[Interview] Breathing life into Everland’s characters: MD designer Nina Yoon

A day at Everland is always an unforgettable experience – but unfortunately you can’t take it home with you. You can, however, pick up one of Everland’s distinctive stuffed animals to commemorate your time at the Park.

Ever wondered how these imaginative pieces of Everland merchandise come to be? Samsung C&T Newsroom spoke with Nina Yoon, Supervising MD [Merchandise] Designer at the Everland MD Group to learn more about how their characters come to life, from storyboard to storefront.

Nina Yoon, Supervising MD Designer

Passionate About Design

Yoon’s career as a designer initially took a very different turn. After graduating in 2007, she became a fashion graphic designer – but felt like this particular career fit wasn’t right. “I liked cute things and cute graphics, so I didn’t quite fit in with fashion graphic design,” she muses.

Yoon subsequently applied for a role with Everland and joined in 2013. She still remembers her first day’s assignment; she was asked to establish a ‘character guide’, a blueprint for the colors, sizes and shapes of a potential group of characters, and a ‘style guide’, the main art design concept for consistency across products. “It required a lot of thought and hard work!” she remembers.

A style guide from one of the latest season’s collections

Of course, like all jobs, it has its challenging moments, but 6 years on, she is still delighted to be designing and creating all different types of merchandise for Everland. “When your favorite hobby becomes your job, what could be better than that?”

As per Yoon’s wishes when she first embarked on her graphic design career, her role at Everland has seen her take on numerous different responsibilities since 2013. After working on style guides, she moved to clothing and fashion accessories, and as of March 2018, she is the lead in charge of all product design. “Thinking about it, I get to be in charge of a lot of different things!”

Yoon and her team at the Everland MD Group

Creating Characters

How do Yoon and her team get ideas for their character designs? “As each new design is always influenced by the latest trends, we tend to look closely at what’s popular among consumers. I often visit big shopping malls or newly opened stores to understand this better. We also subscribe to overseas’ parks magazines and take business trips for inspiration.”

For continuity, many of the MD team’s seasonal iterations of characters share key characteristics. But Yoon is quick to clarify the difference between ‘copying’ and building on an idea in design. “To ‘copy’ is to mimic other products without adapting any new ideas. But to ‘create’ is always to build on an original idea, and for us, upgrading items to be higher quality products is part of our creation process.”

Yoon is always proud to see her designs gain popularity. “I designed last spring’s hair bands which did really well. We’re in the process of upgrading them now and it made me happy that so many wore them. I also designed one of our most popular products, the Halloween ‘bighead’ Red Panda doll.”

Yoon with some of her red panda designs (left) and its Christmas iteration (right)

And what is she working on now? “I can’t say too much, but I am currently in charge of a doll character. It’s an interesting challenge for me since there aren’t a huge number of reference points out there.”

A Learning Process

The process of designing products is a fascinating one. “For our winter line, we begin planning 11 months in advance. We create a concept, gather references, and then formulate the ‘style guide’. A manager such as myself will then oversee the continuity of all the fabric and color choices.” After this is signed off on, the products head to the factory for manufacturing.

Yoon hard at work

For the winter ‘18/’19 season, there are currently two exciting character groups available at Everland, ‘panda friends’ and ‘safari friends’, designed by Yoon and her team. The ‘Safari friends’ characters have had a fun ‘winter camping’ makeover, while the ‘Panda Friends’ currently have a frosty yet adorable ‘hot air balloon’ concept. “The fabric used for the product is a Nordic one, a traditional fabric that can make people feel warm just by looking at it.”

Yoon with some winter ‘18/’19 collection products

Given that much of their design work builds on what has come before, how do they determine which are the best ideas to take forward? “We tend to expand the products that resonated best with consumers and that sold best. But sometimes success comes from improving on products that didn’t originally sell well. Many of our most popular products come from this cycle of continual trial and error.”

Yoon shows off some of the latest Everland clothes merchandise

Yoon’s goal moving forward? “I would love for us to do a collaboration with a luxury brand. It’d be great to design products to resonate with adults as well as children.” In the meantime, Yoon is content with the strong sense of pride she feels when she sees Everland customers enjoying the products she has had a part in bringing to life.

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