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Loosening the reins for creativity

Design leader Casey Hyun sends his team around the world for creative inspiration and ideas as Korean maker becomes a global player in auto market.

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Establishing an automobile company isn’t an easy task. But the process has been the same for almost all manufacturers: get the mechanical parts right, and then make it look good.

That’s exactly what Hyundai has done, says Casey Hyun, creative design manager in charge of brand design strategy and vision at the company’s headquarters in Seoul, South Korea.

“Since 2005, we realized that to take our brand to the next step, we needed a clear vision and design, to ensure that we would be counted as one of the global players in the world market,” he says.

“It wasn’t like everyone got together and said we had to do this, but it was just natural that we had quality set up, and then we had to come up with a consistent design message.”

Born in Korea, Hyun was raised in Australia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree as a product designer. He worked in that field for two years, but wanted to get into transportation design. Since the schools in Sydney didn’t have full design courses, he went to the Royal College of Art in London, England.

After graduation, he worked for Ford and GM, but he wasn’t kept busy enough to be satisfied.

“I was in a nice place, with good working hours, but I wasn’t really happy with it,” he says. “I knew I would like to work more. I wanted a bigger challenge, to find something that’s more demanding, to see how far I could push myself.”

In 2004, a friend who worked at Hyundai invited him to the Korean company, and he jumped at the chance. (The similarity of Hyun and Hyundai is purely a coincidence, he says.)

His first project was the i30, known in Canada as the Elantra Touring. He also worked on the Elantra, Accent and Sonata.

At 37, he’s young to be in such a leadership position, but he says the average age in design studios is falling.

“If you’re talented, age isn’t a big barrier these days,” he says. “It’s a profession where you have to be constantly creative, and willing to accept a fast-changing culture.

“You need people who aren’t necessarily younger, but who are comfortable with things changing around them. You have to enjoy the fact that the market is growing rapidly and changing, that you’re communicating with people from different cultures, and that people are requesting different things than they did 10 or 15 years ago.

“We let designers out of the office two or three weeks at a time, for them to be located in places where they feel it gives them inspiration. We send them to Tunisia, South Africa, to the southern tip of Chile. We try to cater as much as possible for them to come up with ideas that will be beneficial for a car design.”

Every design eventually has to incorporate such things as passenger safety, interior space and manufacturing feasibility but, at the very beginning, Hyun gives free rein on projects.

“We make sure that the design has freedom,” he says. “We can implement designs that otherwise are not possible to do when we’re restricted by packaging and engineering. It’s the earliest stage, but it’s the most critical stage of design, because it has the greatest input of designers to be free to come up with ideas that later get refined.”

The current Sonata’s final design had to incorporate the realities of a day-to-day automobile, but Hyun says its flowing lines, especially on the side view, are almost unchanged from the designers’ original visions.

The Veloster three-door coupe, meanwhile, started as a concept car and was never meant to be anything more than a showpiece.

“It was released at the Seoul Motor Show, and people liked it so much that our top management told us to make this into a production vehicle. It was forward thinking, and it allowed our designers to have the confidence to come up with such an idea.”

Hyun was working on the Sonata design, while a friend led the team for the Veloster. “We had a great time, and it was really nice because I was at advanced design at that time and was busy with two projects,” he says.

“A lot of the guys were staying to 1 o’clock in the morning, six or seven days a week, and we were working on two projects that were very important but in very different ways. Sonata is one of the most important in the Hyundai lineup, and Veloster was this sporty model, which we never had before. It was absolutely fantastic, a really satisfying experience.”

  • Loosening the reins for creativity
  • Loosening the reins for creativity

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