Masters of Design: Kun-Hee Lee

Chairman and CEO, Samsung electronics

In 1994, Kun-Hee Lee took Samsung back to the drawing board, launching a six-year effort to focus the Seoul, South Korea-based company on a new competitive advantage: design innovation. Lee committed $126 million to develop a global-design program by the end of the decade. He enlisted the help of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to establish his company’s first-ever in-house design school. Before long, the company’s top designers, and in later years, marketers and engineers, were taking full-time classes six days a week in fundamentals such as mechanical engineering and marketing. Since Lee embarked on what he calls a “design revolution,” the company has more than doubled the number of designers in top-level management positions. That’s not the only impressive change. Samsung reported record revenue of $36.9 billion for last year, and its products have won countless design awards. “An enterprise’s most vital assets lie in its design and other creative capabilities,” Lee said in a recent speech, identifying design as the single most critical factor in determining the “ultimate winner of the 21st century.” Now that’s top-level commitment.

Peak Performers: Four masters who are leading the world of design
Impact Players: Four high-impact projects that shaped the year in design–and the people who launched them
  • William McDonough, Principal and founder, William McDonough + Partners
  • Tom Ford , Former Creative Director, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent
  • Jonathan Ive, Vice President of Industrial Design, Apple Computer Inc.
  • Marcia Lausen, Founding member, AIGA Design for Democracy
Game Changers: The risk takers and agitators who are rewriting the rules
Collaborators: Champions who help make great design happen
Next Generation: Meet four rising stars who are charting the future
A Jury of Their Peers
Introducing 11 jurors–top leaders from universities, cultural institutions, and business–who helped us select our 20 Masters of Design.
Lessons From the Masters
These five ideas will help you incorporate design principles in your work — and better connect with customers and colleagues.