Aug. 27, 2021

New Judge’s Interview

Mr. Satoshi Yoshiizumi, the Principal of TAKT PROJECT, was newly welcomed as a judge for the KOKUYO DESIGN AWARD. Mr. Yoshiizumi says, “Design is about cultivating possibilities.” We asked him about the theme and what he expects for the KOKUYO DESIGN AWARD 2022.

――  What activities are you currently engaged in as part of TAKT PROJECT?

I’m working on my independent creative activities as well as work for clients. Rather than making a product, in many of my own independent activities I try to give shape to an idea that offers a new value and create opportunities for many people to see it. I have the same kind of attitude when doing client work.

For example, I recently held an exhibition with a company dedicated to a knitting technique called “circular knitting” in Wakayama Prefecture. Since their technology is the best in the world, I wondered if its potential could be expanded to express something interesting. So, I held an exhibition with creators in various fields, including fashion, textiles, and architecture. I also work on other clients’ work with the people I’ve connected with through these activities.

2A knit-themed exhibition “WHAT’S KNIT?” held at a gallery in Tokyo in July 2021 (Photo: Masaki Ogawa)

――  Are you saying that curation leads to making things?

I think a product is like the final “fruit,” but before it can grow we need a process that “cultivates” the potential that acts as the soil. I personally think that this will make the design even more interesting. Whether it’s an independent activity or work for a client, instead of immediately thinking about the product, we should have opportunities to discuss it with many people, experiment with it, and get opinions from people beforehand. This will help enliven the field, and I believe that’s what’s significant about it.

――  So, is it more like finding a challenge or theme by yourself and digging deeper, rather than being given one by someone else?

That’s the gist of it. I understand that designing is all about that. Although a design studio is basically a build-to-order industry, I want to have my own theme, and I think the best thing is to work on a project with people from different standpoints.

The reason he was interested in design

――  What made you decide to work as a designer?

I’ve always loved “things” since I was a child. Things like cars, bicycles, and models—I was the kind of child who always said, “I want this” or “I want that.” When I grew up, I wanted to get a job making things, so I went to the engineering department at the nearest university.

I studied optimal design on a mechanical engineering course. It’s a “study to design things optimally.” It’s about figuring out how to make a machine move without making a loud noise, how to design one that doesn’t break, how to make it lighter, and so on. You take an engineering approach toward evaluation criteria that people believe are right. I was watching gears all day in the lab (laughs).

While I was studying, I started to think about people’s feelings when they want something, and what makes something attractive. For example, something might become more attractive when it’s broken. But these kinds of things are hard to deal with in the engineering world because they’re uncertainties. I started to think vaguely that if I didn’t do both together, I wouldn’t be able to really make attractive things, and decided to follow a career in design after graduation.

――  Did that kind of idea become the basis of TAKT PROJECT?

I always question what’s already here, and think about other possibilities. It’s become a habit of mine. What color do I have to add to the current technology to create new possibilities? However, without knowing about technology, it would only be an idealistic theory. So, I think that one characteristic of TAKT PROJECT is that the staff, including me, know both technology and design.

――  All staff, including you, are always making things with your hands.

There are limits to how much we can think about something in our heads. Sometimes we only notice what it does after we’ve actually made it. So I really value doing that in normal processes. I think there are many different kinds of “knowing.” You know, there are those times when you feel you physically “get something,” but you can’t express it in words. I also value it in design as one of the perceptions that moves our minds.

――  By the way, did you ever apply for a design competition when you were a student?

No, nothing publicly. Because I was a student in the engineering department, I never had the thought to apply for a design competition. However, I participated in an on-campus competition at the design school I went to after university and received an award. One of the judges at that time, Mr. Oki Sato, invited me to come visit his office. So I did, and I ended up working there—at nendo. (laughs). So, I’ve been learning design firsthand at the scene early on. In a sense, I could say that a competition changed my life.

――  Did you already know about the KOKUYO DESIGN AWARD?

Of course. Product design was booming around 2000, when I started to become interested in design as a student. I had my eye on the KOKUYO DESIGN AWARD as a design competition that was right in the middle of this. It’s unique that it commercially launches award-winning entries, isn’t it? I felt it’s amazing that an idea you come up with gets turned into a product. But I didn’t have time to apply because I was working without sleep then...(laughs).

About the theme

――  The judges, including you as a new member, discussed the theme for this year and decided it would be “UNLEARNING.”

There were a few bumps along the road before it was decided. I found it a little difficult to sum up what we’d discussed into one word. In fact, the word “shift” was also a contender. In my mind, to shift your way of thinking is the notion of design itself, so, to tell you the truth, it didn’t sound right to me. However, the word “UNLEARNING” immediately struck a chord with me. It means there’s a possibility that things may be different from what you think. I hope there will be something that encourages the product users’ “UNLEARNING” as well as the designers’.

――  It’s not a word we hear very much in Japan.

There are times when the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know. I like that very much, and I think that the cycle of “learning, understanding, finding something you don’t know, and then learning more” will draw out each individual’s imagination. It’s very interesting to take this word as the competition theme, as it’s also a question for today’s society.

――  Do you have any chances to be aware of the concept of “UNLEARNING” in your project?

As a creator, I always think about what I’m making and who it’s for. I sometimes feel that many of the products today give users too much and more than they need. Everything can be done with one app, but before that, people used their own perception and imagination to solve the issues in their life. There should be more to a product than just its ability to “do everything for you—it should be something that helps us live a vigorous life as humans by using it and motivates us to try things by ourself. We also work on developing products and services with an ambition to incorporate some elements that bring out humanity.

We’ve called it “materialization.” I think material is a good word. The word has a sound to it that triggers your creativity and makes you want to try things yourself. Whether it’s stationery or a fridge, I hope any product that I make would serve as a material for the people using it. I hope it frees everyone a little bit more and lets them feel free as a people. I interpret “UNLEARNING” in this way.

Independent project “Dye It Yourself” (Photo: Masayuki Hayashi)

Independent project “glow ⇄ grow” (Photo: Takumi Ota)

――  Based on that, what are you expecting from this year’s award?

In a competition, actually making the product yourself is just as important as the ideas and CG. I think there’s a level beyond the idea that you can reach by making it with your own hands, experimenting, and touching the materials. If you start working on these kinds of things early on, you might be able to reach a dimension that you’ve never been to before. I’d like to see this sort of approach.

The role of design

――  About the role that designs and designers should play. Is there anything that’s changed due to the pandemic?

I think design is all about thinking of something new and giving shape to it—and that doesn’t change in any situation. Over the past year or two, various rules have changed throughout the world, but I see this as an opportunity to rethink where the line is between what we need and what we don’t, rather than become pessimistic about it.

Last year, I set up a lab in Sendai, Tohoku. Since it’s spacious, I use it for making things to my heart’s content. Now I’m interested in the Tohoku area, which has a different culture from the city, and I’ve started field research and other activities independently. It might be since the pandemic started that I’ve been able to think more freely than before about connecting with people other than those in Tokyo and about a place where I can comfortably make things.

――  Finally, please give a message for people entering the competition.

I think “UNLEARNING” is about questioning what you’ve learned and updating your understanding. In a sense, it might be a word that’s related to the very essence of design. I think there are two ways to look at it. One is that the applicants themselves will be “UNLEARNING,” and will create products based on new perspectives. The other is creating something that will be a trigger for “UNLEARNING” how users feel about things. I think both are important, but sometimes I feel there’s a lack of the latter perspective in the world right now. I’m really looking forward to seeing how you understand it and what kinds of proposals you have.