There are no limits to design. We design from a zero base, with no preconceived ideas of a particular product’s design.
Nature or nurture is a timeless concept that is relative to one’s behavioural traits. The same question can be asked of a designer’s mindset towards his or her own design philosophy. While Minimalism has a strong connection to the De Stijl art movement back in the early 20th century, it really is a child of traditional Japanese design. Therefore, when we interviewed industrial designer Kazushige Miyake regarding his Japan-based studio, we were able to retrace the relationship between minimalism, functionalism, and Japanese culture.
How did you decide on industrial design?
I have always liked messing around with machines, and have found the manufacturing system fascinating, where simple raw materials pass through a variety of processes to become products that have a function. Added to this, I also liked artistic activities such as drawing and modelling, and so I proceeded down the path of industrial design, which combines the two.
There are many conditions and events that can be rather complicated when starting out in industrial design. I believe that sorting these out little by little means that you can express a product’s function and value in a way that is easier to understand; in doing this, many of the forms that I create have become minimal, but as I said before, the truth is that minimalism is not actually my focus.
What’s your view on the current state of the profession?
I think that the field in which industrial designers work is expanding. Before, the role of the designer was to create the outer shape of a product in a sculptural way; now, the designer’s field has spread into the production side of things, and includes consideration of such things as branding and how to sell the product that is designed. I think that the current way of doing things is better, since it is possible to become deeply involved in the product.
What was the most challenging obstacle in your design career?
When I first went independent, and not much work was coming in. Wanting to work and not having any work to do—that was a hard time.
What is your process of translating your design into production? Have you ever compromised your design to realise it?
Since we understand the manufacturing process well, when we design something, we already have this in mind as we progress with the design aspect. We’ve never proceeded with a design without considering this.
With the design process, we consistently make adjustments ourselves, from the very first design idea through to mass production. Since we proceed in this way, there is no sense of compromising in any way. It usually happens that there are aspects of the first design idea we come up with that are not possible from a technical standpoint. When this happens we discuss things with the engineers; we don’t just reluctantly make changes to the design—we make changes to make an even better design. The image is of brushing up the design as we move forward incorporating the technical requirements.
Many of your designs have been for global brand MUJI. As a designer, how did you balance between being innovative yet still addressing the commerciality aspect?
The work that I do for MUJI actually only accounts for 15% of my overall workload. It’s not really that much. Since I adjust the balance between innovation and commerciality based on where I find that product’s value, the way in which I balance things differs from product to product.
Do you design products out of pure creativity and imagination or do you usually follow a client’s demand? How do you mediate between the two? And what is the limit to your design freedom?
Pure creativity and imagination and the client’s demand are all things that are vital. I believe that the job of a product designer is to create a beautiful design while satisfying the demands of the client. I think that if things are slanted either way, then it can’t be said that the work is complete. It is possible to discuss things with the client and together arrive at a direction for a project. There are no limits to design. We design from a zero base, with no preconceived ideas of a particular product’s design. However, since these are designs that will be mass-produced, we consider the limits that may arise in terms of what can and can’t be manufactured.
Where do your ideas come from?
The source for my ideas always differs from product to product. I think about what could be considered to be the value of the product in question, and then express that in a way that is easy to understand. By observing and studying the environment in which the product is placed, how it is to be sold and how it is used, ideas spring to mind.
Knowing that you had spent a short period of time in England, how did its culture help you shape that philosophy in Japan?
When I was in England, I came across people from a variety of different countries; in doing so, I came to realise that although people’s cultures may differ, and while there may be minute differences between them, fundamentally there is no great difference in the way people feel and in the way they express things. That is to say, I felt that if things that people perceive as being good were reflected in the creation of products, then while you couldn’t say there would be no difference at all, there would be very little difference in the points considered to be good despite differences in culture. I think that this is the same with respect to perceptions regarding the value of a product.
Japan is known for its design industry. With a massive amount of upcoming industrial design studios, how do you help Miyake Design stand out?
We don’t aim to stand out. We just work with our clients to make the products before us even better. In doing this, we have been lauded by those around us. This is something that makes us incredibly happy.
The work at your studio, Miyake Design, is known for its simplicity and direct functionality. What is your own design philosophy when it comes to minimalism?
I’m often asked the same question, and to be honest, I don’t really design things with a view to minimalism. I design products so that their function and their value is easily apparent; in doing so, what results is a design that is minimal. As such, my design philosophy is, “Assign a function to an object, uncover that product’s value and express it in a manner that is easy to understand.”
How large is your team? And how have they helped shape your studio?
There is myself and three designers, so four in total. The designers on the team are just that—designers, not assistants. I think that our team is just the right size, and is a great team. It’s not just me that comes up with the ideas—we brainstorm things as a team. I don’t hole up by myself and come up with designs. As a team, we accumulate knowledge and use this to enhance our designs.
What’s your favourite place to grab a coffee or relax? How about your favourite bookstore in Japan? Is there any particular place that sparks your inspiration?
There’s a big park near my office. I sometimes go for a walk there. I often go to Tsutaya Bookstore in Daikanyama. In fact, they have Minimalissimo Magazine Nº1 at this store.
What’s next for Miyake Design Studio?
This is Miyake Design’s philosophy:
“Every object has a shape that it should follow. We strive to achieve the beauty that objects should have, not being swayed by preconceived ideas, but by starting from scratch and finding the value at the core of that object. We seek to create things that are concise and to the point, that are not swayed by the times, things that will continue to remain with us.”
To that end, we will continue to pursue the beauty that objects should have.
This interview was originally published in Minimalissimo Nº2