Seoul Swedish luxury SUV
11:00 PM | June 1 2019

Seoul, passion and a stunning Swedish luxury SUV

Volvo Cars’ first Korean designer reveals how similarities between South Korean and Swedish cultures helped create a luxury SUV people could fall in love with.
Jung-Hyun Lee was 15 when he saw a black 964-series Porsche 911 in an American film and was struck by a moment of sudden inspiration.
 
“I just had to draw it, so I got a pencil and a piece of paper my father used for his engineering drawings and set to work. At that point, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a car designer. I just liked cars and wanted to draw them for fun.”
 
“When I was growing up, South Korea didn’t really have a car culture. You could buy Korean-made cars but most people used public transport” explains Jung (main image). “But even though you didn’t see many imported cars, you saw plenty of enthusiasm for them. Fans of foreign cars would order motoring magazines from abroad to read about the latest models – and I was one of them!”
 
Many years later, Lee would be responsible for the design of the award-winning Volvo XC60, widely regarded as one of the luxury-SUV segment’s most stylish models.
 
Jung’s passion for cars was inspired by his father, a retired university professor in mechanical engineering. And he initially intended to follow in his vocational footsteps before he realised that by combining his engineering knowledge and passion for design, he could become a better car designer. After all, car design isn’t just about clean lines, it’s also about engineering know-how.
 
Jung fell in fell in love with Scandinavian design while researching different design schools.
 
“Suddenly, I had found what I’d been looking for. I loved the beautiful simplicity. It was perfect, timeless.
 
When I moved to Sweden, it was still very mysterious to me. But before long, not only was I in love with Scandinavian design, I was in love with Swedish nature and the Swedes themselves.”
 
After graduating from the Umeå Institute of Design, where he studied Transportation Design, Jung had only one destination in mind – Volvo Cars. And in April 2010, he began working as a member of Volvo Cars’ Strategic Design Team.

Volvo XC60 Jung-Hyun Lee
Above: Jung-Hyun Lee and his creation, the Volvo XC60.

SIMPLICITY STANDS OUT

Since joining Volvo Cars, Jung has drawn inspiration from the contrasts and the similarities he has found between Korean and Swedish life. And as our lives get quicker and more complicated, he is particularly inspired by the way a simple approach to design can have such a positive effect on our senses and wellbeing.

“In South Korea, we live in a very busy environment. There are lots of buildings, lots of cars and people always seem to be in a hurry. Cities like Seoul are fast and noisy, and this can make life feel very complicated.”

The key to designing a car that cuts through the noise of our modern world is to keep it simple.

“The easiest way to ensure your design stands out is to keep adding more and more details,” explains Jung. “But people get tired of designs that are too complicated. The real challenge is coming up with designs that are simple AND stand out. I believe that, today, simple designs actually draw people’s attention. They stand out against the busy surroundings. Not only that, when people see a simple design, they feel more comfortable and relax more.”

In Korean culture, there is a saying “the beauty of blank space”. It doesn’t mean empty; it means only adding what is needed. “If you look at a traditional Korean painting, you will always find an empty, white area. This empty area allows the painting to breathe. If something is too busy, it is no longer beautiful. You have to leave room for imagination. That is the beauty of blank space,” explains Jung.

Throughout Korean history, you can find examples of people using simplicity as a way of making life better for people. And there is no finer example of this than Hangul – the traditional Korean alphabet.

“The Korean language is not the easiest language to learn. In the past, we borrowed characters from the Chinese alphabet. Then, in the 15th Century, the king personally created the Hangul. This new alphabet was very easy to learn, and the king’s aim was that every Korean would have the chance to learn how to read, write and express themselves.

Today, South Korea has a literacy rate of almost 100%. The Hangul was designed to make our lives simpler and better and it succeeded. It is my favourite example of Korean design and it continues to inspire me.”

Today, Volvo cars are designed with a similar purpose: to make people’s lives simpler, better – and, of course, safer. And this is what Jung and his team of designers had in mind when creating the award-winning Volvo XC60.

Volvo XC60
Above: The multi-award-winning Volvo XC60.


DESIGNING THE SUCCESSOR TO A SUCCESSFUL SUV

The Volvo XC60 is a modern-day icon, and Volvo Cars’ biggest selling model to date. So, the task of redesigning it for a new generation came with great expectations.

“The first-generation XC60 had a unique character,” explains Jung. “We wanted to keep the same character but evolve it to make it even more dynamic and elegant. We wanted to design a car that not only made people’s lives easier and more enjoyable, we wanted to design a car that people could fall in love with. And I’m very proud our design team achieved it.”

MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME

“Growing up in Seoul, I learned that time is luxury. Most Korean people, including myself,

are always busy, always on the move. We walk fast, eat fast and live fast. Time is very important to us. We always seem to be in a hurry so that we can have more time with family, friends – and for ourselves. At Volvo Cars, one of our main priorities today is helping people reclaim time. So, I use my own appreciation of time as inspiration to create designs that can help others enjoy and appreciate more free time of their own.”

A good example of Jung’s time-saving design is the XC60’s under-wrap doors. Under-wrap doors are uniquely designed to extend all the way down to the car’s body and overlap with the sills. Not only does this mean that the sills remain clean, it also means that climbing into the car is more comfortable and takes less time and effort. Now, this may sound like a minor detail, but it all adds up and shows just how much effort and attention to detail Volvo Cars’ design teams put into every aspect of their work.


WHAT’S KOREAN FOR ‘LAGOM’?

It may have been Jung’s love of Scandinavian design that first drew him to Sweden, but after a while he began to discover other similarities between Korean and Swedish culture. One term in particular resonated with him as not only did it sum up his approach to design, it also described the Korean attitude to life he had been taught growing up in Seoul.

 

“When I first moved to Sweden, I kept hearing the word ‘lagom’. When I learned what it meant, I realised it was similar to the Korean saying ‘Jung-Do’, which literally translates as ‘the middle path’. ‘Jung-Do’ is very important to Korean people as it means doing things in moderation. When you’re a child, you are told that it is best to not be the part of the rock that sticks out, as that is the part that is more likely to be hit. So, we are taught that it is best to be humble and not stick out – less is more, less is better. So, when I heard the phrase ‘lagom’ I recognised the significance straight away.”

 

FREE TIME AND THE FUTURE

Through a love of Scandinavian design and a combination of ‘lagom’ and ‘Jung-Do’, Jung and his team help Volvo drivers not only enjoy timeless designs but also make the most of time they never knew they had. 

As for the future… “I just want to keep designing cars that people long for and fall in love with,” says Jung.

 

 

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