Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Kenya Hara’s Designing Design

Everyday beauty from MUJI art director and graphic designer Kenya Hara

By Tiffany Lambert, Designers & Books October 9, 2013

In 2000, prominent Japanese graphic designer and curator Kenya Hara posed an interesting challenge to 32 respected creators: “Design anew some very ordinary commodities, including toilet paper and matches.” Examples of the project, first exhibited in Tokyo, are on display in Hara’s book Designing Design, now in its third English edition (Lars Müller).

Cover of Designing Design by Kenya Hara (Lars Müller). Photo: courtesy of designboom

The Book

Designing Design Kenya Hara

Shigeru Ban’s square toilet paper rolls, for example, function to reduce consumption and save space in transportation and storage. Kaoru Mende returns the power of fire back to nature with his matches made of twigs. Shifting focus to the purity of form and meaning of products we encounter daily, Hara probes the value of objects and challenges conventional ideas about how to see and think about design.

“The more firmly we’re convinced that we’ve identified an object, the less precisely we understand it.”

Shigeru Ban’s square-tubed toilet paper roll. Designed for “RE-DESIGN: Daily Products of the 21st Century,” 2000. (Photo: from Designing Design, courtesy of designboom)

“Look at the ordinary with clear eyes, to yield new thinking on design.”


Kaoru Mende’s reimagined box of matches uses twigs to celebrate the powerful relationship between humans, fire, and nature. Photo: from Designing Design, courtesy of designboom)

The book presents Hara’s particular point of view and yet its content and message are so universal that it comfortably resides on the Designers & Books lists of a graphic designer, a fashion curator, and an architect. In the words of Akiko Fukai, director and chief curator of Japan’s Kyoto Costume Institute, Designing Design “speaks to the essentials of all design.”


Emiko Ai designs vinyl street signs rather than the typical metal ones in response to Kenya Hara's idea of “exformation,” or of making familiar objects in new ways in order to more profoundly activate our senses. (Photo from Designing Design, courtesy of Obsessive Collective)

“What constantly invigorates the human mind is the unknown; we aren’t animated by what we already know.”


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