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Graphic design in Korea, 1981
Chung si-hwa on Korea graphic design in the 1980s, Graphic Design 82.
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Graphic design in Korea has made tremendous strides in the last twenty years, and I am proud to say that during this period it has unequivocally reached international standards. And I think it is important to look at the developments over the last twenty or so years that have led to both qualitative and quantitative improvements in the field before looking more closely at graphic design in Korea today.
First I think it is important to look at graphic design before the establishment of the Third Republic in 1963. Before then, what graphic design that did exist was limited to the departments of applied arts in colleges and universities, and graphic design as a concept of a visual communication art as we know it today was totally non-existent in the corporate world. It was limited, in the absence of television, to printed material, and both arts of printing and photography were still in relatively nascent stages. And in addition, the lack of industrial and economic development at this time greatly discouraged the graphic design efforts. Graphic designers were few and far between, their specialties limited, and their role in society was ill-defined.
Despite all of this, however, there was a great deal of potential among designers, and this was chiefly due to education. Unlike other nations where, say, artists and sculptors turned to fill the role of graphic designers, from the late 1940s on, through the applied art courses offered at local universities, the future role of graphic designers as specialists themselves was emphasized.
There were, of course, several contributing factors that brought graphic design to its prominence today, but the first real boost came in 1966 with the establishment by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Korean Commercial and Industrial Art Exhibition (currently known as the Industrial Design Exhi-bition). The Ist Division of this Exhibition was graphic design, and the Exhibition became an annual event, attracting numerous graphic designers, and every year recommended designers were invited to participate after receiving awards for three years in a row, a designer would become a "recommended designer." These recommended designers are now playing the leading role in the field today.
This nationally sponsored exhibition, giving official recognition to capable designers, helped tremendously to plant designers into the corporate world and at the same time to give them social and occupational legitimacy. It also opened unlimited avenues and opportunities for designers, and they began to assume roles as university instructors, advertising specialists for manufacturers, corporations and television, and freelancers for graphic design studios. These people have in turn contributed to bringing new dimensions to graphic design, and have made it what it is today. The Exhibition continues each year as a major vehicle for continued development of graphic design in both quantity and quality, and is of major importance in developing potential in the field.
Structural change in graphic design began in the early seventies with corporate recognition of its potential as a visual communication art. Having previously regarded graphic design as a form of sketching, corporate management began to realize the effectiveness and importance of graphics in promotional activities, and this gave rise to the spontaneous growth of the field. An example of this is that businesses began to establish graphic design departments (as opposed to the previous "promotional" depart-ments), began hiring larger number of graphic de-signers, and began dealing with graphic designers both within the house and within agencies that had graphic design specialists. All of this gave a tremendous life to the organizational structure and placement of design and designers.
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Factors behind this great surge in graphic design in the early seventies were many. This period was marked by rapid growth and diversification of industries and products, competition for consumer markets began to greatly expand, and as the standard of living rapidly improved, growth put Korea into world competitiveness. This competitiveness required graphic design not only as a means for immediate sales but also for continued growth, development and progress, and business began searching for more and more qualified designers. It is not unusual to find as many as thirty designers in one design room at some of the larger corporations nowadays.
This testifies to the fact that there were large number of qualified designers with appropriate educational backgrounds ready to fill these corporate needs. These developments gave designers more confidence in themselves and there was a corresponding growth in the quality of design work. This however was not merely limited to the world of corporate business; indeed, activities have expanded to include research organizations and associations, graphic design magazines and publications, international exchanges and participation in international exhibi-tions, overseas study, and research at virtually every level of design. Graphic design today is indeed one of the most active and exciting art fields in Korea.
In summary, we see three distinct periods of development in graphic design in Korea: first, the educational seeds in the pre- 1960 period, the occupational and social recognition achieved by the earlier students in the 1960s, and the mushrooming of potential, creativity, recognition and multiple activities of the 1970s. Having divided the development of design into these three basic periods, let us take a closer look at the field.
In the mid-sixties the introduction of television had epoch-making effects on a field that until then had previously been solely dependent on the written media in the form of advertisements. This cause a literal revolution in production processes that involved printing and photography, to name a few, and led to the development of modern techniques in graphics. Originally, however, there developed a heavy emphasis on photography at the expense of illustra-tion. Gradually this was modified, as graphics began to illustrate and capture certain points and emotions that photography, in its blatant realism, was not capturing, and this all led to exhibitions of illustrations that were showing distinct individuality. Due to the utilitarian attitudes of corporate firms and advertisers, however, illustrations are only still a part of printed materials, catalogues, etc. Excellent examples of the individuality and expressiveness of graphics can be found however in the illustrated works of Kim kyo-man and many individuals in the field.
Additionally, in the earlier days, advertisments and promotion materials were often used as one-shot deals to try to boost sagging sales. This attitude, however, has greatly changed with the realization that graphics can be an economical, effective way of continued promotion. In the early seventies, specialists in the field were able to convince corporate management of the strategic effectiveness of graphics in the corporate image identity program, and many excellent programs have been developed since then. Cho young-jae's DECOMAS exhibition in 1973 was an excellent example of the development of this field in Korea, and the seventies can be considered a boom era for the C.I. system of graphics in Korea.
Other important developments that were instrumental in the flowering of graphics include, with the rapid development of the use of film design, advertisement award exhibitions by local news-papers. These exhibitions got across the economic feasibility as well as the cultural implications of graphic design in mass media. These exhibitions greatly added to the competition, quality production and confidence of those in the graphic design field, and led to the modernization of photographic printing and film methods involved along with a streamlining of modern equipment in these fields for speedy, efficient and economical production; and in doing so opened a new era in the field for continued growth. In totality, it can be said that in the space of one generation, the growth and development of graphic design in Korea was nothing short of spectacular.
Today's graphic designers in Korea, having long since left behind the concept of a "drawing job based on manual skill," have fully integrated and rational approaches to their occupations as planners as well as artists, and with the latest in sophisticated equipment at their disposal can devote cumulative periods of time to developing new ideas and concepts. They continue to grow rapidly as communication artists and are continuing to arm themselves with the latest in all related educational fields. And while able to retain distinctively Korean traits in their works when required, they are rapidly attaining recognition as truly worldwide graphic designers through their research and capabilities.
About Logo Histories’ Extra Issue
Logo Histories’ Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.