Digital Public Art revolutionized – Why South Korean d’strict is not a traditional agency
In recent years, digital media art has developed vigorously around the world. The multi-award-winning digital art agency d`strict is an expert in the field - but does not want to be called "agency"!
The installation , honored with an iF DESIGN AWARD 2022 gold, is a surreal painting of a whale dancing dynamically according to the movement of waves, turning the entire 1,400 squaremeters electronic display panel that lights up the center of Times Square, New York, into a three-dimensional space. Whale is not the first public art project recognized by an iF DESIGN AWARD: In 2021 d´strict`s “” also won an iF DESIGN AWARD Gold – with the highest score among 9,509 entries. In total, 16 of d'strict's projects haven been awarded with an iF DESIGN AWARD over the years, two of them with Gold!
With its self-produced art content, d’strict has created a series of amazing B2C projects, including the world’s first indoor 4D immersive experience park “LIVE PARK”, the large-scale digital theme park “PLAY KPOP”, the immersive digital art museum “”, awarded with an iF DESIGN AWARD 2021, the digital art content trading platform – LED.ART and the NFT digital art trading platform – ARTE META etc.
In this excerpt of an exclusive interview, conducted by Package & Design Magazine, Sean Lee, the president and CEO of d’strict, and Sanghwa Park, vice president and creative director, talk about d`strict`s design philosophy and success story.
Q: First of all, congratulations on winning the iF DESIGN AWARD 2022 Gold with the public art work “Whale #2”! How many people and who were involved in this project?
Sanghwa Park: “Whale #2” is a public art project like “WAVE”. Through surreal experiences, it was created to awaken great emotions such as the emotions from the grandeur of nature that cannot be experienced in daily life in the big city like New York and to provide some comfort to the people through the artwork. Based on the characteristic of scale of the largest medium among the numerous LED screens in Times Square, New York, we used the iconic “whale” in our work. The component of the whale was made of water to remove restrictions in movement and to blend well with the waves in the background. This new idea showed dynamic waves and movements of the whale without constraints in the entire screen space, better representing the differentiated screen characteristics of scale.
“The difference of d’strict from other companies in the field is whether it has the momentum, profit structure, and performance to achieve sustainable and stable growth!"
Q: d’strict positions itself as an “Arttech factory”, that is, “Artistry Design + Technology for human + Factory of experience”. At present, the total number of employees of d’strict is over 200. – Could you introduce the management structure and team structure of d’strict, such as which departments does d’strict have, and which professional fields do your team members come from?
Sean Lee: We have 200 employees in the company, including our subsidiary companies employees, as of at the end of May, 2022. d’strict Korea, the headquarter company has 130 employees. We have 5 members in Shenzhen and Shanghai in China. And the other around 65 employees are working in Jeju, Yeosu and Gangneung for operating three ARTE MUSEUMs in Korea. Our employees’ major is various. Half of our employees’ major is design and software development, and the other half is not entirely associated with content and design (like me economics). It looks like that the major of employees does not relate with the working performance in d’strict. What we’re providing is designing a very attractive user experience in the offline space. So I think majors or education is not a critical matter in d’strict.
At headquarter, we have three creation divisions. The first one is the “Arte Studio Division”. They usually create new content or exhibitions for ARTE MUSEUM and alsod’strict (the media artist unit of d’strict). Second is the “Motion Design Division”, usually creates new commercial advertisement and new public media art based on ability to create motion graphic technology. And the third creation division is the “DX Division”, i.e. the digital experience division. They’re usually focusing on experiences related to interaction, but they’re also creating some exhibition content for ARTE MUSEUM and making some public media art content. So they are something like a very general creation division.
Located near the Gyeongpo Lake in Gangneung, Gangwon-do, iF DESIGN AWARD Gold winner 2021 ARTE MUSEUM GANGNEUNG is the third immersive media art museum by d’strict.
The overarching theme of the ARTE MUSEUM GANGNEUNG is VALLEY, reflecting the geographical characteristics of Gangwon Province and Gangneung as the backbone of Baekdudaegan Mountain Range.
Q: Since 2020, d’strict has started its B2C services and successively opened three offline immersive media art exhibition spaces “ARTE MUSEUM” in Jeju (2020.09), Yeosu (2021.08), and Gangneung (2021.12). – These three ARTE MUSEUMs were all opened during the Pandemic of COVID-19. Why did d’strict decide to open theiF DESIGN AWARD 2021 winners during the severe Pandemic?
Sean Lee: Regardless of the pandemic situation, we have been preparing for the ARTE MUSEUM since 2019. In early 2020, when the construction of “ARTE MUSEUM JEJU” was just started after signing a site contract, concerns over the shutdown of the world grew due to the sudden COVID-19 situation. However, there were expectations that it would be an opportunity for Korean tourists who could not go abroad could choose Jeju Island as an alternative place to travel, so we opened the ARTE MUSEUM in Jeju (2020) as scheduled, and opened the ARTE MUSEUM in Yeosu and Gangneung about a year after opening Jeju. It was not intended, but while overseas visitors were not able to come due to the pandemic situation, more domestic tourists were able to visit, and in conclusion, I don’t think they were affected much by the pandemic.
Q: d’strict’s future goal is to evolve from a “design agency” to a “sustainable design company”. So what’s the difference between the two of them? How does d’strict plan to develop in the future?
Sean Lee: I think the difference of d’strict from other companies in the field is whether it has the momentum, profit structure, and performance to achieve sustainable and stable growth even if it does not rely on one-time orders.We started our business more like a design agency or creative agency. “Agency” means we’re mainly generating our revenue by providing some tailor-made B2B services to the client. The differentiating point for d’strict’s rapid growth in recent years is that it has been constantly striving to overcome the limitations of the revenue model of traditional design agencies. And it means that we began to generate our revenue based on our pre-made IP content, called “Art Service”. So we’re defining ourselves as “d’strict started to change and evolve from a design agency to a sustainable design company.” This is our strategic growth goal for the future. I want to be called by other market players a very famous “design company” (not “design agency”) generating sustainable revenue and pioneering innovative digital experiences through digital media technology.
So, how did Sean Lee actually lead his team to expand the business from B2B to B2C? Did it go well? How were the many B2C projects of d’strict operated, including the 4D immersive experience park “LIVE PARK”, the large-scale digital theme park “PLAY KPOP”, the digital art content trading platform – LED.ART and the NFT digital art trading platform – ARTE META? Why did d’strict choose to open an office in Shenzhen? What are its next development plans?