Cultural Capital

Credit card company Hyundai Card’s design philosophy and approach to creativity mean the company has become a cultural force in South Korea


Credit cards and creativity don’t typically go hand in hand, but South Korean company Hyundai Card, a credit card company under the Hyundai Motor Group, is doing a lot to change that. Before the company launched its M Card series in 2003, gold and silver were the standard card options. However, for Hyundai Card, innovative design of the slim piece of plastic is much more than just an aesthetic leap, it’s core to the brand’s identity.  

In 2003, the card brand separated itself from Hyundai Motor group by developing its own branding, corporate identity and language. Part of the credit card company’s remit is to create the ‘most eye-catching card in the wallet’. Naturally, this design-focused approach lends itself to the country’s lifestyle-conscious consumers. In its first year, the M Card series attracted more than a million members, and in four years that number had quintupled. Its customer base fits in the 20-40 age group, and the card company’s activities are intended to draw in new customers and maintain its existing base, all of whom themselves have a cultural and creative bent, by continuously positioning itself as a leader in creativity. To this end, the brand has four unique libraries dotted across Seoul, dedicated to design, travel, music and cooking respectively, and a co-working space in Gangnam. The company also hosts a concert series under the banner of its culture and music space UNDERSTAGE. 

Another core part of the brand’s DNA is the card manufacturing factory itself, where chevron, neon and industrial metal predominate and give the space its futuristic sci-fi feel. Visitors can see an exhibition of card designs from 2002, and there’s also a library of more than 200 books on the Industrial Revolution (the factory’s design was largely inspired by this era), automation and industrial design. 

We sat down with Richard Ahn, who heads Hyundai Card’s Design Lab, to ask him about the brand and its approach to design. 

Suzy Annetta: Why did Hyundai Card decide to integrate design into each aspect of the business?

Richard Ahn: Design is important for the expression of our brand as it conveys our philosophy. We are always striving to redefine the framework of the credit card industry, and we want that to come across consistently in our messaging. It’s our job to ask the right questions and to make the necessary changes. Design is also, of course, an important business tool. Even from the packaging, which is the consumer’s first encounter with Hyundai Card, everything represents an opportunity to give an impression of the brand. 

Can you tell us about Hyundai Card’s collaborative relationship with designers and architects? 

We have a CSR programme that allows us to contribute to the local community, whether by revitalising traditional markets, preserving a remote island that was once endangered and forgotten, or supporting small local businesses. In the field of architecture, we have long-term relationships with several different partners with whom we share a creative perspective. Other projects include our range of kitchen utensils designed from completely different perspectives, smart phones in cooperation with the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in Korea and luxury audio equipment. Every time, we try to produce and present novel perspectives.

The design team at Hyundai card has worked on so many different typologies, from graphics and packaging to interiors, and has won several awards. How does this multidisciplinary team work?

Hyundai Card’s Design Lab plays an important role in supporting design for corporate purposes, defining the systems of the brand’s design and suggesting new services and products through R&D projects. The Design Lab opened in 2009, and is made up of graphic designers, journalists, product designers, engineers, architects and fashion designers. A task force-style team is assembled when necessary to gather diverse perspectives for deeper research and communication. 

As told to / Suzy Annetta
Images / Courtesy of Hyundai Card

Issue 22

The Korea Edition

Introducing issue 22, Design Anthology’s annual edition dedicated to exploring a single country’s design scene. This year, we've focused on Korea’s vibrant and eclectic creative community.

Add To Cart