Kenya Hara

by whitewirestudio

If putting as many words as come into your head in some place that’s convenient and easy to access is your goal, you can house them on the web or on something like CD. But here I’ve chosen the medium called a book. That’s because I want to hand it to people as an object with a resistant weight. Kenya Hara

I’m glad to report that my book intake is perhaps at an all-time high over here. The first one I devoured when I got to Iowa City, having no plans other than to drink coffee during the day and beer at night, was Designing Design by Kenya Hara. So very good, so very tactile and resonant. It was one of those books that I had abandoned when I got busy and I am so glad I picked it back up. Despite it being months later now, I’ve recently been having a couple conversations about design’s relationship to the heart and body and felt it fitting to finally revisit some notes on Hara’s book.

Besides it being gorgeous,



it is truly a lovely introduction to Hara’s design philosophy. His writing style is conversational and accessible (and not just for designers) despite him making the simplest things complex. And while it’s not an incredible surprise, albeit poetic, to see him intro the book by stating “verbalizing design is another act of design”—we’ve long heard talks about design as a way of life, design as a way of thinking—so many of his ideas are refreshing. Here’s a full listing of his chapters:

– Re-Design – Daily Products of The 20th Century
– Haptic – Awakening the Senses
– Senseware – Medium That Intrigues Man
– White
– Muji – Nothing, Yet Everything
– Viewing The World From The Tip of Asia
– Exformation – A New Information Format
– What is Design?

So as to not live in a theoretical vacuum, Hara guides us through these thoughts while referencing and detailing his own curated exhibitions, personal work and past students’ work.

He speaks of needing to reacquaint ourselves with our full range of senses, the significance of a philosophical emptiness, and exposing what we think we know as being truly unknown—therefore “thrilling us afresh with its reality” and furthering our understanding. Thrilling us afresh with its reality? Hello, beautiful.

And you can’t have a realistic discussion on design these days without addressing technology’s role. While he doesn’t resist it, he does voice that it should evolve much more slowly and steadily. Hara writes about Western technology and design inspiring Japan—sort of in the friend as the bad influence kind of way—as he shares a yearning to revisit the thoughtfulness and soul that Japan(ese design) once had.

We can’t always claim that everything that’s convenient is no good, but certainly the human tendency to slack off has intensified remarkably, due to marketing backed by technology.

Some are of the opinion that we gain far more than we lose. It’s true that newly invented technology and media have immense possibilities for cultivating our wisdom and our senses. Anything that matures changes shape. Human beings and cultures both mature and metamorphose. But our desire is to metamorphose into better beings.

This section on senses is perhaps my favorite. He isn’t interested in talking about the designing of a “thing,” but rather how to spark the mind in such a way to conjure up a memory and create a new experience.

While dealing with shape, color, material and texture is one of the more important aspects of design, there is one more: it’s not the question of how to create, but how to make someone sense something. … I used to believe that design was information architecture, and also that this architecture was built in the brain of an information recipient. Recently I’ve come to think that, although the materials of that architecture’s construction are indeed the information brought from the outside by the sensory organs, at the same time some very important building blocks are also the recollected experiences, the memories, awakened by these external stimuli. People imagine the world and interpret it when outside stimuli awaken the mountain of their internally stored memories.

I can’t avoid the blogs and chatter about e-readers these days, and I keep thinking of Kenya Hara. From the one size fits all typography discussions to twitter capabilities and of course the ease of carrying libraries around with you, I don’t really care too much, and won’t be a convert any time soon. So while Designing Design is a bit of a white brick at 472 pages and hardcover, I still carried it to and fro the cafe wrapped up in a bag within a bag so as not to get it dirty. And I must say, it was worth it.