Last night, I went to see Kenya Hara speak at an AIGA event. Kenya is the creative director of Muji, who has just published a new book, entitled "Designing Design." In this 474-page, fully illustrated hardcover tome, Mr. Hara, one of the Japanese design community's most comprehensive and impressive thinkers and most prolific designers, explains his work in the context of changing global power structures, the "prank of postmodernism," and historical changes in design and production. Easily approachable as a designer and writer, Hara is at once both inspirational and lucid.
I found him to be inspirational, as he is able to successfully fulfill quite a broad range of roles. He runs his own studio within the august Nippon Design Center, acts as a professor at Musashino Art University and is both a board member and the art director of MUJI, the no-name brand founded by a brilliant boom-era bond between Japanese business and design. As a designer, a visual communicator, a thinker and a speaker, Hara skillfully represents the newly maturing generation of designers born in post World War II Japan and who were raised in the shifting sands of the 1960s and 70s, when the nation transformed itself from a heavily militaristic Asian society with feudal roots into a developing power in a Euro-centric economic world.
While there were parts of the lecture that were difficult to follow (Mr. Hara read from a piece of paper for the entirety of the presentation in a heavy Japanese accent) there were many things that sparked my imagination. For example, Designing Design is Mr. Hara's first book written specifically for an English-reading audience, and as such, introduces and explains the importance of such concepts as "emptiness" in the visual and philosophical traditions of Japan, and their application to design