Contrary to popular belief or from lack of knowledge, the Korean pop music industry (KPOP) is a multimillion dollar business spanning across multiple continents with far more effort put in than simply dancing cute girls. While the majority is produced within Korean (some music video filming happens within America) the following is far stronger in Japan, America and parts of China. But I am not going to talk about the history for KPop, it’s methods of generating revenue or controversial systemic issues such as forced plastic surgery. Rather, I will speak of the cleverly designed user experience (UX) it provides to it’s views in the form of music (but certainly not it’s focal point), fashion, choreography and art installation seen in both it’s live performances, but more so it’s music videos. And how this influences the work I do, as a designer. Most recently, my educational software startup, In My Shoes.
Their is a carefully planned outcome user experience (UX) interwoven into the world of Kpop. For the same reason they higher women between the ages of 20 to 30, of a set height and body type; they want to project the appearance of ‘perfection’ unto the viewers, a ‘idol’ if you will, that the Japanese call it. It isn't uncommon to learn some of the woman had worked as models prior to singing. And many, if not all, have had some form of plastic surgery. Korea is known as the plastic surgery capital of Asia for a reason. But superficialness aside, this projection of perfection, of cute yet sexy, sophisticated yet girl-next-door appearance is to entice viewers from so many demographics. To give an enjoyable UX of watching these cute/sexy woman.
The choreography is another factor in the carefully orchestrated UX. The moves aren't necessarily revolutionary. And in-fact choreographer are America that work for the industry. But that special special sauce it adds is it’s sex factor. Korean more or less has banned pornography. While nudity is aloud in it’s films, the “sex” if you can call it that, is a throw-back to the porn America’s Cinemax television station used to air late at night. This of course has created a void, or opportunity, dependent on how you look at it. Their are reports of widespread class prostitution, cash being exchanged for nude dancing cam-shows (though debatable as to the term “prostitution”) by girls in their teens and yearly 20’s, and non-traditional prostitution; an example being a couple meet on a dating website, they meet at the mall and the female says “oppa, that new coach bag is so cute, I wish I had one…”, he provides to buy it for her, they go to a hotel, have sex and never meet again. You do the math… Pulling us back to Kpop, the industry has had their performers have on ever smaller clothes and inch ever closer to what we have associated American stripers to have on.
Case in point, 4L’s thong-on-ass shot in their latest music video & Secret’s “I’m In Love” music video.
So the question comes, what am I getting at? Sex, and boy does it sell. Your being told a ‘story’ or given a UX of being with cute women, for the brief time you are watching the video, or in a better example, at a live performance.
Next up lets talk the art installation or ‘environment’ the music videos take place in if that helps make a mental map. I’ve watch hundreds of Kpop music videos and less than 30% have anything to do with the actual song being sung (in my humble option). This is one of the reasons I enjoy Mandopop more as they do a lot of dance-in-the-box, focusing more on choreography, but again for a later discussion. Much of the sets, environments are in lavish settings; fancy cars, million dollar home interior design’s, elegant furniture, the list goes on and on. In this example your being sold the idea that for the brief moment your elsewhere, somewhere fantastic and amazing, away from your shitty life (or good, but to each their own).
In both lengthy examples given, the end outcome is you feel like your with a hottie Korean girl, living a lavish lifestyle for that brief few minutes. Even more if you see them singing live. It’s no wonder they have such huge followings, who wouldn't wish that dream? The Lady Gaga UX on the other-hand is gritty, not at all relaxing and quit difficult; no offense to Lady Gaga as I do love her songs but they don’t give the same UX in the least.
Coming to the end of my essay, we find that UX is a large interest of mine. I find it quite exciting how carefully crafted the Kpop scene is. Despite millions of views, far less really understand why they enjoy it, on a psychology and subconscious level. The ability to shape another’s mood, feelings, hopes and dreams all within a 4 minute video? Amazing.
The user experience is perhaps the most critical part of any good design and that is universally seen throughout my works. I am by no means a user interface (UI) designer and won’t even list it on my LinkedIn profile. In-fact I hate, HATE, when people think UI is equal to UX. Whenever I see “UI/UX” as a skill on a resume or portfolio I instantly associate them with idiot and I am sure the best-in-the-biz, IDEO, Pentagram, Clearleft etc, do also. A slick interface doesn't always translate into a good experience. Nor does a well planned user experience always translate into a good art installation. The point is, user experience is far more complicated than most people believe and only within the last few years have people begun to catch on to this fact. This being why “UX” is such a buzzword now.
When I began my work for In My Shoes, I knew the UX had to be unparalleled to anything out that exists currently to educate about depression, anxiety disorders or PTSD. That simply knowing it’s symptoms means jack-shit if you’ve no empathy. And deep, unforgettable empathy, the kind that lingers. It’s no wonder we commonly use the metaphor of needing to “walk in one’s shoes for a mile” to understand someone. How could you forget something like that? How indeed. But how to do this? That is why my initial 14 months of alpha testing was about:
- How can I induce nausea?
- How can I make you feel helpless?
- How can I make you feel alone, even if you are not?
- How can I make your heart rate rise and lower at will?
- How can I make you think “oh damn.. I never know it was that bad?
These just a sample of the questions I set out to solve. And solved they where into the educational startup I founded several weeks ago with pending LLC. The deepest core of all these questions however wasn't the simulations interface, the initial impression of the “games” storyline or it’s ending; it was the user experience. How might I mold it to the desired learning experience that it follows you. It’ll be another 12 to 24 months before the gold RC e.g. retail copy can be found in stores but I believe I am on the right track for success.
Thusly going back to Kpop; it’s amazing user experience excites me and empowers me to learn more and design products that impact people, bend their will and subvert them, be it for good or evil.