Iconic Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara explains why ‘emptiness’ is important for design,
Over coffee at the Taj Lands End in Mumbai, iconic Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara’s face is suffused with amazement at what he calls "the human obsession with squares". "I wish I knew why human beings love squares and circles so much," he says, stroking the edges of the table between us. "Maybe because of the symmetry of our face? We need the two halves of objects to be mirror images of eachother…I don't know. It's fascinating." Hara goes to cite windows, tables, even the placemat in front of him as examples of this "obsession".
Though Hara is known as the creative director of Muji — a Japanese retail brand known for its minimalism and no-logo approach — he is gaining fame as a graphic designer who is interested in the application of design in our daily, modern lives. While books on design are not exactly flying off the shelves across the world, Hara's books — Designing Design and White — have sold 31,000 copies in Japan alone.
Particularly important to him is the seemingly paradoxical role of 'emptiness' in graphic design. "Emptiness is an important part of Japanese culture, both philosophically and visually," explains Hara. "It can be differentiated from the Western concept of 'simplicity'." Hara believes that emptiness makes people and things what they are; to put it simply: reality can be understood as background noise with nothing much going on, and out of emptiness, would (ideally) emerge the viewer's questions, theories, and efforts to forge independent meaning. Hara believes this to be a uniquely Japanese quality. "I hope to design outside the consideration of a form," he explains. "Japanese design emphasises on how an object is felt or accepted. I consciously refer to this in all my work."
Hara believes that design is a cultural product ('Germans are focused on rationality and efficiency, and Italians are more…passionate. Indians should retain the nuances of their rich heritage of handmade products and crafts') but it all has the same goal: "Design should reactivate the sensory perception of the viewer, and that is what I hope to do with Haptic," says Hara, referring to one of his design exhibitions in 2004.
"This exhibition was aimed at revealing to the audience that the resources of design are dormant in human character. "Design should aid you in tracing perceptions and objects to their origins."