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Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa creates functional everyday objects of pure brilliance.

Thinking not outside of the box, but within the framework of how we live, Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa creates functional objects which champion simple brilliance.

The name may not roll off the tongue, but it’s highly unlikely that Naoto Fukasawa’s award-winning designs have not influenced contemporary design consciousness, let alone simple objects in the home. Born in Yamanashi prefecture in 1956, Fukasawa studied art and 3D design at Japan’s Tama Art University before embarking on a career as a designer in Seiko Epson’s Research and Development Department where he created everything from watches to monitors during Japan’s bubble economy. In 2003, the designer established his own studio, Naoto Fukasawa Design that counts B&B Italia, Driade, Boffi and Artemide among his exhaustive client list. Following the success of Fukasawa’s iconic wall-mounted CD player design for Japanese brand Muji, the company appointed him a member of its advisory board.

In 2003, Fukasawa became design director of Japanese design brand Plus Minus Zero creating deceptively unpretentious, yet reassuringly practical, pieces for the home; the brand advocates the principles of modernist functionality, rather than the creation of showy pieces for the sake of effect. Reinforcing Japan’s design heritage, in 2007 Naoto Fukasawa became co-director of Issey Miyake’s 21_21 Design Sight, Japan’s first museum dedicated to design. LuxuryCulture spoke exclusively to the designer at this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan.

Naoto Fukasawa’s definition of luxury:
You have to ask your body if you are relaxed, not your mind. It is more spontaneous to be in a state that you are not thinking and are not conscious about.

If luxury were:

A place:
It depends on the person…the toilet!

A moment:
My most creative time is driving and eating.

A person
A monk.

An object:
The small square Japanese cushions for the tatami mat, because they are very flexible, very simple.

One of the products that you presented at this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan was new home lighting for Panasonic. Could you tell us about it?
They asked me to design something new, so I looked at their catalogue and there were so many kinds of lights, which made me confused as to which to choose. I started to think about the customer, about how they have a clear image of a particular light, but then I thought possibly not, because once people get new rooms or interiors or a new house they think about the chairs or the sofa, but the light is the last thing they choose and they don’t really understand which is the right one for them. So they learn something from the existing ones that are already in use. I researched the marketing report and saw that the conservative ones sold very well and the others not so well, so I suggested that we use an archetype that is more basic, iconic, but using new technology for the future. It’s not a new design, it’s modified but with better functions, using less energy.

As an industrial designer your job is to create things that have been created many times over, how do you come up with something different and iconic?
Iconic is very small, and an icon is very pure. It’s an archetype that your mind and my mind already share, so this is what I need to find out – that your iconic image of the light and my ideal of the light are no different, I hope. The reason is that if I ask you, you can’t really answer, but when I show it to you, you ask, “How did you know?”. Well, it’s what I also wanted to have. We already have images in our head but we are not really conscious about design, but our body already memorizes something iconic.

Japan’s reputation as a design center has risen so quickly, to what do you attribute this?
There is a lot of design in Japan and many designers too. I’m a rare case of designers designing objects for Italian companies. Milan’s Salone Del Mobile has become a trendy event from the designers’ point of view, because everyone wants to come to show something here, so it’s become a shared culture, that’s why you see so many Japanese designers showing. However, Japan itself is already established as a design country, which makes many things, but they are more focused on the pure design, which is why they come to Milan.

You’ve been working in industrial design for almost 30 years, what changes have you seen, both commercially and creatively?
When I was a young designer I had no doubt about designing something because design was about telling people good things, so even when people designed funny things they said, “Oh that’s great”, but now there are so many existing designs within our life that now the designer’s role is to choose, or edit, the right ones for our lives, not to create something new from our mind. Now the designer’s role is changing to a more objective status, to be careful in choosing the right one. That’s why designing was a special talent, to make something, but not anymore. If you have a good customer and a good eye you can choose the right design, that’s the same mind of the designer.

Do you think that consumers have become more intelligent regarding design?
Of course, because they live with good design already, so someone with a good eye can choose the right one anyway.

Does this make your job easier or more difficult?
The job of a designer has become a more general role; it doesn’t take a particular person to do it.

How did your career begin?
My father owned a small company, he was an electrician. He wanted me to work for his company. I studied electronics in high school, and I was given the chance to go to university to choose what I wanted to do, but only for four years because I had to go home. I chose the things I wanted to do, then I found the word “industrial designer” and thought, what is this? It seems very interesting. So in the end I didn’t go home. My father was very upset! His company was based in my home, so as a child I saw many objects around me every day, so that inspired me a lot.

You’ve worked with companies in both the US and Europe, as well as Japan. What are the biggest differences?
Before the Japanese used the word “design”, they were already making things according to function and anyway if it isn’t purely functional, that also expresses something artistic. Art is not the painting hanging on the wall; it is a kind of inner tool. It is another aspect of beauty in Japan, I really like that. This is still a very basic foundation built up in my mind, so that’s why I am a Japanese designer. However, we can really share the same mindset with an Italian or a European company, naturally. However, America is more on the side of thinking of design as a business, so that’s slightly different.

What is your favorite design?
It’s a difficult question, but the wall mounted CD player from Muji is quite famous in the sense that it is a kind of icon, but I like the design and the product.

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