“Designing Design” Book Review

Designing Design. By Kenya Hara. (Lars Muller Publishers; 4th ed. Edition 2015. 467)

Kenya Hara or rather Hara Kenya is a Japanese designer, his book Designing Design is about the next step in design. It could be design as a whole, or personally, either way it is about thinking past conventional thinking of what makes an object an object. For example, in the introduction he describes a glass, if one were to ask someone what a glass is more than likely that person would know. Now if one was asked to design a glass everything changes, the designing of the glass begs the question of how should it be designed, in what style or how functional should it be, in essence as Hara Kenya states “you lose a little bit of your understanding of ‘glass’”. Hara Kenya is really getting at the essence of what design becomes once you get past the basics. It is not just about making things functional and pretty, which ultimately is the end goal but in that process you must really come to an understanding of what you are making and why you are making it. This statement I think really holds true, often designers get bogged down in making things nice and convention but forget what they are doing. This creates the problem of people getting caught up in the loss of understanding that Hara Kenya describes. This book defiantly sheds the light on design in a way that isn’t quite ordinary.  Showing examples of Japanese design, something elegant in nature, well thought out, and impeccably crafted.

Hara Kenya Starts the book with his view of how a design process works when re designing familiar items, items that one would use every day without a second thought of why they are the way they are. He Starts to show examples of what he means not with just words but with pictures of what he is talking about. The first Chapter is an examination of a show he hosted called Re-Design. This show is a collective of designers from many different fields many of them architects, taking on design challenges. The challenge of this show was to take on ordinary objects and look at them as if it was the first time you have come across such an object and design them. This is only one example given throughout the book. He goes on to review not only the shows that he has put together but other peoples and his own work as well. With these examples he gives he further travels into the idea of really rethinking the things that one designs. One of the Objects that was redesigned was a simple match stick. The man to do it is Kaoru Mende or Mende Kaoru. Mende Kaoru is lighting designer; his specialty is designing spaces with light in mind. The redesign is simple, a twig with a Phosphorus tip on the top. This design makes us reevaluate human’s relation with fire not just the functionality of the match itself. While it still serves its purpose and works well. The design is thoroughly thought out from its packaging, to the name of the object itself. The Matches are called Anniversary matches because of the use will most likely be used for special occasions like that.

The book fails to really go into the process of the invention but rather focus on the object itself and a short synopsis of it. At this Hara Kenya decided that it was more important to show many rather than go into deep analysis of each object given. While going through each item in his show it slowly pieces the puzzle of his main idea together. At first the concept is interesting but semi unattainable but through his method of showing project after project in order to slowly show how one can be redesign design. The use of redesigning everyday objects into something different hones into this idea, because it primes the readers mind to start to think about the world in a different way than normal. The example above is just one of many given. The matchstick is a simple and effective way to rethink how a match stick works and what we use them for. The aesthetics of it is not as important as the idea behind it. The idea shifts from being an everyday tool to light things on fire to a special occasion where we uses these matches to signify the lighting of something special, almost ceremonial. By rethinking how the object is used Mende Kaoru redesigns the original design. This hits upon the idea of what design is, not only making something aesthetically pleasing but to show the function of a design becomes the main focus of the designer.

As every designer knows form follows function. This means that the function of a design is the most important part of design. Designers tend to get bogged down with this and tackle problems in one way rather than multiple. Breaking down the function of an object and really rethinking what the function is challenges the designer in new ways. Hara Kenya really pushes the idea that the designer should try to break down the idea of what they are working on down to what they think the essence of what it is in order to proceed. Like Hara Kenya states “Even if you lose touch a little with your understanding of design by reading this book, it doesn’t mean you know less about design than you did before.” This train of thought might feel as if the designer is taking steps back and losing understanding, it is exactly that which makes them better and more thoughtful designers.


Mende Kaoru’s Anniversary Matches


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