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Round Ground

Where dreams of a world full of well-rounded lives exist




How does play begin? There are times when one ponders whether play has turned into learning. So much educational material and the media rarely think twice about directing children how to play, and caregivers are always eager to lead and interfere when children play. One may think there are right and wrong ways to play, but play will always be play. Playing is enough when it's enjoyed no matter the process, with fun materials and tools. Everything the eye can see, whether it be tree leaves, bubbles, passersby or the house you live in, can be materials for play or even play itself if it's visible and tangible. Children are aware of this joyful fact more than anyone else, and Round Ground is the place where that fun for children is raised to another level.




Even just listening to the name Round Ground is fun. What meaning does the name Round Ground carry? Could you also introduce yourself and your company?


Round Ground refers to a 'round world'. Our view of the world lies in our name that all elements of the world like sprouts, soil, water drops, the sun, the sea, animals, plants and people can all come together and create a big world.
I, Bae Su-hyun, am the CEO of Round Ground. I majored in visual design and previously worked as a brand experience designer, creative designer and toy designer at Daum Kakao, Ssamzie and Rico Toys. It's already been nearly 15 years since that time in my life. Now, as you're aware, I run Round Ground. We aim to create playful content from which warm feelings and joyful experiences can be created by breathing stories into all our products, and not just our picture books.



The basic goal at Round Ground is focused on the fact
that even adults should be able to participate in playthings for children.



Your previous work experience had you dealing with various fields like space, products and experience design. What caught our eye was the fact that you mainly worked with products for children. Was there a specific reason that led you to these career choices? Also, you need to be able to please both children and parents when creating children-targeted services or products. How have you pinpointed their needs and turned that into design?


My work wasn't all for children, but through various projects, I came to accumulate many hours thinking about how to turn the feelings of children and their parents into design. My portfolio includes art toy designs for both adults and children, as well as clothing designs to prevent children from going missing. At Daum Communication, which today is Kakao, I worked as part of a space experience design project team for 2 to 3 years. The project was to design the company's in-house daycare called 'Space Dot Kids' to be located at the company's headquarters in Jeju Island. During that time, I was able to experience so much. My days were hectic as I had to travel to and from Seoul to Jeju, but I was able to draw so much inspiration from Jeju's regional characteristics. Thanks to that I sketched many fun scenes, and those sketches later turned into a book called Finger Play. In hindsight, I think the 'Space Dot Kids' project was a huge driving force that helped me to start Round Ground - a turning point I am thankful for.
Even outside work, I've always been interested in collecting children's products, toys and picture books. I've visited Prague in search of wooden toys made by artisans. Every time I traveled outside South Korea, I would always seek out local toy shops and design museums for research. In this process, I realized there is an understanding between people, beyond territorial boundaries, regarding emotional materials like picture books or toys. These experiences I feel helped me in my process of selecting the direction for the content we aim to create.
The basic goal at Round Ground is focused on the fact that even adults should be able to participate in playthings for children. So, if you take a look at our playbook series, friends, grandmothers, moms and dads all naturally play a role. This is because we hope everyone can come together.
Also, in consideration of the fact that children are using our products, we try to avoid using single-use products as much as possible. As part of these efforts, we print our books with soy ink and are now in preparations to make toys with environment-friendly wood. These are our efforts, albeit small, for the earth and we are cheered on by readers who notice this fact after they purchase our books and products.



What we thought was most important when creating these picture books
for play was making a story that children could naturally play with.



Finger Play and Face Play are quite dimensional, most likely as an extension of your experience in spatial and product design. These picture books are also unique in the fact that they lead readers to really have an experience when reading them. You've experienced many things in your life - why did you choose books? We'd like to know about any difficulties you might have faced and perhaps, any differences between what you're doing now and what you did previously. Also, what specific considerations have you taken in order to deal with books?


Our playbook series, all in the form of books, is currently on the market, but we're also planning finger play toys that look like wooden blocks by year-end. We're also in preparations to turn our playbook series into animations. Instead of limiting ourselves to books, we planned to expand the range of our products and content from the very beginning, and we are currently in the middle of that process. Of course, we spent much time and effort over our book series because we were creating books.
What we thought was most important when creating these picture books for play was making a story that children could naturally play with. There were so many edits to the content because we wanted to use nursery rhyme-type expressions in short but simple phrases. While creating our English versions, we negotiated with not only translators but native speakers as well to create natural and warm sentences that were closest to the original meaning in Korean.
This is the same for design, but I feel books greatly influence readers' sensibility. This is why we had to edit and scrutinize every single sentence and every word. It was also why it took us up to two years to create one book.
Because these were playbooks, we needed to pay attention to the supplements for the books as well. As a result, we were able to create items that matched their respective books. In the case of Finger Play, we included tattoo stickers for children in the shape of eyes, noses and mouths for the hand character that features in the book. Face Play has a play kit with which stories can be made with masks and Toe Play has stickers children can stick on their toenails to make reading more fun.


<Finger Play>, <Face Play>, <Toe Play>

Finger Play, Face Play, Toe Play


Was there a specific reason that compelled you to make picture books for play? And what do play and joy mean to you, personally?


