Graphic Design Portfolio

Trying to Brand a Country? Don’t depend on an Adjective to do it.

This is a post the official Korea Tourism Organization had on their Facebook wall recently.

If you could pick only ONE word to describe Korea, what would it be?^^
I had read at the beginning of the year that Korea is going to be rebranding its tourism campaign and logo, after the not-so-great “Korea, Sparkling” that InterBrand came up with. Additionally, I know that the government formed a whole organization just to deal with the rebrand.
But, I think there are a few things that are inherently wrong with trying to label a whole country with a SINGLE word.
  1. No country, city, person, object, or even color (how many “blues” are there?) can be adequately described with a single word – especially not an all-encompassing, generic word.
  2. Countries are naturally combinations of thousands of elements, traditions, characteristics, and experiences. To try and describe them all with ONE word is like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with a single color of paint.
  3. Adjectives, even those that sound specific (“Incredible India” anyone?), are far too generic and can be applied to any number of other countries, or positive AND negative experiences (“Incredibly terrible service at that restaurant.” or “Is Japan really as incredible as people claim?”).
  4. Any single word (or country) may be misunderstood by a reader. Take “Korea, Sparkling” for example. Many tourists thought it meant “sparkling soda.” Take “Korea” for another example. Many Americans immediately think of North Korea whenever that word is mentioned. The connotations of both of these aren’t beneficial to a tourism campaign.
So, I have a suggestion:
If you’re thinking about a new Tourism brand, why not use a verb, rather than an adjective?
Adjectives like “Sparkling”, “Inspiring” and even “Unforgettable” are very generic and can be applied to many countries without giving people a very distinct idea about the specific country it’s applied to. And some adjectives may contain negative connotations. “Incredible India” or “Unforgettable Korea” could quickly become negative for someone who has had a very poor experience in one of those countries. I read something to this effect on a travel blog recently, “Incredible India indeed. Incredibly hard to digest.”
On the other hand, a verb like “Discover” or “Experience” invites people to partake of the experience of all aspects of a country – to learn about it, enjoy it, and remember it. From research I’ve done (and my own experiences), much of the Western world has the wrong impression about Korea (largely thanks to North Korea in the news).
Rather than using an adjective like “Unforgettable” to introduce people to a Korea they may already have the wrong idea about, it may be better to use a verb like “Discover” to invite people to first learn about the country, and second to discover for themselves its “unforgettable”, “inspiring”, or “sparkling” characteristics.
Treat Korea as a sparkling treasure of tourism that many people haven’t discovered yet. Treat it as a hidden gem, or a diamond in the rough that, once discovered, is truly unforgettable. Don’t assume that people already understand Korea and that a nice adjective can adequately describe it. The truth is, most people don’t understand Korea very well. That’s why they need to “Discover” it.
Anyway, that’s just my two-cents on the possible rebranding of Korea’s Tourism. That’s what I’m going for with my grad school project.
Why is my logo better than the others?
  1. I chose a verb to invite people to learn about and experience Korea for themselves.
  2. I use THREE adjectives to help people begin to picture and understand Korea as it is – a vastly diverse country, both very ancient (with a history of over 4,000 years), and very advanced (with some of the most technologically advanced companies on Earth – Samsung (who makes the chips inside Apple’s devices), LG (who makes the displays in Apple products and is working on electronic paper), and Hyundai (who makes excellent cars). In fact, the contrast of Korea’s opposites – modern and ancient, business and family, work and pleasure, healthy eating and personal vices (drinking and smoking) – are what makes Korea so Unforgettable. These polar opposites that are present throughout every aspect of life in Korea create a magnetic attraction to the country that is unparalleled by surrounding countries.
  3. The logo text of “Korea” is a variation on the Korean alphabet itself: “ㅈㅇㄹㅌㅅ” The Korean alphabet is smashingly simple to learn, with only 24 “letters” and is a proud achievement that needs to be acknowledged by any tourism campaign.
  4. The logo is a variation of the iconic yin-yang symbol on Korea’s national flag. I took the yin symbol, and rotated it around to form the shape of a flower. Additionally, each color of the logo represents a different, unique, and unforgettable aspect of Korea. Tourists should strive to experience each of these six aspects of Korea in order to get a full understanding of the country Korea is. Beginning at the top red mark, and moving around in a counter-clockwise manner (toward pink), the colors represent: 1) Spicy Food, 2) Traditional Culture, 3) Advanced Technology, 4) Endless Adventure, 5) Ancient History, 6) Breathtaking Nature.
For more information about my student project (and for updates as they come), please visit my site.

4 thoughts

  1. Interesting- I didn’t see the flower when I first looked at the logo but in fact the fans from the traditional fan dance. [http://roryandjamie.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/p14-070421-a1.jpg]

    Also, if you’re going for a flower, why did you choose 6 petals instead of going with 5, like the Mugunghwa has?

    1. I did also consider a fan when I was creating the logo, and that is the concept behind the logo animation I created here: http://www.youtube.com/jekkilekki#p/u/3/m_OamnCbDpU

      I went with 6 petals on this design rather than 5 like the Mugunghwa mostly because 6 petals fit well together, looked balanced, and would allow me to highlight 6 Unforgettable Aspects of Korea, as can be seen on my sample New Homepage design here: http://aaronsnowberger.com/discover-korea-test.html

      I like the Mugunghwa, but the design is already well used in Korea for other things – one I can think of now is “Best Restaurants.” So, I wanted it to be like a flower, like a fan, use the Korean yin symbol, be balanced, and highlight 6 parts of Korea that I find to be unique and interesting, and that I think tourism should pick up on.

  2. Wow, I really like your logo design! Very creative and ingenious of you to use the yin symbol to create a multi-colored flower and the Korean alphabet to write the word “Korea.” But I wonder whether people will be able to understand the intricate and beautiful concept behind the logo at first glance? Because I sure didn’t, but once I read your explanations, it made me appreciate your logo even more. Have you shared your idea with KTO or anyone in Korea who’s involved in Korean tourism or nation branding? I checked out your website too–man, you have some great stuff there! You should really get people to take notice of your work! I’d like to share your blog and website with some people, but of course I’d only do so with your permission. You can email me if you’d like to discuss this further.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Definitely, I don’t think that people will “fully” understand the logo design at first glance, but there should be enough elements in there to give them a feel for Korea and spark their interest. Namely, the bright colors make it memorable, and the Korean alphabet that is changed to English letters actually “looks” Korean. Whether or not people understand that the letters are actually Hangul is not so important as understanding that the letter style is written in a Korean style (similar to the way people can recognize Chinese-styled English letters). Once they learn Hangul, it will give them a greater appreciation for the logo design.

      Which website was it that you checked out and had great other stuff on it? Was it my Tumblr site that has most of the Korean Tourism stuff on it? http://snowberger.tumblr.com/

      As far as showing this to the KTO, I’d definitely planned to – but after completing my grad study, got quite busy. I’ve put together a 120-page branding book that I’d intended to print and send them, but I may end up simply sending the PDF as I still haven’t ordered the book for myself from Blurb.

      Thanks for your interest though, and please share this wherever you think people will enjoy it or find use for it. I’d love to get a job designing in Korea – tourism or not. But for now, as it’s just a hobby, I haven’t had a lot of time to keep up with it.

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