Casey Hyun’s relentless drive for design excellence

3 July 2018

Casey Hyun

Photo: Casey Hyun. Image supplied.

UTS graduate and influential automotive designer Casey Hyun shares the formative lessons that have shaped his international career and secrets for designing for the furthest possible future.

If you’ve driven a Hyundai in the past 10 years, chances are it was created by automotive industrial designer Casey Hyun. In 2005, at the age of only 36, Casey was appointed Head of Design and Head of Strategic Design at Hyundai Motor Company. Over the next decade he led the company through a revolutionary change in design including creating the iconic Hyundai Fluidic Sculpture design philosophy, which remains at the core of the brand’s identity today.

Casey’s work can be seen in a whole fleet of cars driven by thousands around the world – the Hyundai Genesis G80, the new i20, the HB20 for Brazil, and the Hyundai Sonata. Interbrand (a US consultancy firm) estimated that during his time at the company, Casey’s work helped Hyundai double its brand value from US$5 billion to US$10.4 billion.

By most people’s standards Casey has forged a stunningly successful career, and yet when he is asked about what drives him, his response is remarkably humble.

“My life philosophy is ‘if today is the best day of my life, then my life is a failure’.”

Casey says he cultivated this mentality as an Industrial Design student at UTS (a university he chose because, “I was intrigued by the young and modern atmosphere”) in the early 1990s. He was influenced by the idea that learning should be a lifelong endeavour, and that the role of tertiary education was to inspire students to break with convention and challenge boundaries.

“Our professors were not bounded by preconceived ideas of teaching ‘what worked’ but more about ‘what will work in the future’,” he says. “This lesson truly changed my life as a designer because it positively forced me to continuously reinvent and challenge new ideas for all my design projects.”

This formative lesson and Casey’s desire to create original, meaningful design has certainly served him well.

”Design is any kind of action that betters people’s lives. When design can improve and change the way people think and do, then it has done its job well.”

His appointment at Hyundai was preceded by roles at Panasonic, Audi, Ford and GM, and since leaving Hyundai in 2016, Casey has established a strategic design consultancy firm called Global Design Index (GDI) where he focuses his vision on future mobility and artificial intelligence.

He says the idea for the firm came to him when he was approached by multiple global corporations requesting his services during his time at Hyundai: “I wasn’t sure what it meant at the time, but it soon became clear that opportunities for design to make a difference was everywhere.”

At GDI, Casey helps a broad range of clients solve problems through design thinking. For big organisations such as tech powerhouse LG or German automotive manufacturing company Continental AG, he and his team apply the MAAD approach: Most Advanced And Different. “It is critical for us to provide information, ideas and directions which are forward thinking, unique and different,” explains Casey.

By contrast, when working with smaller companies or startups in California, they focus on helping to “structure and recommend detailed and rational resolutions to support their fast-paced, vision-driven thinking”.

In either scenario, Casey strives for the most future-proofed and considered outcome.

“I have always believed that even if the journey requires more time and effort, every design and business decision has to resolve the most fundamental and long-term problem,” says Casey. “When clients approach me with a project, our first action is to imagine the furthest future scenario. We ask ourselves – what is this project about? What are trying to achieve? And what is the outcome at the very end of it all?”

In addition to being considered a world-class automotive designer, Casey speaks four languages (English, Korean, Italian, German) and understands a fifth (Japanese) courtesy of his years spent living and working around the world. He believes this gives him a great advantage in the professional sphere not only because it enables him to communicate, but because it “instantly raises your credibility.”

Born in Seoul, he immigrated to Australia with his family as a teenager in 1987 and spent his formative years in Sydney. He is proud to call Australia home, and maintains strong ties with the city and his alma mater.

In 2006 in partnership with the UTS Design, Architecture and Building Faculty, he established an annual prize: the Casey Hyun Industrial Design Award for top students. He keeps in contact with his former lecturers and past award recipients, and returns to UTS as a guest speaker whenever his schedule permits. He also recently participated in a panel discussion on ‘Building for the Future’ at a UTS alumni reception in Shanghai.

When asked what advice he gives to young designers today, Casey is pragmatic. “Design inspiration can come from everywhere and everything we do in our lives. Design is any kind of action that betters people’s lives. When design can improve and change the way people think and do, then it has done its job well.”

Following such success, it is only natural to wonder what Casey will set his sights on next.

“Believe it or not, I dream to be back home in Australia, teaching design at UTS.”

Byline: Clio Anne Ellis