These days, everyone seems so busy, and many people tell me there is not enough time for children to spend with their parents. I felt there was a need for conversation-type content with which children could play with their parents. Above all else, it was my biggest hope to give children experiences through independent imagination rather than cramming it into their minds. Children are still at a stage where they can make great toys out of things like stones and tree leaves. From this standpoint, books seemed the most appropriate medium to create conversation-type content for children and adults alike to play with. After creating this series, we were greatly touched every time someone told us they had so much fun playing with our playbooks at places where children and adults could be together, like play facilities for children, daycares, museums and workshops.
For me, play, and the joy from playing are limitless. Right now, creating diverse content including books is as fun as playing and it makes me happy. It's my hope that more people will be able to share better energy through the things that I gladly, happily make.



Thanks to them we were able to export bilingual versions of the books
in Korean and English to Singapore this year.
At first, we were concerned local readers might balk at Korean words on the pages,
but we received feedback that readers actually enjoyed the Korean.



How did you feel when you heard Finger Play and Face Play received the Best Designed/Illustrated Book for Children prizes at the Junior Design Awards last year in the UK?


Those in South Korea may not be aware about what the Junior Design Awards are, but being recognized there has great meaning because it means the books are judged on actual experiences by children the books are meant for. One of the judges, Michelle Kennedy, said, "We've not seen books like these, and we need happy and creative play like this," about Round Ground's books. At the time, Oliver Jeffers' Here We Are was also in the running, so it was an even bigger honor. Jeffers' work has been previously recognized by the New York Times.
After we received that award, many children's museums and design shops reached out to us from a number of different countries. Thanks to them we were able to export bilingual versions of the books in Korean and English to Singapore this year. At first, we were concerned local readers might balk at Korean words on the pages, but we received feedback that readers actually enjoyed the Korean.


ⓒ Screengrab from the UK's Junior Design Awards website

ⓒ Screengrab from the UK's Junior Design Awards website


As an independent publisher, the export process must not have been easy. How did you prepare? What did you focus on?


I think more than the administrative process or legal issues; our concerns were focused on language. We wanted as many people around the world to read our books in different languages like English, Chinese and Japanese. Meanwhile, we also created samples without any writing in order to stimulate readers' imaginations. This was because we wanted readers to read with their imagination, rather than be led by the author's intention.
Eventually, we came to the conclusion that it would be best to present our work in the simplest form. So we chose to publish in just Korean and English. To date, we've been told from readers abroad that our content is creative and a must-read for children. We think this is because the form of play inside the books Finger Play and Face Play represent a language shared by everyone around the world.


What did you feel like when your first export deal was reached? Do you have any contracts that personally linger in your mind? 


I think all our export contracts were meaningful and they have stayed in my memory. Most of the publishers we've signed with are major, first-generation publishers in those respective countries. Outstanding publishers around the world like France's Gallimard that published The Little Prince, Penguin Random House in Spain, Taiwan's Eastern Publishing, China's Beijing Juvenile and Children Publishing and Taiwan's Amarin all showed warm attention toward our books and signed contracts with us. We are still thankful for that to this day.
In the contract process, we received much help through agencies that have expertise in dealing with publishers in Asia and Europe. We plan on working with them again. Also, KPIPA's consultants also helped us with the export process including legal matters and I'd like to extend my gratitude once again.


Cover art for French, Spanish, Taiwanese and Korean versions of <Finger Play>

Cover art for French, Spanish, Taiwanese and Korean versions of Finger Play


What has the reader response been like to your books outside South Korea? Do tell us if there's anything that has stuck with you and why it did.


There are times when readers outside the country ask about our books via social media as our official website is yet to be launched. They're usually messages asking how they can buy the books, even if international shipping costs more than the books themselves.
Among those messages, one from Croatia really stayed with me. It was from a person who introduced themselves as a design major and this reader requested a written interview from us to post on their blog because they found the composition and quality of our books to be satisfactory. With our answers, this blogger created a detailed introductory post for Round Ground, including reviews of our books and our vision statement. We were surprised and delighted that someone from so far away was interested in our books.


We'd like to know what projects you're now up to at Round Ground. Are you collaborating with other companies or artists at this point?


Like I mentioned previously, we began as a publisher, but we are trying to launch as many different products as we can like toys and stationery. We have plans to start selling toys before year-end and will also release interesting picture books that will accompany our playbook series.
We continuously receive collaboration requests from children's brand companies and artists, as well as picture book material from artists. These we are all grateful for, but at this time we'd like to focus on our own content. I think in the future once we have our bearings, we'll be able to embark on a project with people who understand us.


Lastly, we'd like to hear stories about the world Round Ground wishes to turn into books, content and different items.


Like our name says, Round Ground dreams of a world where everyone is well-rounded. Children are in the center of the content that Round Ground aims to create, and there are grown-ups there with them. I think all the people in the world are inside Round Ground's world. And we will cohabit that world by creating content that creates good energy and helps others.



Arranged by Jeong Hwan-jeong


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