in the design of various cars and industrial products in the last 25 years. Mr. Kim has held professorial appointments at the Choong ang University and Dan kook University in Seoul and Guest Professor at HDK, Hochschule fuer Design and Junst in Gothenburg, Sweden.

He has received many design awards in Korea and Germany at national and international design competitions including a National Award by the President of Korea in 2003. He holds the position of Vice-Chairman of the Korea Association of Industrial Designers and is a Board Member of the Asia Designer’s Assembly for Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

5th Design and Emotion Conference KEY-NOTE

After his key note presentation at the 5th Design & Emotion Conference in Gothenburg, I sat down with Mr. Kim, who seems to be a very open and friendly person with an obvious knowledge of Europe, where he has lived for several years. Nevertheless, where a European “big shot” designer would be full of praise for himself, you won’t find any pretentious behaviour from Mr. Kim whatsoever. Young-Ill Kim designed approximately 75% of the cars that are currently driving in Korea, and when this was mentioned by a friend of his that sat with us, nothing more than a modest blush appeared on his cheeks along with a short chuckle……

Young-Ill Kim’s key note presentation was about the differences between the East and West. It was great how he managed to find something we have in common, looking at our very different cutlery. We eat with fork and knife whereas Asian people eat with chop sticks. Nevertheless, we all use a spoon! In the short interview of about 15-20 minutes, Young Ill Kim shows us that the Korean car is currently a spoon with Western characteristics, but he is very keen on developing his designs into real, unique, Korean chop sticks: the K-Factor….

Mr. Kim, your key-note presentation for the Design and Emotion Conference 2006 in Gothenburg (Sweden) was about the way people from the West and from the East differ in many different aspects, including emotional values, perceptions and ways of thinking. I would like to use my first questions asking you just how it is that we differ in these aspects.

guys.gifHow do we (people from the West and the East) differ in ways of thinking?

Western people think more in a logical, rational way (objective),while eastern people think more in a fuzzy way with a holistic view (subjective). In my presentation I showed a picture of a tiger with a forest in the background. A western person would immediately focus on the tiger, while an eastern person would first notice the forest and look at the whole picture.

How do we differ in ways of perceiving the world?

Western people perceive the world more in an analytic way and Eastern people more in a synthetic way.

How do we differ in our emotional values?

Life and social values of Asian people, in most cases , are rooted more in spiritualism , and western more in materialism. This is of course very generally spoken.

What is a main difference between Western and Eastern car builders?

The Asian car makers are relatively young in history compared with western, who have got a long history as they invented the car. Ever since these cars have had their own identity characteristics, such as frontal faces, lamps and profiles. They did not need to create new images, they just needed to improve the existing characteristics to match them with their own time period.

You have been in the car industry for many years now. Differences in design and finishing touch used to be very big between cars from the West and cars from the East. Nowadays you see that the designs have a lot of similarities.

What does this mean in terms of our differences? Are we in fact more alike?

As eastern, Asian car companies with a short history, did not have the choice but follow the image of Western cars until now, that is the reason why the Asian cars look similar to the Western ones.
The Asian emotion is about relationships. I would like to develop a relationship with the people so that Korean people can recognize their own identity in the cars. I call that the K-factor, where I gradually integrate more and more of our own Korean culture and identity in the car designs. We are still paying close attention to the European trends, because that is very important. Nevertheless, we are now working hard to figure out what the core Korean characteristics are. I have made several design studies and took them to other cultures, like say Europe, and asked the people there how they perceived these designs. The same I did in Korea. I have gathered a lot of data this way and we are now trying to analyze these verbal reactions and combine them into a form language. Rear end of the Hyundai GrandeurThe combination of Western characteristics with Eastern ones is very important. When we would have designed a car with only Asian characteristics, people most likely would not accept it. As I mentioned, we have to follow first the trend that is common in the West and then slowly we move towards “Asian” cars. In Korea, everything is closely related to nature and what we want is to interpret the lines of Korean nature that is in everybody’s minds (mountain lines, forests, trees) and express them in the lines of our cars. Do you know the Hyundai Grandeur? That is one of my designs, and when you look at the rear of the car you see this line, this rather unusual line for people from the West. It is almost like a horse back and that is what I have tried to interpret and translate it in the line. It has been one of the most successful cars ever in Korea and of Hyundai!

