South Korean electronics giant LG caught the design world on the hop last week when it opened the doors of its London design centre in Covent Garden. The occasion, presided over by The Duke of York, was not open to the press – there was not so much as an unofficial whisper ahead of the inaugural press release, delivered electronically last Tuesday afternoon.
Ironically, the opening of the 22-strong Southampton Street studio has been the subject of sizeable interest for months, and one of the worst-kept secrets on the circuit. If it was this magazine’s reporting tenacity that led to the wall of silence, or maybe just tightlipped Korean custom, all this was testimony to another factor at play – namely, the intensity of competition among the big mobile and electronics brands, which continuously probe and strain for any crumb of insight and information about their rivals.
LG confirmed the initial rumours about its plans for a centre to Design Week months ago, and has since been scouting the capital for someone to run it. At the time of writing, it has not been publicly stated who that will be. The smart money, though, is on Luke Miles, an industrial designer last seen working at Nokia’s Soho studio.
LG’s own new London base replaces its Milan studio as the European Design Centre, one of six international hubs for the manufacturer. It has been tasked with creating everything from mobiles to hi-fis, TVs, and washing machines. But time will tell just how prolific its output will be and whether it
chooses to go down the more conceptual research centre route (like Samsung Design Europe), or the product-centric one (like Nokia).
The centre’s first pure European design will be a mobile handset scheduled for August. That will follow the launch of its Steam Washer, an innovation adapted for Europe from its US-designed model, the Tron. It also remains to be seen how its rostered product design consultancies, like Seymour Powell, will dovetail with the new centre.
Apart from Prince Andrew, few have made it into the centre; sadly, Design Week’s cameras still have the lens caps on. LG marketing director for the UK and Ireland Andrew Warner describes the threefloor studio as a ‘pure design centre’, with hands-on test areas for designers to tinker in.
It will most likely mix together a range of disciplines – from product, interiors and graphics to research and social anthropology. However, unlike Nokia, which houses its marketing team on-site, LG will keep its marketing people in Slough.
Now that it’s here, the big question for LG is whether it can become truly European – not just in terms of brand and product (a challenge in itself), but organisationally. Asia- Pacific may be a long way away as a market, but Seoul has traditionally exerted a constricting grip.
Having been global head of branding for Sony Ericsson until a few weeks ago, Warner is all too aware of this, but says there is a willingness to change this now which is coming from the top.
‘LG has always been a Korean company, but it is fast becoming much more of a global company,’ he says. ‘The significance of moving the design centre to London is that London is so forwardlooking, and a great design capital. By expanding our design capability in Europe we are moving forward, too.’
LG European Design Centre
• Opened last week in London’s Southampton Street, WC1
• Houses 22 ‘international design experts’
OTHER LONDON STUDIOS
• Luke Miles expected to be named this week as head of the centre
• LG’s design spend is $3.2m (£1.6m) in Europe and $84m (£42m) globally
• Sony Ericsson (opened 2001)
• Samsung Design Europe (opened 2001)
• Nokia (opened 2007)