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Character design and regional identity in Korea since the 1990's


       The aim of this study is to take an in-depth look at the local government-led identity design by analyzing the official characters of the municipalities.

       The government changed from a centralized government into a local self-governing one in the 1990’s. Therefore, each region had to promote themselves to the rest of the country as well as create a sense of community among its residents. One of the promotional methods was to establish a CI (Community Identity). Many governments competed rigorously to create their own unique characters.

       Seoul’s first official character was created in 1994, and many governments followed suit. This trend spread from the capital to smaller towns and villages of other regions. The competition was so overheated that in about 7 short years, a majority of the municipalities established CIs. This character ‘Boom’ that started from the 90’s peaked in2000.

       Many of the characters have short and squat figures with round eyes. Also, many are representations of children. The expressive style may have changed due to technological development however the appearance and theme stayed similar, and it is apparent that there is a stereotype.

      The reason behind the similar appearances lie in the production process. Many local independent governments commissioned the KIDP (Korea Institute of Design Promotion) joint CI production projects which includes character design.  The KIDP then subcontracted the project to design companies that are registered with the Institute. Many design companies created many characters for many different governments simultaneously during the character boom, and it was inevitable that the characters are similar.

      In conclusion, the CIs were created and established hastily in a competitive manner without enough deliberation, and discussion by only a handful of companies. As a result, the characters could not successfully embody the true identity of its representative area.

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