Cover Comfort is key for the design of the Harbor Laidback armchair (Photo: Santi Caleca, via B&B Italia)

Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa embraces an intuitive approach to design—he shares why designing long-lasting products should also be “a way of life”

One of Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa’s most famous designs is a wall-mounted CD player—a cord-operated product launched by Muji in 1999 that is still available today, even as technology marches on. Its cult appeal attests not only to the brilliance of Fukasawa’s original concept, but also the simple idea that inspired it: the designer was motivated by how Asian homeowners would similarly tug a string attached to a wall-mounted fan to turn it on.

This keen attention to human behaviour is a common thread in Fukasawa’s work; the renowned designer creates products that respond to our changing habits and lifestyles. His elegant, minimalist designs feature remarkably simple forms with intuitive features, be it a watch, tableware, sofa or even an elevator.

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To date, he has worked with dozens of leading manufacturers around the globe including B&B Italia, and also designed the interior of a fashion boutique for Japanese label Issey Miyake. He has set his sights on architecture next “because I have designed almost all the items in the house,” he quips. Here, Fukasawa tells us more about his recent projects for B&B Italia and his future plans. 

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How did your collaboration with Italian brand B&B Italia begin?

Naoto Fukasawa (NF): B&B Italia asked me to design something for them in 2003; it made me very happy and now I am one of the designers who has kept a very long relationship with the brand. Every year in the last 18 years, I have designed new collections for them. This year, I launched the Harbor Laidback armchair and soon, a new shell for the Papilio chair.

We both respect each other and the way (we) create and design things. The way B&B Italia develops the products is unique, with their policy to make the prototype themselves; we develop the details together with their in-house research and development team. B&B Italia is famous for making big sofas. Maybe my role in design might be unique, therefore, they (usually) want me to design symbolic items—lounge chairs, chairs, shelves, object collections, small tables, and other accessories for the living room. (That said), I recently designed Ayana for B&B Italia, a very unique sofa for outdoor use.

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What inspired the decision to update the Harbor and Awa collections?

NF: We launched Awa a few years ago, and this year, B&B Italia decided to create new colours to expand the collection. The Harbor is a massive solid polyurethane foam armchair; (the material) is one of B&B Italia’s masterpieces. We used (the material) not only for the Harbor, but also a long time ago when we did the Grande Papilio armchair. B&B Italia also created new stitching details; they invented a new sewing technique for the upholstery cover of the Harbor Laidback armchair. 

Which materials do you find most interesting right now and why?

NF: I am not so much into designing things from a materials point of view. I design first and then think of a suitable material that fits the design well. Therefore, I use different materials (to find) the right combination—solid wood, aluminium, polyurethane, and metal. My favourite material mix is solid wood and solid polyurethane foam for the cushion of upholstered chairs. I like to use the actual material, and not a material that imitates others.

Designers have to be careful about environmental issues as a basic approach. It is a way of life, and we have to care about it.
Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa

Your studio has also designed a boutique interior for fashion brand Issey Miyake. How did that collaboration come about?

NF: Issey Miyake is a master of design; we have a very close relationship and I know him very well. When he asked me to design the Homme Plissé store in Tokyo, I could easily understand the right approach to take. The most important thing was that the designer menswear would match the space well. His Homme Plissé collection is the star, and I only designed the stage for it.

As a product designer, what do you think is the way forward to a more sustainable future?

NF: Designers have to be careful about environmental issues as a basic approach. It is a way of life, and we have to care about it. Long-lasting objects are the most sustainable things because they are not being thrown away; they are being used the most. 

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