Art and Design: Interview with Product Developer Seongbin Jeong

Seongbin Jeong is a renowned South Korean Product Designer who is excited to announce a solo show of his creations which will be debuting in New York in 2021. Seongbin Jeong is inspired by nature and his designs are inspired by mundane. He is perhaps best known for “The Rainy Pot” which won the Golden Product award at the 100% Design London and was a finalist at the Spark Design Awards. Seungbin is a graduate of Pukyong National University in Busan, South Korea. His creations have been displayed in South Korea, United States, United Kingdom, and France. He recently discussed his career and designs via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your passion for design and how did you break into the industry?

Seongbin Jeong (SJ): As a young student, I loved to draw comics and hoped to become a comic book artist when I grew up. As I got older, I realized that it would be extremely difficult to make a living by drawing comics in South Korea. The webcomics market, which is huge now, was nonexistent back then and very few people considered it as a serious career choice. I decided to pursue a degree in industrial design because that was the next best thing that would allow me to properly express myself. I debuted the Rainy Pot at the Seoul Design Festival in 2013 which also got me an award at The Red Dot, one of the prestigious global design competitions. The Rainy Pot received so much attention globally and I quickly realized the product’s potential, so I founded Daily Life Lab that same year and began manufacturing the Rainy Pot for sale to the public.

MM: What sorts of items do you most enjoy designing and why? What are the challenges?

SJ: The focus of my design is to harvest nature’s movements and incorporating it into not only the aesthetics of the product, but also its function. The items I most enjoy designing fulfill two requirements. First, they must represent an idea or a principle that is at the intersection of the things I love as an individual and the things that are loved by the public at large. Second, in depicting nature, the product’s aesthetics and functionality must be seamlessly interconnected and create a harmonious whole. A product designer’s job is distinguished from that of a fine artist by the fact that their work must satisfy the public, or in the least the product’s target audience. An idea or a product that pleases the product designer but fails to stir interest of anyone else is not a successful one. So, it is best if the idea is one that can be endorsed equally by the designer as well as his or her audience such as one that is at the intersection of the two. With regard to the aesthetics being in sync with functionality, as you might imagine this is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part. There are countless nature themed products out there, but very few go beyond merely depicting the nature’s look and incorporate nature’s actual movements into the product. Take clouds for instance. I’m sure you can think of any number of everyday objects that are shaped like clouds. But in nature clouds embrace moisture in the air and bring rain, which grows life. The process of figuring this out and making it into a tangible product can be pretty exhausting, but extremely rewarding if executed successfully.

MM: What inspired your famous “Rainy Pots” and why do you think they’ve become so popular?

SJ: I always knew deep down that I did not want a corporate job. I wanted to independently test the market with my designs. I wanted the first product I present to the world to be something that reflects my true self and my philosophy as a designer, instead of opting for a provocative design which might have a bigger potential for financial success. This is how I came up with the Rainy Pot.

After I made the Rainy Pot’s prototype, I presented it to the public for the first time at the Seoul Design Festival, the largest product design exhibition in Korea, in 2013. The amount of attention the Rainy Pot received at the Seoul Design Festival was beyond my wildest dreams. A vast majority of social medial posts by visitors featured the Rainy Pot, despite of hundreds of other products to choose from. So many people came up to me and asked where they can buy one, and all were disappointed when I told them that it was only a prototype and I did not yet have plans for mass production. One person even wired me money on the spot and gave me his phone number, making me promise to call him when and if the Rainy Pot was available for sale. It took me a while to take all this in, and I realized that the Rainy Pot has a lot of commercial potential.

I believe the Rainy Pot gained popularity because of the simple yet refreshing way it expressed the natural phenomenon, specifically the natural movement of clouds. I mentioned before that nature themed designs are as old as time. At the time the Rainy Pot debuted, there was not a single product in the market I could find that made the cloud-shaped thing perform a cloud-like function. I purposely gave the design a very minimalistic look; there is no room for confusion or misunderstanding. The cloud part clearly looks like a cloud, and the flower pot is exactly what people think of when they imagine one. I believe the simplicity of the design effectively emphasized its function, the one and only aspect that distinguishes the Rainy Pot from all other similar products. Having said all of that, I think a more one-dimensional answer is that a lot of people think it’s “cute.”

MM: You will be showing your creations at a gallery in New York soon. How did that opportunity arise?

SJ: I participated in a group exhibition in New York last summer at the same gallery, where I presented the Rainy Pot and Natural Things, a ceiling mobile. The gallery received a lot of inquiries about my work — mostly asking where they can buy one and who I am — and suggested that I do a solo exhibition to present a most robust portfolio of designs, in celebration of my 10th year as a product designer. I am honored that they offered me this opportunity; I am not a fine artist or a sculptor, who make up the vast majority of this gallery’s exhibitors. Unfortunately, the Rainy Pot is no longer manufactured due to counterfeit issues, so this exhibition is also my way of saying thank you to everyone who ever made a purchase inquiry but did not get the answer they wanted.

MM: What has been the highlight of your career as a designer so far?

SJ: Like any other young designer, in the beginning of my career I was ambitious to win as many awards as possible. While it was a great honor to win an award at The Red Dot as well as several other prestigious competitions, the initial high dissipated pretty quickly as years went by and winning a new award no longer thrilled me the way it did in the early days of my career. The true highlight was when I competed at the 100% Design London, the largest and longest-running design trade event in the United Kingdom, where I won the Golden product Award by winning the popular vote by a huge margin. I was very happy not because I won the first place but because it gave my design validation; I was born and raised in South Korea, so before this I’d always doubted whether my designs were capable of being loved by people regardless of their nationality, gender, or age. While the Golden Product Award is nowhere as noteworthy or prestigious as The Red Dot, it gave me something that the bigger awards could not — the assurance that I had tapped into the mainstream taste and that my designs are capable of crossing national boundaries.

MM: How do you hope your career evolves and expands from here?

SJ: My ultimate goal is to build a fictional universe, or rather an imagined world made up of my designs, in which the participant can experience his or her surroundings through the products I designed. When I visited Finland back in 2012, I found this interior design store at the Design District and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the store had devoted an entire section of their floor to display the works of Eero Aarnio, not in a manner highlighting that these products are for sale but instead constructing the designer’s world view through meticulous yet natural organization of his designs. There was a chair designed by him where a chair should be; there was a lamp designed by him where you would expect to see a lamp; various objects designed by him decorated the space exactly as they would at someone’s home. The space was such a natural manifestation of this designer’s world view like his fictional universe. I felt that I had stepped into his world as a visitor who was temporarily granted access to his creative mind. It was wonderful. I, too, design everyday objects used at people’s homes, and hope that someday this fictional design world I have been building for the past decade will be robust enough to provide such a visitor with an experience that is spiritually and emotionally fulfilling.

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To learn more about Seongbin Jeong, visit Facebook and Instagram.

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author of novels, short stories, and poems. She is also a produced playwright and an award-winning modern artist.