This is an extraordinarily beautiful book in which scores of works by graphic designers are presented, commended upon and sometimes explained by famed Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara.
There is no way I can do justice to either the beauty of this book or to the insightful text by Hara or to the range of design displayed. You have to see the book yourself to really appreciate the fact that, of all the gorgeous designs presented within--and there are scores of them--none is more gorgeous than the book itself. I think anybody in the book business might want to take this book in hand and peruse it as an example of what can be done in book design.
There are hundreds of strikingly beautiful illustrations: color photos, photos done in brown light, in black and white, in tones of gray, in green and blue and many other colors, and in white. There are drawings and photos of drawings, and photos of objects artfully placed upon the page. From commercial products such as a cute and clever paper roach trap, to a power outlet with curves that looks somehow like a stylized mother and child, to a road designed like a river, to cultivated landscapes and hotel exteriors, the designs are exquisite and the presentation most appealing. In looking at the illustrations, one is struck with the modernity but one senses in the background the influence of ancient traditions: the clean lines of sculptured rock gardens, perhaps, the mannered elegance of the Japanese tea ceremony, the power and simplicity of the watercourse way of the Tao and--most amusingly--the impishness of Zen.
Hara begins with "re-design." Design artists are commissioned to redesign some "daily products of the 21st century"--toilet paper, matches, the roach motel, exit stamps, diapers, tea bags, and macaroni. The toilet paper has a square core so that it clunks as it unrolls so that you don't get too much at one time; and the roll itself is square so that more rolls can be packed into shipping boxes. The matches are sticks of a reddish brown as though covered in bark with small nibbed branches and a most arresting red head. The macaroni designs done by various artists are captured in a sandalwood/peach light so that the white of the macaroni is not white, yet our minds see and feel the white and anticipate the red sauce on the strangely-shaped pasta.
Another chapter is devoted to "White." Here "the contrast of white on white" (a lyric from Counting Crows) is explored through the medium of design. Especially striking are the white, the very white, paper cabbage leaf serving bowls designed by Yasuhiro Suzuki, and Hara's own "Water Pachinko" in which crystal drops of water flow drop by drop down a pinball-like white board.
There is a chapter devoted to haptic art in which tactile, olfactory and other sensations are evoked by the artists. There is a logo drawn with cultured mold fungus, for example, and a gel doorknob like the hand of a cartoon character. Naoto Fukasawa's yellow packaging of a banana juice drink is designed so gracefully that I can feel the waxy skin of the package while the banana itself is recalled to my eyes. (pp. 92-93).
It is clear that one of the goals of design as envisioned by Hara and the Japanese school of design is to create products, advertising, and objects of culture in which functionality might meet simplicity with elegance and improve the human condition through the expression of beauty.
One of Hara's themes is the functionality of space. Space in a book is represented as white. The white exists like something ethereal and yet is as concrete as stone. Hara says we must "discover" white. He admits to being a bit tired of color. It splashes everywhere. It is so easy in the modern world to make color. Perhaps it is too easy. Perhaps it is overdone. So Hara returns to white to refresh our eyes. I recall the Great White Egret in the pond outside my window, looking almost artificial as it stands alert among the green tules and the gray-blue water. And I think of the white of Middle Eastern dress and how it reflects the light and cools the body. And yes, white is a color, as Hara explains, but also the absence of color. But more than anything, Hara says, "white is a design concept."
But then to the white we add something. A spot of red perhaps. A larger spot becomes the Japanese flag. The cross of the Red Cross is also red against the white. Hara shows that red has great power when surrounded by white. The letters on the pages are black against the white. Looked at closely some whites are gray upon the white.
"The essence of design," according to Hara, "lies in the process of discovering a problem shared by many people and trying to solve it." (p. 24)
Hara also says, "Design is the control of differences." (p. 212)
There are scores of other concepts presented by Hara and thankfully most of them are illustrated so that the power of the idea forces itself upon us. I am thinking especially of the advertising for MUJI in which the horizon dwarfs the landscape and points to something vast and global so that we are inspired and awed.
By the way, Amazon has this as a "paperback," but it is a hardcover.
I cannot say in words just how beautiful this book is. (Which is why I am repeating myself.) The people at Lars Muller are to be commended for bringing it to English speaking readers, and Maggie Kinser Hohle and Yukiko Naito for the fine translation.
I am in awe of the Hara Design Institute, Nippon Design Center, Inc. for creating this amazing book.