For our first professional visit, we toured Hangyang Univeristy, one of the top 3 universities in Korea. The context for it’s founding is actually quite interesting: it was founded by a musician after the Korean War as an engineering school. While the founder wasn’t an engineer himself, he believed that science and engineering would be crucial to Korea’s revitalization. They have a particularly strong emphasis on civil engineering and sustainable development, which they approach with human centered design.
After spending a semester learning about human centered design in Art of Making, its interesting to see its international applications. I’m really interested in the idea of human centered design as a means of designing for individuals with different cultural backgrounds. I’ve learned so much about Korean culture by talking to and interacting with the people who live here, if I were to develop a product for this market, it’s extremely obvious to me how necessary this personal interaction is.
In an increasingly globalized world, it’s easy to fall into the idea that a product that “fits” one part of the world will seamlessly transfer to another market, but after being in Korea, I have a better understanding of why that may not be true. For instance: a lot of American aesthetics don’t translate in Korea. The clothing is much more modest, with a focus on quality and professionalism. Tighter or revealing clothing is much less common. Another example of this difference in aesthetics is evident in the cars that Koreans drive. The vast majority (probably 99%) of cars are black, white, or grey, and the reason for this is that the owners of cars in flashier colors are seen as unusual, and they’re set apart from everyone else. While in America, individualism and personal expression are guiding principles, Korea has a higher focus on community, teamwork, and collective progress.