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Korea's design dominance reflected in list of IDEA Award winners

The award roster of design's top prizes suggests how Korean companies, from Samsung to Coway, are leading the development of beautiful and easy-to-use products.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor on

What companies are leading global product design and strategy today? One barometer is the International Design Excellence Awards program, held annually by the Industrial Designers Society of America. And the list of winners for 2012, announced on July 2, points to electronics behemoth Samsung (which won seven awards); computer and mobile accessories maker Belkin (winner of four prizes); and household electronics makers Coway and LG Electronics (each won three).

“This year's jury awarded products that brought together hardware, software, service and experience," said IDEA’s 2012 Jury Chair Rhys Newman, head of advanced projects at Nokia, in a statement.

"While there are many well-designed, innovative products, the exciting future is in the convergence of disciplines and expertise that span the digital and physical divide, ultimately resulting in useful and beautiful products for people,” Newman continued.

Fascinatingly, three of the four top corporate winners were founded and are headquartered in Korea (Samsung, Coway, LG). This suggests a notable trend: a Korean dominance in design.

Of course, the winning companies are long established brands. Even Coway, probably less known to U.S. consumers, has had a 20-year history of successful products in Korea. And Seoul was the World Design Capital in 2010. More recently, numerous hip architects, from New York's Asymptote to Denmark's Bjarke Ingels Group, have been unveiling plans for adventurous skyscrapers in Seoul's Yongsan International Business District, further emphasizing Korea as an epicenter for cool, forward-thinking design.

As far as the IDEA Awards go, the winners from Korean companies reflect this very sensibility. Samsung's XGEO U60 and XGEO GC80 x-ray machines, for instance, are sleek, simple, and nearly sculptural in their design. Both won IDEA Gold Awards, the highest honor from the IDSA. The user interface for the XGEO (shown below) also won a Gold, and has the same streamlined feel. All three were designed with ease-of-use in mind, as well as patient comfort (including the UX for the machine, apparently--according to Samsung's award entry information).

The Coway Teeny-Weeny countertop water purifier, which won a Silver IDEA Award, is very simple looking, too. The white device is so minimalistic that it's hard to tell what it is. But the Teeny-Weeny is also so pretty that it looks almost like a work of art. Its innovation is that the filter unit is easy to insert via pressing a button.

And LG's 553 OLED TV, another Silver winner, is equally as minimalistic and artful as Samsung's and Coway's very different winning products. The television, only four millimeters thick, can be perched upon a gas-powered floor stand. The stand can be height-adjusted with one touch, and cables are pretty much invisible.

Of course among the total 35 Gold, 71 Silver, and 123 Bronze IDEA Award winners for 2012, there were numerous companies and consultancies from around the globe. But Korea's strong showing in the corporate arena definitely reflects a trend to watch. While many design fans believe that the most lovely and inventive products may be coming out of certain large Silicon Valley companies, it's intriguing to note that the 19 global judges of this year's IDEA Awards have recognized the power of contemporary Korean design.

Images: screenshots from Samsung's YouTube channel

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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