On the opening day of London Design Fair, Takram’s Tokyo and London directors kicked off the Super Talk sessions, on the theme of Otherness as a manifesto for radical innovation.
Kinya Tagawa, Kotaro Watanabe, Prof Miles Pennington and Lukas Franciszkiewicz shared Takram's approach to a full house at The Old Truman Brewery.
Kinya Tagawa, founder
Founded ten years ago, Takram Tokyo is Japan’s leading creative innovation firm, with a diverse remit that encompasses engineering, industrial and product design, software, hardware and digital design, brand, experiential and future concept design.
“Our members tend to come from engineering but are trained in design and we recognise them as design engineers”, explained Kinya of the 40 strong team, adding that despite this engineering bias, “we don’t have a fixed direction, but take a multidisciplinary approach’.
Perhaps what defines Takram is the member’s collective curiosity and appetite for fresh challenges that evolve their expertise. This restlessness naturally drives the team’s enthusiasm for complex innovation briefs and develops their ability to solve difficult problems. Add to that a holistic approach that recognizes that innovation projects encompass business, technology and creative, and “our role, says Kinya “is to bridge all three”, adding that Takarm’s close relationship with business leaders is key to developing new products and new ways forward.
He talked about ‘RESAS Prototype’ big data visualisation project that Takram developed in close collaboration with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as an example of how Takram applies its design thinking and design engineering expertise to solve complex high level challenges.
In collaboration with the government economists, Takram’s team devised and tested numerous advanced visualization methods to transform vast quantities of economic data into visually pleasing, easily understandable forms. As a result, ‘RESAS Prototype’ was built with a design and functionality that reorganizes seemingly diverse and esoteric information into beautiful visuals expressed within a three-dimensional space. Today ‘RESAS’ is the world’s largest system for visualizing a country’s economic data and is widely recognized as a progressive effort.
Other projects that demonstrate Takram’s ability to innovate across a range of products and sectors include the new award winning design of professional camera lenses for Tamron, the creation of the Veldt Serendipity smartwatch, the Shenu: Hyrdolemic System future concept that envisaged a radical approach to the design of a future water bottle, and an interactive media installation for Dom Perignon.
The final project that Kinya talked about was BABYSCAN, a body radiation counter that monitors internal radiation levels in babies and young children. Describing it as ‘design innovation magic’ for the way that the ergonomic and sympathetic design alleviates the fear and anxiety that children experience when having to lie inside a big, noisy machine, Kinya explained this approach transformed the experience for children and dramatically improve the success rate of the time consuming and sensitive diagnosis of internal radioactive elements.
Introducing Takram’s approach and methodology, Pendulum Thinking, Kotaro developed the theme of context and ‘otherness’.
Describing Takram’s Pendulum concept as key to the innovation projects described earlier, Kotaro explains the premises as an approach that enables the team to switch their mode of thinking between making and thinking, concrete and abstract, problem and solution. By embracing these different perspectives throughout the pendulum process, and learning to apply ‘other’ perspectives to the same brief, projects develop technically, intuitively and conceptually, in parallel.
To contrast with Kinya’s emphasis on technology and innovation projects, Kotaro talked about Takram’s analogue, bespoke and socially experimental projects.
In the pursuit of ‘personal and bespoke’ over ‘mass market’ Kotaro drew on an analogy that he called Death of the Designer, an adaptation of the premise posed by Roland Barthes in Death of the Author. As applied to design, he argued that the success of a project must be qualified by its resonance with the user / consumer, rather than by the intention of the designer. The process through which Takram achieves this is ‘context design’,
“Think about rumours”, explains Kotaro, “the way a rumour evolves in the retelling reflects the teller as both author and owner of the story. Elements remain the same, but the interpretation reflects personal interests”, adding that design can work in the same way. Design can create a product, service or brand that appeals and resonates on a personal level with the consumer / user. Each user or consumer may have a slightly different perception of values and benefits depending on their personal context, but the essential attraction remains that same.
The design challenge is a trade-off between “depth versus breadth” – personal engagement versus size of audience. At one swing of the pendulum, tailored, niche, conceptual, artisanal, small business. And at the other, for all, mainstream, mass market, big business. “Think of the difference between a personal letter and a blockbuster film”, encourages Kotaro, “and the difference between a letter’s personal value and a film’s broad appeal, and the sense of ownership we have with the letter, but not with the film.
