In Conversation: Ilmo Ahn

We had the pleasure of talking to Ilmo Ahn, the founder of design agency, Butler Studio, and a product designer to boot. Based in Seoul, Butler Studios motto is “Long Lasting Design for Living.” They have won many awards around the world and focuses on creating people-friendly products.

From the Butler Studio website:

“Above all, we believe in beautiful design, attention to detail, iteration, experimentation, collaboration and exploration.

We deliver intelligent products, engaging experiences and exceptional outcomes for incredible clients all over the world.”


Please tell us a little bit about your background
I am a product designer. In my designs I strive to create a long-lasting products for their original purpose and function.


Could you tells us about your work process?
I design products to make them more comfortable and user-friendly without losing their original functionality. Basically, my work process can go two ways. The first is to brainstorm an idea and align it with a product. The second is to analyze products that already exist, find what makes them uncomfortable to use, and find a solution.

The first way is the process our studio uses most when we develop our own new products. When we have an order from a client we then use the second process.

Butler Studio

What do you think about the relationship between form, function, and the human experience?
Unlike fine art, product design has to consider people’s convenience first. In that regard, we try to develop the form, function, and convenience of our design in relation to where people will use it and who will use it.


Do you see any similarities or differences between product design trends in Korea versus the rest of the world?
As a product designer, I get a lot of inspiration from Japan. Japanese people are relatively sensitive and always try to avoid bothering others. Their designs clearly show their culture. Their ‘Simple Design’ came from their sensitive and delicate mind.

On the contrary, European designs are more decorative and artistic with the use of curved lines. Among them, German design is very different from the others because of their metallic designs and use of straight lines.

Korean design is more like a mixed style of Japanese and European styles. It can be seen as a big problem for Korean design because there is no real trend. However, I strongly believe Korean designers will find their own style because Korea is good at absorbing new trends and translating them into its own.

Inverted Umbrella Inverted Umbrella


What influenced you to create your own design studio?
It was always a dream of mine to make designs that people would remember for posterity. And my dream kept getting bigger while I was working for other studios. So, I eventually decided to found Butler Studio.


How did you form your relationships with companies outside of Korea, such as MUJI and Kikkerland?
I started working with Muji and Kikkerland after I won competitions they hosted. Whenever I had the chance to meet people from the industry, I always gave them my business card. I tried to promote myself as much as possible. I think that gave them a good impression. I also work with a lot of reputable companies such as h-concept (Japan) and O sung Umbrella (Korea).

I hope young designers have courage to try to talk to people from their industry like I did!


A lot of your product designs seem to solve everyday problems. Some also improve upon existing inventions. And there are also some that add a bit of fun to life. Do you have a favorite kind of project to work on and why?
I believe Switch Lamp is the most ideal design of mine. It is appealing to customers while keeping the lamp’s original function. Having a brilliant idea is good, but you still need to support the products original purpose.

Designers have to design not for the designer, but for the customers.

Switch Lamp


Do you have any advice for young designers or students?
Spend more time studying the fundamentals of your field. Recently, there are many start-up studios, but most of them get into the design field with only passion. Then, they face obstacles and cannot escape them because they lack experience. Meeting a good mentor is the best. But if that isn’t possible, get experience at existing studios first. Having a solid design philosophy and management experience will be really helpful for designers in any field.

See more work from Ilmo Ahn and Butler Studio at butlerst.com.

  • GarethHong

    I have his switch lamp!

  • SoonSol Hong

    He recently opened his own Design Studio in Cheongsam-dong! Becoming even more successful