About Mario Gagliardi

Mario Gagliardi is Principal of MGD. Find out more

Models of Innovation in Japan and Korea: MITI and KIDP

Korea’s strength in the creative industries, together with the strength of their multinational brands, is regarded as a model by other Asian countries. How did this model come about?

The Korean Ministry of Trade, Energy and Industry was at the heart of Korea’s industrial and economic development efforts. It was initially modeled after the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Tsusho sangyo sho or MITI), Japan’s central institution for industrial policy, research, investment and development. MITI supervised and led economic policy together with the Bank of Japan, the Economic planning agency and other ministries. Created after World War II in response to Japan’s problems with rising inflation and falling productivity, MITI was a supra-institution influencing all aspects of domestic and foreign economic policy, holding close ties to Japanese companies. Its advantages were largely organizational: Instead of disconnected units with differing agendas and different layers of red tape, MITI was one integrated organization with one goal.

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The 5 C’s: The most important design skills for the near future


Since the first introduction of CAD and 3d modeling systems, code is behind most products. With generative design, the code becomes the design itself. Big data about user behaviour in combination with machine learning and adaptive production methods (Industry 4.0) will make highly personalized and adaptive design solutions the new normal. To master code, designers should be able to write it.


With the Internet of Things, the division between interaction design and industrial design is about to disappear. A designer should know how to code, prototype, and build intelligent products with embedded applications. Starting points are the Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Nanode.


Global economic, technological, social and environmental issues are getting increasingly intertwined. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. The ability to navigate complexity will be a key skill for the designer of the future.


In a globalized world, cultures can adapt, mix, or clash, and differences can be hard to handle. Deep-seated assumptions rooted in a designer’s own culture can lead to products which do not work in other cultures – psychologically or in terms of use. Openness, the ability to emphatize, and an understanding different cultures and users will be as important as understanding economy and technology.


In a world of limited resources, knowledge of recycling technologies, biodegradable materials, and the ability to design for a circular economy – by considering disassembly and recycling already during the design process – becomes increasingly important. Designers should be able not only to conceive new products, but to plan the way these products are made, unmade, and recycled. What comes around goes around.


This post was originally published in February 2014.

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This was 2017

Every two years, penccil offers a year in review with a selection of projects. This year, the penccil team asked me to curate this review by selecting 12 projects, 3 projects each in the areas of art, design, architecture and photography: This was 2017

Posted in Design by Mario Gagliardi

Design and Myth

In his 1957 book „Mythologies“, Roland Barthes analyses the Deesse (The nickname of the Citroen DS car, “goddess” in French) as a mythical object, and plastic as a mythical material. Plastic interests him because of its transformability, the metamorphoses it contains, being able to imitate everything. He finds it remarkable that plastics are given mythical names of Greek shepherds (Polystyrene, Polyvinyl) and writes: “The public waits in a long queue in order to witness the accomplishment of the magical operation par excellence: the transmutation of matter.”

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The “perfect” machine?

There is often something in an artifact which does not conform to the cognition and working mode of humans. Donald Norman describes a whole range of things which create difficulties for people. A glass door, for instance, which for the sake of style has no handles, or handles attached on the wrong side. This glass door, in itself, opens and closes just as it is supposed to be. But people, searching for visual and tactile clues, for protrusions or moulds suggesting how that door is intended to be opened, have, in the absence of a clue, troubles with it. By not providing a clue, this door demonstrates the ontological distance between a human and an object.

This distance, or difference, between artifacts and humans is mediated by design. This mediation is one of the core activities of designers, who deal with it in subject areas such as ergonomics, human factors and user interface design, with designs ranging from door handles to car interiors and the “hamburger” symbol on websites.

