As an interior designer, I often give thought to design. What is the definition of good design? What does cool design stand for? When I was younger I was rather intuitive and didn’t really seek for deeper meanings within these terms. If I saw someone cool wearing a certain item, I interpreted it to be good design. When I visited trendy shops, I assumed that what they carried were good designs. If someone owned an object that is regarded “good” at the time, then the person living there was cool to my eyes. Later on, I got to know about designers behind all these things. I was so impressed that I started to think that everything they created were flawless.
Entering the 90’s, good design became a prerequisite for good sales. Everything you saw out there were overly emphasized in design. That was the time I asked myself for the first time: what is “good design”? You can’t define designs numerically. You can’t measure design by its weight or speed.
It gets more and more puzzling when you think of what good design really is. When I witnessed influential designers gain recognition in the art world and eventually turn into artists, my quest to define good design and to define the difference between design and art grew deeper. Is art positioned higher than design? Can mass produced items become art? Who decides that? It’s all so complicated. Even today, I still don’t have answers to them. It’s like Zen dialogue that reaches nowhere.
I spent some time trying to find answers by criticizing designs in trend at the time or reminiscing the past by claiming that designs were much cooler in the good old days. Time went on and I became an editor and then an interior designer. As I started to get involved in design, there was one thing that I came to realize. When you are involved in design related business, you always have clients commissioning jobs to you. Sometimes it stops there, but in most cases the clients themselves have their clients. For example, when we get commissioned for designing a restaurant, obviously we communicate with our client who gave us the job. Our task is to take their idealities and dreams, including what they imagine their appetizing dishes and desserts to look like, and materialize them in the form of design.
Furthermore, when you hand off the store, we must create something that is satisfactory to our client within a given budget. That is a process of design in general, but it is easier said than done. Parallel to satisfying our client, we must consider their guests; how do we design the space so that they are happy and become repeat customers? It would be irresponsible to simply make your client’s dream come true while knowing that it would not attract customers. When it is clear the client is seeking their own ideality without an accurate assessment of their customers’ needs, we must step back and think of what lays beyond. It’s such a headwork, and sometimes it is far from our vision. However, when you work on each procedure meticulously – even if the client seems ungrateful at the time of handoff – it will pay off. Months later when your client tells you with a big smile that their business is running well and how much they like the new design better than before, cigarettes taste better than usual.
Our pride is not about being featured in media or being praised, it’s about creating places that bring good business and where customers feel happy. Design work equals behind-the-scenes work. Ultimately the main thing is the products themselves and success can only be measured by the customers. Obviously it’s not only limited to interior design, it includes everything from product design to packaging design and mobile phones to cars. It’s about how to brush up existing products for the better and enhance its functions. It’s all for the products. I think that is what “design” is all about. Perhaps this is why Steve Jobs of Apple made his keynote presentations by focusing on the products themselves, basically eliminating everything besides his introductions. Products are the stars, the rest are merely there to support them.
Today, designers who are supposed to stay behind the scenes tend to expose their lifestyle in effort to convince us that this is where their design resulted from. There are also too many designers treating their commissioned work as their portfolio material in order to get future jobs; ignoring the clients wishes and using the money to promote themselves. If you want to do what you like, you should make art. Anyone can become an artist. There is no client and customer there. Artists materialize their inner drive into some kind of form which is for no one; that’s art. Unlike design work, there is no requirement to listen to your client’s wishes and making rounds of corrections. As long as you are satisfied, it’s fine. If someone purchases what you’ve created, that’s cool. If nobody cares, also fine. This is what I have learned so far, but somehow it’s reversed in a chaotic mix today. There are many designers out there who think of themselves as artists, while there are more and more artists who create art for their imaginary clients.
Unfortunately I am not an artist and never called myself an artist. I’m a designer who was extremely inspired by existing things and compile together the requests from my clients like an editor would. There are countless number of designers like myself out there. I personally like this process of working, but there are great designers who just keep working silently and receiving respect from all over the world, put on a pedestal as an artist. These are the genius designers who gradually won the respect of the people by creating things quietly backstage while considering productivity in a mass production environment, excluding what is not necessary, creating for their clients, and incorporating clear philosophy into their creation.
Well known for a famous chair design, Jean Prouvé, for example, probed into a method of creating long lasting, simple design products by using familiar material in an effective way. Designs that were born out of this process represent the completed forms throughout an array of products, leaving the next generation designers in awe and despair. How can anyone top him? I don’t think he was designing to create art pieces but due to their significance, they’ve become accepted as art worldwide. Same goes for Dieter Rams, who was the head of design for more than 30 years at a German electronic manufacture Braun. Based on his motto “Less but Better”, he designed every kind of home product which was later acknowledged as art. His work had inspired people like Jonathan Ive, a chief designer of Apple, but again Rams had no desire to be accepted as an artist, although his philosophy was clear.
Artists are not necessarily above designers, nor is it always a goal for a designer to become an artist. However, when designers create products with the users in mind through and through, the products receive praise organically and one day ends up being spoken about at the same level as artists and sculptors with their pieces in museums. Products like these are by definition great design, and I believe owning them can enrich your everyday life. You don’t need to do the talking; the products speak for themselves and people acknowledge it. That is universally “good design”. Another factor for good design for me is something that you simply like without any pretext, no matter what others think. It must be nothing else but good design because it makes you feel good. This is my perspective of good design which I’ve reached in recent years. How can you discover such things then? It’s easy. Don’t be misled by those who talk and explain too much about their “lifestyle”, but simply see, touch, and hold in your own hands what you think are good. In this information overflow society, this is the only coordinate that guides you to discovering “good design”.
born in Tokyo in 1973. Editor and a co-founder of an interior design group, Tripster. He does a radio personality at J-WAVE “Traveling without moving”. As a recent work, Nomura got involved in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs as a scriptwriter and casting.
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