Collaboration and the culture of cute

Collaboration is an integral part of any industry, but more so within the creative industry. Without collaboration, creatives are isolated in an echo chamber of reoccurring ideas and a lack of innovation and progress. Collaboration is an integral part of showing different perspectives and lived experiences and when done right, can lead to amazing and thoughtful work.


Japan vs South Korea

Japan, a leader in character design and merchandising, recently came under fire for their lackluster mascot design for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

South Korea, however, received rave reviews for their White Tiger mascot, Soohorang, for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

These two countries are well known for their use of cuteness as a selling mechanism. With South Korea even having a cultural term associated with cute behavior, aegyo, which is defined as a cute display of affection.

And Japan having kawaii which is usually used to describe anything cute. But the true definition of Kawaii is “delicate cuteness, like a weak, small type of thing. It’s the embodiment of all that’s happy and positive,” says founder of Tokyo Fashion Diaries, Misha Janette.



Nailed it

South Korea’s other main export, KPOP (Korean Pop Music), has also shown how cute character design can strengthen a KPOP band’s brand and sell merchandise.

BT21 is a collaborative project between KPOP sensation BTS and Line Friends, the mobile messenger sticker corporation. The band was invited to be part of the Line Friends Creators series, where they worked with Line Friends to develop characters that represented each band member, with BTS participating in every stage of production. From sketching ideas, consulting designers and developing personalities of characters.

This process was documented in a thirteen-part series, that showed the true process of positive collaboration. The end result of the project was 8 cute characters that embodied the spirit of each band member. The project was also extended into various products and accessories like plush toys, décor and stationary.



Missing the Mark

On the other end of the spectrum is Japans’ mascot design for the 2020 Olympic Games. Japan revealed their final mascot design, which was the product of 2024 public entries. The first logo was stooped in drama due to plagiarism allegations.

In a bid for transparency and fostering public ownership of the Olympic Games, the Olympic Organizing Committee left the final result of the design in the hands of elementary school children. The design reflects the tile motif of the new Tokyo 2020 identity and embody old traditions and new innovations.

When applied correctly collaboration can result in great work but with the focus of this project being on public approval, the outcome was a lackluster mascot design that’s reminiscent of a 90’s anime (in the worst possible way). The use of generic and uninspired terms like, “cutting edge”, “cool” and “cherry tactile” further emphasize how dated the design is.


The Verdict

BT21 has shown how collaboration should work, using different perspectives to create something that could not have been achieved when done alone, while the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mascots have shown how design-by-committee, where too many voices are included in the conversation, can detract from the overall process and result in a lacklustre creative process and product.

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