“So”, asks Kotaro, “how do we give mass personal appeal? And how do we convert small business value into mass value”?
To demonstrate Takram’s contextual approach, Kotaro talks about two projects – a book store and a soap brand.
Morioka Shoten was founded by Yoshiyuki Morioka, who left a large scale book business to become a niche book seller. The unique concept – a one book book store – can be thought of as commercial suicide. Yet, the concept has been very successful both commercially and socially. At just 16 sq m, the shop environment invites intimacy between author, book and visitor. A physical commitment in a digital age that includes an exhibition of objects that thematically fit the narrative, many authors are queueing up to exhibit and sell.
Looking more closely at the concept, the selection and presentation of the one book creates depth; a sense that the book has been carefully chosen for the individual visitor. As one walks past the shop, the choice appears so personal, that it draws people in. Though a matter of personal perception and interpretation, the choice of book resonates and attracts personal engagement. The fact that a different book is featured and on sale creates breadth – encouraging visitors to return and contributing to reach
In crafting the identity of Morioka Shoten, the concept was about articulating the tacit, verbalising the obvious. Elegantly simple, the identity represents the space itself, the rhombic shape embraces two meanings, “an open single book” and “a single small room”. Subtle, it supports rather than outshines the personal connections and interpretations this shop engenders.
The final project, Message Soap ‘in time’ is a project for Lalitpur, an organic skincare brand that was founded by social entrepreneur Mai Mukaida to help victims of human trafficking in Nepal. Handmade by former victims in Nepal, these ethical products needed breadth for the brand to grow and develop its activities in Nepal. “The team did not feel that mainstream appeal was appropriate for this small ethical brand, instead we proposed translating the value to a broad consumer group with a gift concept. Our bespoke approach included elements symbolic of an intimate gesture between giver and receiver”. Crafting a premium soap with organic ingredients, that conceals a slip of canvas with a message inside, waiting to be discovered, the concept builds on the intimacy between close friends, family and lovers. Along with beautiful packaging, Takram’s designed the product to evoke the time-honoured tradition of receiving a gift letter in the post. The design concept and execution creates commercial breadth for an ethical product without taking advantage of the social credentials of the brand. In this way, Lalitpur is able to build a strong commercially viable brand and product range in its own right.
Prof Miles Pennington,
Miles introduced his work with a quote by Peter F. Drucker “Since we live in an age of innovation, a practical education must prepare a person for work that does not yet exist and cannot yet be clearly defined”.
As Head of Programme and Professor of Innovation Design Engineering, a joint MA between Royal College of Art and Imperial College, his teaching remit and objectives are similar to Takram’s – bridging design and engineering, concept and commercial, innovation and relevance.
Having met Kinya as he studied IDE before founding Takram, Miles’ interest and engagement in Takram’s development culminated in the founding of Takram’s London studio in 2015, of which Miles is a director.
“With roots in RCA’s Design Interactions and Product Design (MA), the London team is committed to experimental and speculative design approaches that challenge conventional thinking”, explained Miles, adding that “this approach lends itself to education, and the studio runs workshops that apply critical and conceptual approaches to design, challenging users to think in new ways”.
Representative of both Tokyo and London studios, the show demonstrates a depth of design engineering expertise that is rare to find within one design firm, yet also presents projects and ideas in such a way as to question and challenge the purposes, methods and processes that govern the creation of commercial products.
To conclude, Lukas introduced the show ‘Scenes Unseen’, part of London Design Fair, and located on Dray Walk.
“Our show is about innovation and futures”, he said, “a way to engage visitors in our own interests and enthusiasm for innovation approaches that invites them to question, explore, experiment and speculate about design, methods and approaches”.
Lukas refers to the test bed concept as revealing the ‘beauty of serious design’; a metaphorical space in which concept and projects are deconstructed as a way to encourage questions, investigations and experimentation about the purpose and possibilities of design.
Not wanting to give too much away, he concluded by inviting the listeners to the show, where they can engage, interact, question and draw their own conclusions about innovation.
The following Q&A session was lively with questions about what qualifies success of niche concepts such as a ‘single book book store’, if Takram ever gets ‘mass to niche’ briefs, and if there are notable differences between the the briefs that Takram gets from Japanese and British clients.
In answering these questions, Takram’s directors explored personal versus commercial success, the role of future concepts and visions as a way for commercial clients to demonstrate niche values, and the cultural differences in expectation and perception.