Designing Design: Kenya Hara

I love perusing through the images in a design annual or designer’s monograph (design porn as my wife calls it) as much as I’m sure most designers do. Seeing the work being produced by extraordinary talents lights the fire to instigate your own attempts for design immortality in such a tome. After a while though, it does feel as my good wife described ‘design porn’ page after page of beautiful images, one upon another, with little reference point to where the work comes from and what it sought to accomplish. I find with my work these days I’m really trying to look for that substance behind an idea to really motivate me, that unique outlook that pushes me to create beyond this years fashionable typeface and colour trends. Designing Design by Kenya Hara is that rare book that has totally redefined the way I think of and approach design

Japanese designer Kenya Hara is one of the truly unique voices in the design field, the book the has created is a paramount of elegance, simplicity and superb creative force. This is a white book, a volume of information and illustration that embraces the purity of white as the matrix upon which everything blossoms and emerges.

In an introductory essay by John Maeda the author states `Kenya Hara is a complex man. He views the world through his many lenses of seeing, tasting, smelling, erasing, evaporating, and all the forms of construction and deconstruction.’ And after those appropriate words this pristine book opens into the genius that is Kenya Hara. `Verbalizing design is another act of design….To understand something is not to be able to define it or describe it. Instead, taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it.’ The book contains examples of work that goes beyond what we may define as graphic design, or design in general – paper, bowls of white cabbage leaves, signs, images of Swatch watches that come down through projected air onto any surface presented, unique signage for public spaces, soft ice cream shapes, furniture, spaces, lamps, posters – any object that requires rendering is treated and discussed in concept and philosophy by a man of great wisdom as well as endless creativity. The illustrations accompanying the text are clean and as well placed on the page as any creation by Hara. This is a seemingly endless array of fascinating subjects.

More than just a treatise on design for the initiated, the book contains powerful philosophical concepts that are applicable to anyone. `The human brain likes anything that entails a great deal of information. Its extensive capacity waits eagerly to perceive the world by completely exhausting its great receptive powers. That potential power, though, remains today in a state of extreme constriction and is a source of the information stress we’re all under.’ Hara approaches this conundrum by dividing his book into sections that approach answers to these problems: RE-DESIGN, HAPTIC (Awakening the Senses), SENSEWARE, WHITE, MUJI (Nothing, yet Everything), VIEWING THE WORLD FROM THE TIP OF ASIA, EXFORMATION (Rivers, Resorts), and finally WHAT IS DESIGN? It’s difficult to put into words, and I admit, if the previous phrases were presented to me out of context from having read the book, I would see it as just so much wank! Believe me though, if you have the slightest interest in design, this is a book worth thinking upon, to be read again and dipped into when the need for inspiration calls. Though the information may come across as complex, the writing style feels very approachable, not academic or dry.

As you can tell, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you are the type of person interested in astute observation, finding the beauty in simple solutions to complex problems, looking beyond surface decoration, or just like to have really cool looking design books on your shelf, this is an indispensable addition to any design book collection.