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Design for Sustainability


A curated collection and workshop by Mario Gagliardi on local, handmade objects in northern Thailand and Laos. These objects smartly utilize the properties of natural materials in their method of making.
Go to Material


A collaboration with silk weavers from Buri Ram and rattan furniture makers in Surat Thani to explore techniques and work with them on new prototypes. The intention was not to use design as a top-down process where the craftsman is merely an executer, but to offer design concepts as a canvas for collaborative interpretation, and in the process give the workshops an idea of how design could help them in making consumers re-appreciate the value of their work.
Go to Craft

Organic Public Services

Contemporary cities are in need of public spaces which work better for their citizens. This proposal for the Korean Ministry of Culture combines intelligent technology and sustainability. The system is based on modular design elements, designed to be easily installed in existing public spaces.
Go to Organic Public Services

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Designing better communities: The Design Zone project

The vision

In 2008, HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser wanted to explore designs for better communities in Qatar and the region: Diverse and responsible communities which would invite independent thinking and creativity. I was tasked with providing proposals and consequently organised a workshop to explore innovative approaches to urban design which could inspire better building practices.

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Tools to think with

Concepts and assumptions determine how an organisation and its environment are seen. When plotting a course of action, managers implicitly rely on them. These concepts are the foundation for both daily decision-making and long-term planning. Once concepts are taken for granted, they are held implicitly, possibly impeding innovation efforts. Leonard and Straus found that thinking style preferences are becoming “hardwired” into brains and reinforced over years of practices and self-selection. When, in the course of an organisational change, the new outlook does not conform with held assumptions, these concepts can be the reason why people are reluctant to change.

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Art, Design and the Elements

Aristotle explained the elements in terms of what we might call sensual qualities: hot, cold, wet and dry. His main thought was that all materials are manifestations of different compositions of the elements. This idea – that the world consists of underlying elements – was fundamental in several ways. It implies that the world is not what it outwardly seems: A stone is not just a stone – it is composed of a mixture of elements which we cannot see. If the world consists of underlying elements, then materials could be transformed by changing their underlying composition.

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Three approaches to the design process

The design process as it is usually taught and applied at the beginning of the 21st century is concerned with goals, aims and targets. It is dealing with business and industry, target groups and financial targets. It is looking at the often “wicked” problems found in all areas of life. It is, in general, working with – or trying to work with – the world, its structures and problems, including its systems, its territories, its politics and power struggles. But is this the only way the design process can be approached? No. There are two other approaches – one which was the victim of a famous struggle in the Bauhaus, and one which was discovered already 800 years ago, but is known in the West only since the second half of the 20th century.

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Korea’s most successful luxury brand

Whoo (后), the cosmetics brand designed by Mario Gagliardi, is now Korea’s most successful luxury brand, selected by the Seoul Economic Daily in 2017.

Whoo has been Koreas fastest growing brand due to its unique design and strategic brand promise (read more about its creation). The brand exceeded 100 billion Korean Won in annual sales in 2009, 200 billion Won in 2013, 400 billion Won in 2014, 800 billion Won in 2015, and annual sales exceeded 1 trillion Won last year. Whoo’s parent company LG Household & Health Care, part of LG Group, expects the annual sales of Whoo to surge to 1.6 trillion Won (US$ 1,4 billion) in 2017, making it the best-performing Korean luxury brand in history.

Designed at a time when Western cosmetics brands dominated the Asian market with narratives of Paris and New York, the brand was revolutionary in being the first cosmetics series to focus instead on Asian culture and history. Made with premium ingredients including Korean roots and herbs, the brand tells the stories of historic Korean dynasties. The brand was spearheading the new category of ‘K-beauty’. Whoo also actively supports the preservation and maintenance of historic Korean cultural monuments.

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Innovating education: The efit initiative

Government policies and interventions are powerful instruments that can change social and economic realities on the large scale. However, social reality is highly complex, and policy measures can result in profound unwanted side effects if this complexity has not been captured. For the efit initiative of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in 2002, designed by MGD, the consideration of a wide range of influencing factors was essential to inform the development of a successful design strategy.

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