COMPASS MAGAZINE #10
COMPASS MAGAZINE #10

TECHNOLOGY + DESIGN + INVESTMENT Youngse Kim, consumer electronics design star, creates incubator for high-tech startups

When Youngse Kim arrived in Silicon Valley, California, as a young designer, the region’s top high-tech companies knew Korea mainly as a manufacturer of low-cost products – not a producer of great design. Today, after winning dozens of major design awards for iconic high-tech products, Kim is launching an incubator to help more of Korea’s young designers make their impact on the world of high-tech products.

Youngse Kim is one of the world’s most celebrated high-tech designers, with 16 major design awards, dozens of iconic products, rave reviews from top publications and the admiration of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who called Kim’s iriver MP3 player “a leading design product of the digital era.”

Thirty years after founding his high-tech design firm, INNO Design, in Silicon Valley, California, however, Kim hasn’t forgotten his roots. He remembers the struggles of being a Korean-born designer in the days long before Korean companies like LG and Samsung – often with Kim’s guidance – became synonymous with beautifully designed products. He remembers the risks of financing his first product, an innovative golf bag called ProTech, with a bank loan. And he remembers the discomfort of sitting with his sample in a tiny tradeshow booth, realizing he had none of the skills needed to market or sell it.

Because he remembers, Kim is devoted to easing the paths of tomorrow’s star high-tech designers with his new Design Accelerator Lab (DXL-Lab) in Pangyo, at the heart of Korea’s Techno Valley.

“DXL-Lab, where technology + design + investment takes place under one roof, will become the world’s first platform in which all participants can expect to succeed,” Kim said.

HIGH-TECH DESIGN CHALLENGES

Kim sees DXL-Lab as an opportunity to help future generations surpass his accomplishments.

“Designers are queuing up to join INNO Design, but we simply cannot hire all of them,” he said. “The next dream of a designer who once climbed to the top is to help many junior designers to make their debut.”

“I WANT TO LEVERAGE MY DESIGN CAPABILITIES TO TRIGGER THE GROWTH OF KOREAN INDUSTRIES. I WANT TO INFLUENCE AN ERA OF DESIGN.”

YOUNGSE KIM AWARD-WINNING DESIGNER AND FOUNDER OF INNO DESIGN

High-tech products present unique design challenges, and technology concepts alone – which most of DXL-Labs’ applicants already have – is not enough, Kim said. What the technology does must be integrated with great design that attracts consumer attention and interest, but also streamlines and enhances how the technology functions.

“I believe ‘Me’ is the design megatrend,” Wired magazine quoted Kim as saying. “It’s hard to impress consumers unless the design moves them.”

Today he adds: “The designer is no longer a supporting actor on the world stage. Now the designer finds himself playing the lead role.”

DESIGN TOGETHER

Existing accelerators rarely know how to create the unique marriage of form and function that delights high-tech consumers. But it is a skill at the heart of INNO Design’s success, and one Kim intends to share with DXL-Lab startups, embodying the DXL-Lab motto, “Design Together.”

In keeping with Kim’s philosophy, INNO Design evaluates every design on three axes: always beautiful, functionally convenient and easy to manufacture. INNO Design will help DXL-Lab startups achieve this design trifecta and will directly invest in any project that appears to have growth potential. “INNO Design manages these projects,” Kim said.

A PLATFORM FOR SUCCESS

To help facilitate startups, DXL-Lab is providing a cloud-based business platform to link aspiring designers with INNO Design experts and potential investors. Designers put their projects on the platform, INNO Design helps with development of the best ideas, and venture capitalists can watch the progress and discover projects that meet their investment criteria.

Every step of the collaborative process happens on the platform.

INNO Design Center in Korea will be the headquarters for conducting DXL-Lab development work, and INNO Design USA will help high-tech startups introduce their products to the global marketplace. DXL-Lab is launching with four startups, chosen by Kim after he met personally with 10 aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Engineers tend to possess good technology, but do not know how to make and sell any products whatsoever,” Kim said. It’s a reality he remembers well from his own experience in trying to launch ProTech.

DESIGNING THE FUTURE

Hycore, which manufactures electric bicycle wheels, is one of the four startups Kim selected. When its electric wheel and a battery are installed on the rear wheel of any bicycle, the bicycle propels itself.

“THE NEXT DREAM OF A DESIGNER WHO ONCE CLIMBED TO THE TOP IS TO HELP MANY JUNIOR DESIGNERS TO MAKE THEIR DEBUT.”

YOUNGSE KIM AWARD-WINNING DESIGNER AND FOUNDER OF INNO DESIGN

“Immediately after I read an article about Hycore on the return leg of my overseas business trip last year, I contacted the company and arranged a meeting,” Kim said.

There he gave Hycore INNO Design’s patented foldable bicycle frame. “If INNO Design’s bicycle is able to merge with Hycore’s technology, the value of both products will become greater and Hycore’s brand value will be enhanced.”

The result is scheduled to launch in March 2017.

Kim is giving back because he remembers what it is to be unknown, struggling and Korean. “I want to leverage my design capabilities to trigger the growth of Korean industries,” he said. “I want to influence an era of design. The start of this movement is DXL-Lab.”

by Youngjin Choi Back to top