I think design should be friendly and that’s why I sometimes add a little humour or something akin to a ‘spice’ to my designs. It makes them more accessible to people.
Oki Sato, the self-proclaimed spinning-top of Nendo, sees design as a means to engage in a form of dance with our endless human curiosities. His passion for design and its limitlessness is uninhibited and childlike in the most remarkable of ways. His brave and unwavering view of the world as a beautiful thing, a place of balance beyond the physical, stems from his shared Japanese and Canadian heritages. Since establishing the Nendo studio in Tokyo in 2002, Sato has continued on his quest for exploration in all aspects of design, in his own quirky and nuanced way. We delve a little further into the intriguing mind of Oki Sato.
What are your top 3 pieces of advice for aspiring designers?
There is only one piece of advice; they really have to be addicted to design. I think about design 24 hours a day and… I really like design! I couldn’t work as hard as I do if I was a banker or a lawyer. I get excited about every single project, even though I have so many—I get excited about every single one of them.
How does your ‘addiction’ to design influence other areas of your life?
There’s not much space inbetween my professional and private life—I spend my days constantly thinking about design. I’ve never really even thought of design as work. It’s just a part of my everyday life, like breathing or sleeping. I think that the moment I begin to consider design to be ‘work’ will mark my final day as a designer.
Your designs are often considered minimal, but yet, you have said that strictly minimal can be too cold. How do you infuse a sense of uncluttered purpose to your work that avoids sterility?
I want my objects to speak for themselves, so it’s better that they’re simple—I want the message to be very clear. But sometimes when you make it too minimal, it can be perceived as a little too cold, which is something I would like to avoid. I think design should be friendly and that’s why I sometimes add a little humour or something akin to a ‘spice’ to my designs to make them friendlier. It makes them more accessible to people.
How do you feel your Japanese heritage influences how you work and your priorities as a designer?
One of the things that Japanese culture values from a design perspective is the visualisation of unseen elements, such as the passage of time, emotion, or memories. I don’t know how successful I am in actually expressing these things, but it’s definitely something that I pay attention to when I’m creating designs.
How does your Canadian background influence the way you conceive designs?
I was born in Canada and came back to Japan when I was 11 years old. The place I grew up in Canada was very rural. That’s why I got a cultural shock when I moved to central Tokyo. Everything looked fresh and interesting to me. Because of this experience, I can easily find extraordinary or fun things in everyday life.
Can you describe your ideal client relationship?
I think it is very important for me to have the same dream as my client. I try to work with the clients, to develop their passions toward a design, in order to share the same willingness to take on new challenges that lie ahead.
What other muses have been the biggest influence on your work?
I consider the Japanese manga series Doraemon to be my muse even though Doraemon is a robot. In each story, the main character ends up in a bind and each time some kind of gadget comes to his rescue. He’s not the smartest of the lot, but even so he manages to use the gadgets without any kind of user’s manual because they each have an intuitive design, and on top of that they have a fun and likeable appearance. Also, the gadgets are never perfect, but that actually drives the development of the stories, in a way making it the optimal design. These designs that Doraemon pulls out of his pocket change with each episode—there’s no end to them.
What are you favourite things to design?
I love designing things in general. I’m happy to be able to design. I really like design no matter what category it may be.
When do you feel the most inspired?
I’ve noticed that routine work in everyday life really helps me and works in my design process. If you keep on repeating things everyday you notice the small differences, and I feel those small differences become my design sources in a way.
What do you think the attraction is to Minimalism?
I think Minimalism is one of the effective tools to connect the human and the space or product around them.
What makes a good designer?
I feel that perfection is not necessary for a designer. A ‘perfect’ person can make people afraid and not seem attractive. It’s the imperfection of a person that makes design interesting—design gets really boring when it aims for perfection only. Like the perfect chair—if anyone is aiming for the same perfect chair we don’t need to have so many designers in the end. The factors of good design, in my opinion, are functional, simple, and friendly.
Why do you think Japanese culture and design is famously minimal?
I feel that Japanese architecture and design are about minimalism and poetry. They reduce things down, which creates a certain magic but, when it’s done too much, an object loses its warmth, it repels people. That’s not how I want my designs to be. I like them to have humour and to surprise—rather like when you add spices to food. Suddenly you have friendliness, warmth and this creates a link with the user.
What do you think is the key to focus and success of design?
Experience can limit a designer, so I need to reset my mind. To reset, you’ve got to be stupid. When you’re too smart, you remember too many things and that’s not good. Because I have 400 projects, I easily forget all about the other 399 when I’m working on one.
How do you see the process of design evolving in the next decade?
My hands are full with the projects we already have right now, so I don’t spend much time thinking about it. I have faith that if I give my all to what I’m doing now, it will naturally lead to good things in the future. This has proven true so far.
This interview was originally published in Minimalissimo Nº2