SEGD’s International Members: This Week, Reporting from Seoul

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All throughout March, SEGD is celebrating YOU, our members—both here in the United States and abroad. This week, we present the first in a series of three posts from our international members. Sherwood Choe (Manager, YiEUM Partners) reports from Seoul, South Korea, where government mandated Covid restrictions have made it difficult to do business. But fellow SEGD members from around the world have leant their support to Sherwood and his Korean colleagues, sharing “messages of hope and resilience in spite of pandemic-related hardships.”

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a mountainous country from which kimchi, K-pop and K-dramas were birthed and unleashed into the world. With much of the country’s population hyper-concentrated into a handful of key urban areas, with dense forests of concrete and glass reaching high into the sky, there is a tremendous need for creative and impactful design solutions in everyday life.

Jangwon Ahn, CEO of YiEUM Partners in Seoul, was drawn to SEGD in 2006 while researching information about global trends in EGD. The diverse group of industry professionals and the willingness of its members to share their insights inspired him to join as a member in 2007 and attend his first conference in 2008 in Austin, Texas, USA.

Although SEGD’s presence in Korea is quite limited, we value our firm’s membership and proudly share info about SEGD, its members, and the influence it has all over the world with every opportunity we have. While there are several design associations domestically, none offer the ability to mingle with, and learn from, legends in the industry, such as Lance Wyman, Jane Davis Doggett, Paula Scher, and many more! The society is almost entirely made up of designers, firms and fabricators that are direct competitors, but they come together to genuinely share their knowledge and experience to help each other grow while redefining excellence in best practices within our field. The knowledge and experiences we’ve gained as members of SEGD has given us an incalculable advantage and higher level of understanding about global design, which has significantly influenced our work here in Korea. It has also given us the credibility our international clients are looking for when we collaborate on major international projects around the world.

The ongoing pandemic has devastated the EGD community here in Korea, while completely reshaping the industry makeup. As mentioned earlier, people in Korea live in hyper-concentrated urban regions where socializing in restaurants, pubs, and public spaces are absolutely essential elements of civic life. However, during the pandemic, the government here has strictly enforced ever-changing restrictions to how businesses can operate. This translated into investors pulling out of contracts, projects being postponed indefinitely, and the demand for design work in anything related to the public and private sector to fall flat. Recent data shows that 96% of those in the design industry have suffered severe economic hardship in 2021, with many firms having downsized significantly to subsistent levels.

Although many COVID restrictions are still in place in Korea, more investors and businesses are anticipating the end of the pandemic. Many construction projects have picked up at a dramatic pace in the past few months even with rapidly rising material costs.

Despite these challenges, we have been able to lean on the knowledge and experiences of our fellow members from around the world as they shared messages of hope and resilience in spite of pandemic-related hardships. If anything, the pandemic has awakened the public to the intrinsic value of experiential design and the real need for connection between people and place through social engagement. We believe these deeply rooted truths will ultimately fuel a revolution in how municipalities and private enterprises look to creative design solutions for people to reconnect as we move towards a brighter tomorrow in a post-pandemic world