Designing Design Hardcover – Jul 23 2007
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About the Author
Kenya Hara (1958) is a graphic designer, Professor at the Art University Musashino and communication advisor for Muji.
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In an introductory essay by John Maeda the author states `Kenya Hara is a complex man. He views the world through his many lenses of seeing, tasting, smelling, erasing, evaporating, and all the forms of construction and deconstruction.' And after those appropriate words this pristine book opens into the genius that is Kenya Hara. `Verbalizing design is another act of design....To understand something is not to be able to define it or describe it. Instead, taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it.' What follows on the pages are images of page design, paper, bowls of white cabbage leaves, signs, images of Swatch watches that come down through projected air onto any surface presented, unique signage for public spaces, soft ice cream shapes, furniture, spaces, lamps, posters - any object that requires rendering is treated and discussed in concept and philosophy by a man of great wisdom as well as endless creativity. The illustrations accompanying the text are clean and as well placed on the page as any creation by Hara. This is a seemingly endless array of fascinating subjects.
For the non-designer reader, the reader fortunate enough to open this book without the prejudice of traditional design information, this text contains powerful philosophical concepts. `The human brain likes anything that entails a great deal of information. Its extensive capacity waits eagerly to perceive the world by completely exhausting its great receptive powers. That potential power, though, remains today in a state of extreme constriction and is a source of the information stress we're all under.' Hara approaches this conundrum by dividing his book into sections that approach answers to these problems: RE-DESIGN, HAPTIC (Awakening the Senses), SENSEWARE, WHITE, MUJI (Nothing, yet Everything), VIEWING THE WORLD FROM THE TIP OF ASIA, EXFORMATION (Rivers, Resorts), and finally WHAT IS DESIGN? This book is meant to be absorbed slowly, portion by portion, and then to be read again once the reader understands Hara's contributions - quiet yet majestic though they be. The text reads very well (thanks to the superb translation efforts by Maggie Kinser Hohle and Yukiko Naito) and while the information is complex, the writing style is comfortably conversational.
This is an important book on many levels and should be required reading for all students of design, practitioners of design, and for everyone whose eyes are influenced by astute observation. Brilliant! Grady Harp, December 07
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.
The idea of involving the senses, first in how to consider what to design (a glass, a rug, a car) to how the senses are involved by the design is a considerable part of this abundantly-illustrated book.
A lot of the book is devoted to Japanese modern design, which, if you have ever looked at the stunning graphic ads on Tokyo subways, will astonish you with its beauty and sometimes sideways way of looking at the world. Much is covered about how to stop the eye and make the brain see something old in a new way.
It's very hard to cover all that is in this book, but my impression is that if you are involved in any kind of design, this might be a book to stimulate the creative process and get you thinking when a new project is on your drawing board. Beautiful, pictorial and thoughtful book. It's hard to be more specific, but if you are in design, you will probably find huge ideas and new ways to look at the world.
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