Creators

Naoto Fukasawa

Interview by Carl MH Barenbrug

Naoto Fukasawa portrait

I want to read people’s minds, find a common image, and to reveal the archetype through design.

Naoto Fukasawa is a Japanese industrial designer, author, and educator. Since 1999 he has been working for MUJI as a leading designer and later as a member of its advisory board. Ever devoted to the notion of living simply through simple design, Naoto Fukasawa doesn’t dare to be different. He dares to be normal—to design basic objects that we often take for granted in our everyday lives. And he does so masterfully yet seemingly effortlessly. Fukasawa teaches much, but he inspires even more through his design and dedication to his craft. We had the opportunity to briefly discuss with him his approach to design and his role as an educator.

Naoto Fukasawa Hiroshima Arm Chair
Photo: Yoneo Kawabe
Naoto Fukasawa Hiroshima Arm Chair
Photo: Yoneo Kawabe

What does timeless design mean to you?

Timeless design does not always stay popular because I think after a while, people can become bored with it. But the timelessness of a design object also means you can very easily fall in love with it again later. It happens naturally, like a returning trend.

How do you think mass production has affected craftsmanship in product design?

People appreciate craftsmanship more because it is limited. Whereas, with mass production something can be easily obtained, even it is good or badly made, you can get it very easily. For me, craftsmanship is not just beauty, but it is more precious once it becomes one of a kind. The lower quantity of the object raises the value within the object.

Naoto Fukasawa MUJI Pop-up Toaster
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku
Naoto Fukasawa MUJI Pop-up Toaster
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku
Naoto Fukasawa MUJI Electric Kettle
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku

You’re often asked about the evolution of the MUJI brand, but how has your approach to design evolved over the past decades?

People feel that the products at MUJI are basic, not 'Design'. There are many design objects that people feel are 100% designed, but usually, these objects will be over-designed. MUJI offers ‘non-designed’ objects, to help people understand the object’s function better. Since I was a young designer I tried to express 'MY design', but after 15 years I decided to make 'OTHERS design', not mine. I want to read people’s minds, find a common image, and to reveal the archetype through design.

Naoto Fukasawa Plus Minus Zero Air Purifier
Photo: Akihiro Ito
Naoto Fukasawa Plus Minus Zero Air Purifier
Photo: Akihiro Ito

As a multidisciplinary and prolific designer, do you have a preference in designing electronics or homewares and furniture? And how does your approach differ?

In my mind, those disciplines are not so different. I always try to find the archetype in each category. The process of making is different, but the creation is the same. Finding the iconic symbol, minimise, and purify it. There are so many conditions, aspects, and constructions to design (marketing, use, electricity), but I have to find the right answer, to fit perfectly in our everyday lives. Not too much, not too little—just right. That is my goal.

Naoto Fukasawa MUJI GACHA Bus
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku
Naoto Fukasawa MUJI GACHA Bus
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku

You created the DENSO city vehicle project back in 2012 as a concept and you since created a prototype of the GACHA shuttle bus for MUJI. What do you think it will take in order for us to see self-driving electric vehicles at a large—even global—scale? Is the technology ready?

The technology is on the way. Many technical and system companies trying to realise it. In reality, people have difficulties to understand the technology and imagine how technology will operate and effect them in the close future. This is the reason for the design of the bus. The design is a kind of symbol, to introduce the vision of the future that can be easily understood.

There are many technical conditions and regulations to consider when introducing this technology, but before solving all that, my strategy is to expose and illustrate to the general public what the future holds of the self-driving vehicle bus.

Naoto Fukasawa MUJI Hut
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku
Naoto Fukasawa MUJI Hut
Photo: Ryohin Keikaku

What is your essential criteria when designing a piece of furniture?

I try to be normal—not special—finding what is the shape and comfort people love. I know what they like, and what they don’t. This is a special talent, which is difficult to describe.

The materials and textures seem to play a large role in the aesthetics and quality of your products. When in your process do you think about these aspects?

I don’t focus only on a single item like a chair. If I design a chair I choose the right material, the texture that will fit well the ambiance or atmosphere that the chair will be used in. I never look at the chair as an independent product. In that case, it can not complete itself. It always needs to be part of an environment.

Naoto Fukasawa Plus Minus Zero Calculator
Photo: Akihiro Ito
Naoto Fukasawa Bull Bench
Photo: B&B Italia

As an educator, what are you looking to give back to the design community? How can a younger generation of creators build on what you have made?

The process of making things is fun, innovative, and joyful. Creation makes us happy. The young generation that happily creates things should continue to be more advanced and make sophisticated things. If they don’t feel it is fun to do, to make, they can not reach their goal. My role is to tell them how to design and create things that make them happy as human life.

For Maruni, you design alongside Jasper Morrison. Do you meet and discuss ideas and design direction? How does your collaboration work?

We never talk in advance about any idea or creation together. But as a good friend and as a designer, we share our thoughts about design. Once we see the result of design, both of us have a similar thought in mind. We run through quite a similar process to create things. That is a hidden collaboration. Sharing the core of the importance helps us to make things with more power. We have a trust between each other.

Naoto Fukasawa SUS Shelf
Photo: Maruni Tokyo
Naoto Fukasawa SUS Shelf Collection
Photo: ALEX

You have a great admiration for well designed and executed everyday objects that improve people’s lives—is there a particular object that you wished you had designed?

I do not have one in particular. Sometimes people easily forget the design for everyday life, they feel it is too normal. The design of everyday objects is more important for us in life, to be better. I like to design things that not many people are interested in, for example, escalator or an elevator.

On a more personal level, what do you like to make time for in life? How do you spend time away from design?

It is impossible for me. My personal life is my design life and vice versa. To create normal things, I have to be careful to have a normal life. Otherwise, I can not design as I need to. This is simple.

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