The proposal to interview Mr. Noh, due to the unlikely assonance of the name with that of one of the heroes of the golden age of the Italian fumetti, is almost to be taken under advisement. Truth is that's a formidable opportunity to meet Chang Oh Noh, director of LG's Corporate Design Center. He is the one behind, among other things, LG Signature, the line of ultra-technological and luxury appliances that you can easily define "comic book" for the alien lines and solutions to the limits of science fiction. "Objects out of time", as Massimiliano Fuksas defines them; I meet him at IFA, the largest European electronics fair, just before Noh. The difference in personality between the two is abysmal: the former is a visionary and a great narrator, while the latter is introverted and very sharp in his detailed storytelling. The conversation runs smoothly along the tracks that anyone who has dealt with Asian managers knows well: unlike the epic who set their American counterparts, they focus instead on certain few clear principles and on the description of some very refined details during the conversation.
With me are Young Hee Cha, Director Brand & Design Department of Alessandro Mendini's studio, who has kindly made herself available as an interpreter, and PR Clara Buoncristiani. It's Clara who breaks the tye, noting Noh's long journey in LG. Before Signature, which started in 2016, the designer worked in many departments of the Korean company, designing refrigerators, washing machines, TVs and smartphones.
Three are LG Signature's core principles: identity, originality and functionality
The latest LG Signature products, presented at IFA, are a wine cellar and air conditioner. At Christmas, the brand launched an impressive 88-inch OLED TV, mounted on a brushed aluminum base, while at the last CES, the roll-up TV has been revamped, which has also passed from Design Week par excellence, the one in Milan. “There are three main principles of LG Signature”, explains Chang Oh Noh: “identity, originality and functionality“. But the true identity of the brand is that a big part of functionality is simplicity, he stresses. Like the washing machine, which automatically chooses the wash thanks to a dirty garment recognition system, or the fridge, which reveals what is inside with a simple “knock-knock” on the door, without having to be opened.
The great challenge for LG Signature is to maintain this identity, without disappearing from the market: an appliance takes 4 years from the beginning of the design to when it is marketed, twice as long as a "normal" brand. But the specialty of LG Signature is precisely this, an absolute care for solutions and a sort of dominance of the design area over that of engineers, which is unique compared to what usually happens in consumer electronics. So not only the best designers are not enough, but you also need good engineers. To make a refrigerator, says Mr. Noh, it takes 50, even 60 people.
LG's design section was founded in 1958, when other companies in Korea did not have designers on their staff. A year later, the first radio. LG Signature takes up the legacy of a design tradition that is more than sixty years old. When I ask Noh if design is the real innovation, he explains to me that from his point of view design and technology cannot be separated, because “the design team is a kind of psychologist who understands what people want”. And that bad psychologists are those who exaggerate with functions, as in the case of washing machines with too many buttons: for the LG manager it's just a demonstration of product power, but a truly “smart” device must be able to understand things without being explained to him. And when I finally bring Fuksas' words back to him, he gets serious. “I accept them”, he says, “because these are products outside of any trend, but made to last over the years, with no expiration date”.