Hanguel: Alphabet by Design

Literally sitting in the shadow of the National Museum of Korea is the National Hanguel Museum. Hanguel or Hangul is the Korean alphabet. The design story that is Hanguel should be a case study taught across all design disciplines.

The Hanja (Chinese) alphabet, or character set, numbers over 50,000 with each user knowing, on average, 8000 characters. This character set was in use by Koreans until the 15th Century when King Sejong designed Hanguel in an attempt to raise the very low literacy rates amongst the Korean population. Hanguel is the written Korean alphabet and was fully adopted as the national alphabet in 1894. It consists of 24 characters, based on 8 letter shapes mapped to the 5 basic mouth and tongue positions used by the vocal system for consonants, and 3 vowels representing the sky, the earth, and the human.

Translated into glyphs this alphabet is extremely easy to learn and use. The design and introduction of Hanguel has drastically increased literacy rates in Korea. Both South and North Korea now have literacy rates above 98%. This has no doubt played a key role in the unparalleled economic success, social development, and overall inclusive positioning of South Korea in such a short period (since the 1960s).

Hanguel: A written language that is easy to learn and use. (Illustrations taken from National Hanguel Museum Guide: The Journey that Hanguel Went Through, English version)

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