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South Korea Calling

By Emma Gorman

Where innovation meets tradition

One of the world’s largest economies, South Korean culture is celebrated worldwide. A global love for Korean BBQ, K-Pop and K-Beauty continues to grow. Design in South Korea is a fascinating world to explore, from eccentric themed cafes to the nationally loved concept of "Aegyo"(cute culture), Korean brands and businesses offer a plethora of eclectic styles to catch the customer's eye.

The capital Seoul is the UNESCO City of Design, the city is a mix of nature, modern design, and tradition. It is also a city of diversity, as its nation’s capacity to accept different values and deal with new technologies and ideas allows the country to grow in design innovation at a fast pace.

The Republic of South Korea ranks 6th among the 132 economies featured in the Global Innovation Index 2022.

Playful city escapism

Design is huge part of the South Korean people's lifestyle, and when visiting South Korea, you will likely see ‘Kakao Friends’ and similar characters scattered around the cities. 'Kakao Friends' is a joyful lifestyle brand whose mission is to bring positivity, colour, and fun to every Korean person.

'Kakao Friends' begun in 2012 as emoticons for a messaging app "Kakao Talk". It became viral, with over 200 million downloads to date.  Since then, these lively figures have been used as branding across all public transport, phone networks, food packaging, as well as cafes and restaurants.

Most Asian cultures see this "cute" aesthetic as a form of escapism. They brighten up the city and add a sense of playfulness to the mundane aspects of day-to-day life.

Around 73% of Korean designers are concentrated in Seoul.

Design innovation in hospitality

Like most of the countries around the world that suffered during COVID-19, South Korea was no different, seeing a strong decrease in retail and hospitality services in 2020 and 2021. To guarantee that the hospitality sector would reach the same level as in pre-pandemic times, businesses in South Korea have been innovating their services and designing brand experiences to enhance engagement and connect more emotively with their customers.

The hospitality and retail sectors are providing a sense of escapism in their design. Themed cafes are plentiful from beachside-themed restaurants to eccentric pop-ups and interactive installations. Social media is a huge driver of consumerism in South Korea, making selfie-worthy spaces a must. There is so much competition in these sectors that businesses have no choice but to try and stand out amongst their competition and get creative with their spaces.

Unconventional interior design

Coffee Nap Roasters, which opened in 2018 in Yeonnam-dong, Seoul, is definitely a place to visit. Their innovative interior design went viral when they opened their doors due their famous red brick hill concept, strategically designed to substitute conventional tables and chairs. The intent was to create a unique experience where customers can enjoy a cup of coffee wherever they choose to sit, as the effect is as if they are sitting on a hill surrounded by nature.

Pink Pool Café - an ultimate brand experience

Stylenanda is a K-beauty and fast-fashion brand, considered a highly desirable brand among Korean and Chinese millennials.  Stylenanda have managed to go the extra mile when it comes to brand experience.  Forget the pop-up of temporary store within store, as an extension of their fashion brand, Stylenanda erected two themed flagship stores in Seoul—a Pink Hotel in Myeongdong and the Pink Pool Café in Hongdae, which we got to visit.

Within the Stylenanda store in Hongdae, there are three floors of fashion and beauty with The Pink Pool Café located on the fourth floor.  It is zoned between lounge-type room, a pool area where they serve cool drinks, delicious cakes and desserts, and of course, opportunities for Instagram worthy pics in every corner. The branding and retro interior design were created to make you feel like you're on vacation in a luxury hotel, back in the day.  The pool itself is shallow and unfortunately customers are  prohibited from taking any dips inside, including toes!

Design and technology

From a different perspective, Brown Bana has innovated its customer experience by developing a robot that serves ice-cream in store. The customer is greeted by an animated robot character on an interactive menu screen. Once your order is sent through, the robot comes alive and a small screen lights up with a cartoon face that talks and provides entertainment to the customer while a robotic arm gets to work serving the capsule-based ice cream. A human touch completes the experience by adding the customers selected toppings.

One we love

One café in particular that has added to this Instagram-worthy hype is ‘Greem Cafe’ in Seoul. The brand created an incredible novelty interior that makes customers feel as though they have stepped into a cartoon.

The design of the café creates a fantastical 2D illusion. When visitors enter through the door, they are greeted with black and white comic-style furniture, walls, and floors, all without a sense of depth. Even the mugs and cutlery look like flat line drawings.

I think it is safe to say that it’s not the coffee and cakes driving the café’s business. One quick Instagram search will reveal thousands of selfies in the space. This café is a perfect example of the "draw" of the selfie and just how powerful it is in attracting customers and driving business

At TapCreative we design brand experiences that challenge convention, disrupt categories, and drive brand growth, enabling you to connect with your customer in more meaningful ways.

Emma Gorman
Graphic Designer

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