China Post # 10 - A Seoulful Detour
Dec 16, 2006
Duty regularly calls, even on the other side of the world and this trip was no exception to that rule. Just as I was looking forward to Patsy, hamburgers and the comfort of my own bed, I was asked to meet with a new client in Seoul. The timing was actually fortuitous because it saved a return flight to Asia, the week before Christmas and my few days in Seoul — my first there — were a real eye-opener. So I called on my favorite Korean designer, Li’l E, or Esther Mun, as she’s also known, and had her meet me in Seoul so we could set off on a new cultural adventure, new for me at least.
Esther was born in Seoul and lived there until her parents moved the family to Southern California when she was 10. Her parents are now back in Korea, where they own a small resort hotel on the Island of Je Ju Do. She speaks the language fluently, knows the culture well, is a joy to be around and is one of the best young designers I’ve ever had the privledge to work with. In fact, without Li’l E, I don’t think we could have agreed to take on this assignment. The timing is such, that we have to get it right the first time out, in a big hurry and the subject is the branding of one of the most important cultural products in Korean heritage, Green Tea. In the past, we’ve tried to cross cultural and language borders quickly for the sake of a branding assignment and the experience was one that I never want to repeat. It takes time in the learning phase, that we sometimes don’t have enough of, to get everyone on the same page and accomplish design that we’ll all be proud of. When you can collapse the learning by enlisting a designer who intimately knows the cultural territory to be covered, it’s a doable proposition. I’m really excited about what lies ahead.
My favorite part of any design project is the learning phase. We’re called upon to absorb just enough about a brand and its inner workings, to couple that with our ongoing study of popular culture and then to mix the two together via design in order to create some magic in the marketplace. If anyone tries to tell you that brand design is any thing more complicated than that, they must work at a big, boring multinational consultancy that’s trying to justify an exhorbitant fee.
At any rate, it’s particularly rewarding – the learning phase that is – if you’re embarking on a journey that you’re pretty much clueless about. That’d be me when it comes to Korean culture and green tea’s place within it. More on that adventure later, for the time being let me share with you some of the interesting images from the retail arts district of Seoul, In Sa Dong. It’s a very cool neighborhood with antique shops, art galleries, traditional tea houses and cafes all vying for the attention of tourists and locals who are into the arts. So far, it’s my favorite district in Seoul but it’s early in what no doubt will become another foreign city love affair that should turn up all kinds of interesting design stimuli in the months ahead. I’m already scheduled to return twice in the next 10 weeks. I’ll keep you posted.