Few companies have changed as dramatically in recent years as Samsung Electronics Co. The once-dowdy maker of copycat consumer products has become a design powerhouse. Since 2001 the Korean company has won 19 citations in the prestigious Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), including three this year, when it became the first Asian company to top the awards list. The field general commanding the troops in this transformation has been Chung Kook Hyun, Samsung's chief design strategist.
In the past five years, Chung has more than doubled the ranks of Samsung's designers by bringing in some 300 new recruits. Under his stewardship, Samsung has opened design centers in six cities worldwide. And he has shaken up Samsung's engineering-driven culture. Time was, designers had to find a way to put their boxes around the engineers' devices. Today, product innovation often comes from designers, who ask engineers to put their devices inside the designers' boxes. Chung has also broken down the Confucian hierarchies that hobble other parts of Samsung. Designers are freed from dress codes and other constraints that hinder creativity. Chung lets younger designers take a larger role and encourages them to challenge their superiors. And the company is sending veteran designers on sabbaticals abroad to come up with new ideas.
These days, Chung works long hours keeping Samsung's designs fresh. But he still makes time to clear his head with a long jog most days -- even if it means heading out at midnight. Although he has worked in product design for 30 years, Chung initially wanted to be a graphic designer. But when a friend working at Samsung won a design award in 1975, Chung shifted gears. Samsung is surely glad he did.
By Moon Ihlwan