Meet designer: Oki Sato

anna volpicelliComment
Oki Sato.

Oki Sato.


According to Oki Sato, 39 years old, Japanese designer and founder of Nendo, design firm based in Tokyo with an office in Milan, improvements happen by repeating the same things everyday. In this daily routine the designer believes that we all plant the seeds for an important change that can have an impact on our lives. It is in this repetition that Mr. Sato achieves the harmony, simplicity and a bit of irreverence that marks his style. He opened Nendo when he was 24 and in more than ten years of prolific work he was able to design products for an array of International companies like Kartell, Shu Uemura, Kenzo, Tag Heuer, MDF Italia to name just a few. His works have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. 

We interviewed him to know more about his creative process. 

D: You are one of the most prolific and talented worldwide young designers, would you like to explain to us what is your creative process?

OS: I aim to design products that are pure, natural, a candid reflection of what I feel. I think that there are designs that are like a stew that develop a flavor after being cooked over a long period of time. For me, personally, my designs are more like sushi where I give a lot of importance on the freshness of the ideas. I try to work with deft hands, shaping the fish before the heat of my body is transferred on it. Regardless of what the object may be, the design process remains the same. Of course, there will be a number of technical differences between designing a small piece of chocolate and a large interior space. However, in both cases, there is always a relationship between a person and his human touch and the object in itself. The goal of eliciting an emotional reaction in both processes doesn’t change in the slightest, It is always the same.

D: How do you find your inspiration?

OS: I’ve noticed that daily work routine really helps me. If you keep on repeating the same things every day you’ll start noticing small differences. I feel that those small differences are, in a way, my source of inspiration.

D: Who are your role models?

OS: I consider the Japanese manga series Doraemon to be my “master.” In each story the main character (Nobita) ends up in trouble and each time Doraemon is able to build a sort of gadget used to rescue him. Doraemon is not the smartest humanoid of the world, however he is always able to create gadgets that have an intuitive design and a fun and likable look Also, the tools are never perfect and this imperfection drives the development of the stories. These pieces that Doraemon pulls out of his pocket change with each episode. There’s no end to them. 

SAG for MDF Italia.

SAG for MDF Italia.

D: Could you tell us more about SAG? How did you come up with the concept of this project?

OS: SAG is the stool designed for MDF Italia. The legs of classic stools are normally constructed from column-like parts. However, SAG was conceived based on a single mold of rigid polyurethane so as to give a soft and supple impression. The legs design inverted arch shapes, in the manner of suspended cloth, that fuse together from three directions into a single form. The concave arch structure gives a sense of overall strength which effectively disperses forces whereas the curvature and flexibility of the resin absorb the loads. There are two versions of the stool, one with a resin seat and the other one with a bamboo laminated seat.

D: What is your favorite project you have worked on?

OS: Every design has its own unique story and it is difficult for me to pick one I like the most. That said, I worked with fashion designer Issey Miyake on a project called the Cabbage Chair, and he said: “The difference between art and design is that with design you have to make people happy, with art you can do whatever you want.” It’s a very simple concept which was really inspiring for me. So that’s why I think design should be friendly and should have a little humor or some spiciness to make them friendlier. Those qualities make furniture more accessible to people.

Cabbage Chair.

Cabbage Chair.

D: And the one that you would have wanted to design and someone else designed instead?

OS: When I look at things, I’m always thinking: “I wonder how this would turn out if the designer would have worked on it like that,” or “I wonder what kind of finishing touches this manufacturer would put on this.” All these questions contribute to improve my ability as a designer.

D: What is design for you?

OS: Creating an object that lacks an idea at its core is not design. That is nothing but an empty shell. I’m always searching for the kinds of ideas that have the power to move people regardless of the form. Those are the ideas that can go beyond culture and transcend space and time to touch a greater number of people.

D: Do you think technology is affecting the design process and the concept of design in itself?

OS: Yes. However, I try not to start from technology. Sometimes I find an interesting technology, but I try to get away from that. I begin from small stories and I am inspired by small things. Then it’s like a puzzle. I look for the best matching that can be technology or some materials. Sometimes technology can design a product for you and you start to feel like God, like you can do everything. Just think about the potential you have with a 3-D printer. You use it to produce your works and you feel that you can design anything you want.

D: When do you know that a product you are working on is finished?

OS: This is a very difficult question. I was trained as an architect, which meant I had a goal to fulfill and the need to finish every project. As I said I worked on a collection with Issey Miyake and taught me that I really don’t have to finish any project. He said “When you feel that it’s finished, it’s finished.” That was really interesting and inspiring because we are the ones who create our own goal. That’s what makes design so free and interesting. Every project has a different purpose. 

D: What are you working on right now?

OS: We will show a new collaboration with Jil Sander this coming spring. We also have a pop up shop and an exhibition at Bonmarché. A solo retrospective exhibition will follows in Belgium.

Hirata No Boshi installation at Spiral Gallery, Tokyo. 

Hirata No Boshi installation at Spiral Gallery, Tokyo.