seoul ddp forum

Last February, Nikki went to Seoul for AGI Open at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza as International President of Alliance Graphique Internationale. Herewith an impression of the event and her opening speech. 

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, 
It is a pleasure to stand here before you, and I hope you share the anticipation I sense at this very moment. Arriving in Seoul, overlooking the mighty Han river, entering this spectacular Dongdaemun Design Plaza: What a vibrant and wonderful city.


It’s only a few months ago that I first visited Seoul. Last December my partner Thomas Widdershoven and I had a meeting with our Korean clients, the Hyundai department stores for whom we are currently designing a graphic identity. We were delighted to be chosen for this commission.

That goes without saying. But there is every reason to highlight the impact of our introduction to Korea. We are not just working for the client, but with the job came the opportunity to emerge in a culture I barely knew before. And what an absolute joy that is. Sure, before my trip to Seoul I already met Ahn San So, who is organising tonight’s lecture series. I have come to know Ahn San So, who is often described as the ‘father’ of graphic design in this country, as the most gentle-hearted person I can think of. 

A great mind, and a truly gifted designer and educator. Thank you Ahn Sang Soo (and your team) for bringing us here and for staging this event.

And sure, I had already met some Korean students, with whom I worked at Design Academy Eindhoven’s master department. Within a community of students from all over the world, their genuine, poetic, but also slightly anarchic approach to design stood out: it was as bold as it was refreshing.


Finally, last December, I had a chance to see Korean culture from up close. During our stay we visited Typo-Janchi, the international typographical biennial of Seoul: an inspiring, well-programmed event that showcased the qualities of contemporary Korean graphic design. And back in Europe – in Paris to be precise – we visited the Korea Now! exhibition at the Museum for Decorative Arts. Another piece of evidence that suggested how much Korea has moved to the centre of what design is about, these days.

There is a sincere human quality in the work of Ahn Sang So and many young Korean designers that makes me optimistic about the direction design is taking in these turbulent times. They make me feel at home within our global profession.

Perhaps most designers will not look at the political arena when they search for inspiration. But I sometimes do, and in the city administration of Seoul I have found a highly inspirational source.

Over the past few months I have read several reports on mr. Park Won Soon, who is in office as Seoul’s mayor since 2011. With his background as a civil rights activist and founder of the Hope Institute mr. Park tries to tackle social, environmental and political issues by listening to the ideas of civilians. He picks up on grassroots initiatives to implement change, and I applaud him for that.

In my humble position as international president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale, I hope to learn from Park’s approach.

Because, just like the city of Seoul our alliance of distinguished designers has to take good care of its impressive heritage. Like Seoul, the AGI is a global meeting place of cultures, ideas and professional practices. And like Seoul the AGI has to adapt to new technologies, new types of communication and a revised notion of value.

To remain valid in today’s world both Seoul and the AGI need to be responsive to the voices of change within their communities. I definitely feel that the power of grassroots initiatives should also inspire AGI in its search for new directions.

The programme tonight features presentations by all members of the International Executive Committee of the Alliance Graphique Internationale. You will hear their propositions and ideas first hand, and I hope we can engage in a productive discussion afterwards. We are building up towards the annual congress and to AGI Open next September, again to be held in Seoul: a third homecoming for me. I can’t wait.

Thank you.