At the moment I'm in the middle of my second semester of a master's program at a design school in Japan. It feels like I'm living the dream that drove me to decide to learn the excruciatingly difficult language that is Japanese, almost 10 years ago. The more time I spend studying design in Japan, the more I feel that I've found my "design tribe." I keep discovering more designers and more philosophies here that closely embody my own unspoken beliefs about design. My latest interests are in the concept of Super Normal design coined by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison, as well as the humble everyday products created by Sori Yanagi, who seems to share a similar approach to design.
I had heard of Super Normal design several years ago in passing, but recently as I've been thinking more about what kind of work I want to do after graduation, I started thinking about it again. I made a trip to our marvelous design campus library, which has a surprising number of volumes in English, and picked up a stack of books that caught my interest. One of the them was a small, picture-heavy book (my favorite kind) written to accompany Fukasawa and Morrison's Super Normal Design exhibition (2006) entitled Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary. I read it cover-to-cover in a day, and found that I agreed completely with the designers' belief that objects need not be unnecessarily reinvented just to attract attention or in an attempt at self expression.
I was particularly struck by the simple beauty of Morrison's door handle, adapted from a classic coach door handle. It just goes to show that new is not always better, and sometimes all that is needed is a simple adjustment or an update of materials to make a classic design useful for today's lifestyle.
I've always had an admiration for simple, functional household items that other people often overlook. Living in Japan for the last two and a half years, I've discovered that Japanese people tend to appreciate this type of design more that Americans do. I've noticed that Japan's Good Design Award often goes to such quietly magnificent designs like Sori Yanagi's mini pan, which was designed in 2002 (when Yanagi was 87) and awarded the Long Life Design Award in 2013.
Which reminds me of something else I've been intrigued by recently - Long Life Design. There is a shop in Fukuoka called D&Department that features what they deem "long life designs." The concept of long life design is that products should ideally be designed in a way that rejects trends and focuses on simply designing a timeless, useful, and attractive object that can be used for a lifetime. I discovered this concept through a very interesting NHK Design Talk several years ago.
As a design student, I often feel the pressure to 'reinvent the wheel' or come up with ideas that are flamboyantly 'new,' and I will admit I have often been told my designs are too simple. I concede that I am far from where I want to be as a designer, and as a graduate student in the Design Strategy program here, I am trying to design products and solutions that are more well thought out and researched. I've been inspired by my Japanese classmates, who are very well-practiced in design research and are impressively skilled at expressing their design process. By the time graduation rolls around I hope to have some designs in my portfolio that are a deceptively simple solution to a complex problem or need.
Someday, I hope to contribute in some small way to making people's everyday lives just a little better. Sori Yanagi put it perfectly when he said, "I try to create things that we human beings feel are useful in our daily lives. During the process, beauty is born naturally."