How do Hyundai and Kia make sure that their designs appeal in both parts of the world? I mean, we are talking about a global market. Do the designs need be a compromise to be appealing for people in both parts of the world?

towards-asian-cars.gifIt is very important to learn about other design cultures and I hire designers from all over the world to work with us and learn from them. Nevertheless, they also need to have an understanding of Korean culture. Sometimes we get these guys that say “I am the man for Hyundai, I have 10 years experience, etc”. Then I ask them, what do you know about Korea or Korean design? Nothing. So how can you say that you are the person for Hyundai? That’s why I let them come over and design together with our designers, so that we can learn from these different approaches and perspectives, rather then letting them get in and design Western cars for Hyundai.

Now , with the rich cultural heritage of Asian countries based on spiritualism, Asian cars will be developed with their own identities (as I explained before about European cars’ front face, etc.), to touch and evoke not only the emotions of Eastern but also of Western people on a global market.
There might be a time, who knows, that the Western designers will look for and follow up on the Asian trends. Don’t forget that the biggest market in the world is the Asian market. Globalisation in the future is in these terms and from my perspective, to identify our own identity for our products, based on our own culture, attitude and emotion.

This can be also applied on Hyundai and Kia. In this case, as I am claiming nowadays, it is to reflect the Korean Factor onto our vehicles (K-Factor) and we are just on the way of beginning to do that. This will create brand Images for each of the Asian Cars in near future.

Asian economies are growing at an enormous pace (best known is China’s current growth). How will this affect design in these countries? Will we see an intensification of good design that only gets better, or will the extreme demand for design due to the fast growth negatively affect the time that is spend to further develop national ‘design skills’?

Let me explain you an important difference between Western and Asian people. Where Western designers usually start to draw a person’s face by sketching the outlines and the proportions. An Asian designer would start with the space between the eyes and already putting details in the eyes. In car design, this important difference is also very clear. I see the way Asian people design as an advantage and I think it is very important that we don’t loose this advantage. We should learn from Western design approaches, without losing our sense of detail.

advantage.gifPlease, to conclude, could you sketch us a future image of design in the West and in the East? And, how will Hyundai and Kia’s design strategies have changed/ adapted in that picture?

We can not build western looking cars as well as western people can, moreover we should not want to do that either. It is true that we are following the trends from the West right now, but trust me, we are definitely aware of the need to create our own identity. The new “Art Nouveau” is coming, but this time perhaps in a very unexpected way from a very unexpected direction. With the growing economies of the Asian countries, everyone here is trying very hard to develop the equivalent of Design Nouveau which should work on a global market.
I regularly meet the head designers of Toyota, or Nissan for example, and at Toyota they are now trying to find their own proportions, lines or identity so to say. They are trying to create a line at the side of the car as if it was cut out by a traditional Japanese sword. This is exactly what I would like to start with, but differently of course, because Korean lines are less strong and softer and rounder than Japanese lines.

Mr. Kim, I would like to wish you all the luck in creating the K-Factor for Hyundai and Kia and I am very curious how they will look in about 10 years. Thank you very much for this conversation and the key note, we have all enjoyed your presentation very much.

Thank you very much, I have very much enjoyed meeting you and hope to meet in Hong Kong at the next Design and Emotion Conference.

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Discussion (8) Comment


  1. Marco SerranoVisitor

    I think Mr. Kim’s points just go to show that western society should try to understand asian culture more, and learn about what we have in common and how we differ.

  2. Much like Marco has said, collaboration is key to getting the full design across, but now is a time where Asian culture is growing and they are becoming a bigger market. This larger market calls for change, which albeit slow, is necessary to recognize the Korean culture through a product’s design. I’m always interested in seeing a different or unique perspective on a concept, and Mr. Kim has done this well. I will be watching as well to see where car design goes for Hyundai and Kia, and even the Japanese companies Toyota and Honda. It will be worth seeing.


  3. Chrissy BrownVisitor

    Isn’t there a contradiction between Mr. Kim’s stress on detail and his analogy to photo of the tiger in the forest. I found some of his psychological generalizations to be somewhat perplexing.


  4. JosephVisitor

    As the interview was interesting, I feel Mr Kim’s interpretation of the differences in Eastern and Western values and perceptions is also open for interpretation. The global economies at hand are much more powerful in terms of closing the gap which has historically divided cultures. Eastern and Western taste will soon be the same values…


  5. MichaelVisitor

    Can anybody see this typical “asian” line on the Grandeur? In fact the whole rear end is a rip-off of the 7-series BMW. And to say that korean cars should use softer lines doesn´t sound like a strategy for the future to me – it´s rather an unnecessary limitation for the designers.


  6. MarcoVisitor

    Hi Michael,
    I also thought the line in the Grandeur resembled the rear end of a BMW somewhat(in this case the 6 series).

 

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