Serving ideas
Apr 18, 2012
Oki Sato, photo © Nendo

Ten years ago the Japanese designer Oki Sato established Nendo studio with the intention of one day having designs of his own presented at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. He has reached his goal. This year a whole host of the design studio's works for manufacturers such as Bisazza, Established & Sons, and Cappellini, to mention just a few, will be on show at the Milan furniture fair. Nendo not only designs products, but exhibition space as well. On top of which, the Japanese design studio has fitted out numerous shops worldwide for the Spanish shoe brand Camper, and this year will furnish a floor of La Rinascente high-end department store in Milan. The curator and freelance journalist Avako Kamozawa asked Sato about the success of Nendo and the preferences of some of the manufacturers he works with.

Ayako Kamozawa: First of all, I would like to know why Salone Internazionale del Mobile motivated you to set up your own studio?

Oki Sato: When I and my classmate went to Salone Internazionale del Mobile for the first time in 2002, it didn't matter which backgrounds exhibitors had; they playfully designed both products and installations. In Japan people who have studied architecture, like me, usually only design architecture, interior designers design interiors and product designers design products. But I wanted to design more flexibly, transcend genres. So I and my classmate, who accompanied me to Milan, decided to set up a studio and named it "Nendo", which means clay in Japanese. We wanted to create something flexible and free, the idea being that people can form anything with Nendo.

Moreover, that year we found Tokujin Yoshioka's banner displayed with Philippe Starck's one in the Driade showroom. At that time he was almost the same age as I am today, which impressed me. Even a young Japanese designer could achieve this. That's another reason I set up my studio.

As you said, there is a certain border between the fields of architecture and design. But you have crossed that border and work in various genres such as product design, interior design and architecture. Do you see differences in each field?

Sato: From the very beginning I somehow believed that there was not such a great difference between architecture and design. Of course, details and results are different, and I should have responsibilities as someone who has studied architecture. But I think the philosophy of architecture can apply to whatever I design, be it products or graphics. In a word, this is a philosophy to find solutions to existing problems. I am not an artist so I don't create something from what I intuitively find beautiful or interesting. There must be logic and meaning. Or if there are problems, I should solve them. Actually each genre has its own appeal and genres interrelate so that I don't think of them separately. For example, sometimes I use knowledge I obtained from creating limited edition objects in experimental ways to design mass-produced items. I design in various fields, product design, interior design and graphic design, meaning I can develop one idea in various ways to achieve different results. That said, in order to show one product I sometimes design its space and graphics based on the same concept. So, I enjoy designing in every genre.

At the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in 2003, you attended its Satellite and won the Special Mention of the Design Report Award. Thereafter you immediately started working for renowned manufacturers such as Cappellini and DePadova. How did you develop works with them?

Sato: In the case of Cappellini, Giulio Cappellini never gives me any brief about images or objects. Every time I see him he asks to see new ideas. He prefers something to express Nendo's taste rather than Cappellini's. Nendo also works for Japanese clients, such as a major electrical appliance manufacturer. Compared to them, Giulio's direction is totally different. Normally Japanese clients have certain purposes or goals we are expected to adopt. I could say the two approaches are opposite, as the Japanese is like a top-down approach and Giulio's is a bottom-up one. Therefore, I feel I use muscles differently.

What do you think about Nendo's taste? What is the character of Nendo?

Sato: I myself like to keep ideas fresh – I usually try to avoid adding too many touches here and there. I would like to serve ideas that come from me naturally, keeping them as fresh as possible like sashimi or fresh vegetables. In order to utilize and show off the qualities of raw materials I try not to spend a long time discussing things with many people.

Where do your ideas come from?

Sato: I don't feel ideas come to me suddenly out of the blue. I think that ideas are always there right from the beginning on the tables at which my clients and I are talking. I just try to find them or see them in different ways. They normally emerge during deep discussions with clients. I also like to collaborate with craftsmen who have specialist skills. Recently I worked with the Czech glass factory Lasvit. Seeing the process of glass making gives me great inspiration. I found one particular moment of the glassblowing process beautiful, when the glass spread out from the molds. And that's what I tried to show in a design. So I get a great deal of inspiration from seeing production processes or talking with craftspeople.

You grew up in Canada. Do you think that has an influence on your design?

Sato: The place I grew up in in Canada was very rural. That's why I got a culture shock when I moved to central Tokyo. Everything looked fresh and interesting to me. I guess this experience gave me slightly different perspectives compared to other Japanese designers. So, sometimes I can easily find extraordinary or fun things in everyday life.

Do you want to design architecture more in the future?

Sato: What is most important is the freshness of works I mentioned earlier. I rather enjoy designing interiors, though I am willing to design architecture if the opportunity presents itself. An architectural design takes at least two years to complete, even for a private house. And of course it takes longer for bigger projects. I can realize interior design projects far more quickly and can learn something from the results shortly afterward. I can then use the knowledge I gain in the following projects. From this perspective I am more interested in interior design. I aim to create something between furniture and interior, whereas existing interior designers tend to design surfaces such as texture and lighting. If furniture becomes bigger, then it could form a space. Conversely, if a space becomes compacted, it could be furniture. I see no point in dividing such cases into either furniture or interior. I seek to use this gradation intentionally in my design. Maybe I can use it for architecture too.

You have worked on projects with Issey Miyake. What impact did he have on you?

Sato: Of course, although I respect his passion for design and his ability to appreciate things of beauty, what I learned from him most was to recognize degrees of perfection. In the case of architecture, we have to make the plans as perfect as possible. But he sometimes halts processes if he discovers it is the most interesting moment. I was surprised at that. Actually his decisions made designs more lively or vivid. I learned a lot from this approach. He is probably the person who has influenced me most in the last ten years.

Oki Sato, photo © Nendo
”24 Issey Miyake” concept shop, photo © Nendo
”7400 mm table“ and ”7200 mm hanger rack“, photo © Nendo
”Bamboo-steel chair”, photo © Nendo
Counter for Bisazza, photo © Nendo
”Drop” for Cappellini, photo © Nendo
”Farming-net lamp”, photo © Nendo
”Growing vases”, photo © Nendo
”Kandenchi”, photo © Nendo
”Dining chair” for Moroso, photo © Nendo
”Scatter shelf”, photo © Nendo
”Transparent chair”, photo © Nendo