It would be great if I can contribute to a society full of beautiful objects. That’s why I always like doing public design as well as designs for individuals.
Keita Suzuki is a prolific Japanese designer whose work spans many disciplines. He is the founder of the Product Design Center and was the first Asian designer to be selected as a finalist for the Hublot Design Prize 2016. We had the pleasure of speaking to Keita about his influences and creative vision.
You are based in Tokyo, a city that largely consists of modern and contemporary architecture and product design. In what ways has Tokyo influenced your ideas about creativity? Where do you go to feel inspired?
The fun of Tokyo is that it mixes cultural and commercial addresses. Omotesando, where my office is located, is an area where luxury fashion stores are lined up along with an art museums dealing with traditional Asian crafts. Personally, one of the most interesting things about Tokyo is eating food. Tokyo has a vibrant and enriched restaurant culture in almost all genres and you cannot compare with any other cities in the word for its sophistication. Especially Japanese restaurants in Tokyo appeals to me the most—not only for the tastes, but also for the space, the dishes, the flowers, the hospitality, and the expression. I’m always inspired by them.
We hear you are working on reinterpreting traditional Asian craftsmanship through understated design. Can you explain more about this?
Having a look at history of objects, we can understand that tradition has been made by a series of innovations. With that idea in mind, traditional craftsmanship must be optimised for modern times. In my case, I sum up the idea by saying ‘steady innovation’, evolving things steadily and aiming to make a standard which can last for 100 years from now.
Your grandfather had a big influence on you growing up in how you saw Japanese and Asian art and crafts. How so?
Since childhood, my grandfather had shown me various kinds of Asian crafts from various ages. One day, I got an opportunity to see his collection of around 100 Tsuba (a guard for Japanese swords) made in the Edo period. My grandfather explained the collections one by one, and I learned about the materials used by Japanese people and the techniques for processing them. I also learned about more emotional elements like the expression in Japanese crafts, putting importance on seasonal motifs. 25 years later, I only remember just one of the designs, though. But the whole experience with him always reminds me of the strength of the objects which have been loved and survived to remain in people’s hands for centuries. I always think of how moved I was when I design or deal with projects.
In your design process you talk about the 'line' and its significance. Can you explain this concept further? Do you think the line is the archetype of all design?
When you slice an apple, ridges appear on the edges of the cross section. This is evidence that the shape of a solid object is made up of a complex set of ridges. I see everything as a collection of lines. Those lines also affect beauty, functionality, and sometimes even cost. When it comes to architectural scale, it can control human behaviour. So every single line is very important for me.
Another influential and inspirational figure in your life was Sori Yanagi, whose designs could certainly be defined as beautifully simple and modernist. What have you learned from Mr Yanagi?
I think Mr Yanagi was a madman obsessed by the shape of objects. His studio designed things as if they used plaster to make sculptures. I think that design was all about sculpting for him. Also, his belief was in hand-making so his design looks simple, but his lines are warm and have attracted many people. I also make models using 3D printers, but in the end I always process them by my hand and incorporate the nuances into the data.
Much of your design work includes kitchenware. Notably your DYK Cutlery and Fujiyama Glass. What draws you to these types of objects?
Objects that people use by hand are attractive because it’s incomplete. I may say that its history has been lasting for so long because there is no end in the journey. When I design, I always aim for perfection, but it’s very difficult and takes such a long time. It is interesting that you cannot trick people for the tools they use by hand. Now I am designing a series of tableware for a French company and I feel very excited about working with them since their aesthetics and know-how in this field are amazing.
You work under the company name Product Design Center. What are you trying to communicate with this centre and what are your plans for it looking forward?
The Product Design Center is a design office that I founded and represent. My goal is to represent Asian design and work with people from various areas in the world. For the purpose and also as my hobby, we have been researching where Asian aesthetics had come from.
You are a juror for the Good Design Award in Japan. What do you look for when analysing potential award-winning design?
I resigned from it last year so I can't say anything now. In recent design awards, social needs and messaging greatly affects the results of those awards. That is of course fine, but I feel design awards have become something like an advertisement these days. It may be very particular in Japan. That’s why I decided to step back.
What is your daily ritual? Explain a typical day in the life of Keita Suzuki.
Take a bath twice a day, for morning and night. Drink a cup of strong coffee in the morning. Visit craft or antique shops near the office.
Who would you like to design something for?
It would be great if I can contribute to a society full of beautiful objects. That’s why I always like doing public design as well as designs for individuals. I would love to make traffic lights or guardrails, for example.
Do you think that design is an autonomous cultural expression?
Design can be made while being influenced by many factors—people, social backgrounds, science, and technology. And there is no right answer in design so there are tons of various designs out there. But some designs can surely remain in a society for longer, if not forever. I like seeing museum collections because they have been survived through times. They didn’t get eliminated from human history. I love seeing shapes and designs that everyone can find beautiful in any time throughout history.
How do you enjoy spending your time away from the studio? Do you have any interests outside of design?
I think, in general, designers are quite good at taking inspirations from everywhere no matter where they are. This is a bit cliché but travelling in places I visit for the first time can give me a lot of ideas.