Without Thought

The recent Core77 article featuring Naoto Fukasawa reminded me of the essence of what good design is, or at least the philosophy that I subscribe to.

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I remember years ago in college when I first stumbled across Fukasawa's monograph in my school's library. Reading through his thoughts and design philosophy (making design so natural and instinctive that it fades into the environment) made me fall in love with design in a whole new way and transformed the manner I approached product design. 

Today, after more than 2 years of going through the rigors of Art Center, my approach has evolved into applying design on a more strategic level. It evolved to taking business and market considerations into the equation, using design more as a tool to help businesses develop and realize innovation opportunities, than as a form of personal expression. 

Fukasawa's ideal umbrella stand - a groove on the floor, evoking the instinctive reaction of leaning your umbrella against the wall, supported by that groove.

Fukasawa's ideal umbrella stand - a groove on the floor, evoking the instinctive reaction of leaning your umbrella against the wall, supported by that groove.

But with the definition of product design changing from a physical object into an amorphous mix of physical & digital (UI, UX etc), I think Fukasawa's philosophy is more relevant now than ever. Designing to evoke an instinctive response, in addition to just an intuitive response is valuable when designing interfaces for screens and other digital platforms. Given the fast pace of technology development, it's a challenge to create an instinctive, let alone intuitive response.

Design "without thought", or instinctive design, is a challenge to achieve on digital platforms that have a varied palette of controls and gestures.

Design "without thought", or instinctive design, is a challenge to achieve on digital platforms that have a varied palette of controls and gestures.

My biggest gripe with UI's is that I have to relearn a lot instinctive reactions as I toggle between the various OS's (the main reason why I shy away from switching across phone companies). Like the various swipe patterns and button positions across different phones, or using the thumb for the ⌘ key on a Mac and having to switch to using the pinky for the Ctrl key when using Windows. It's a challenge to create instinctive design on such platforms. But it's a challenge that I'm more than excited to take on.

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Post Edit: Here's a good read that explores affordance and design using the iOS keyboard as an example. It's in Chinese, but I think Google translate does a decent job in capturing the essence of what the author is trying to say.

China's Luxury Market

Louis Vuitton recently launched its Spring/Summer 2014 advertising campaign on YouTube. Besides the strong art direction, I was particularly drawn to its use of Chinese in the ad. This can be seen as a strategic move that underscores the brand's recognition of its significant market segment in China.

China

The Chinese culture is one that differs quite a bit from western culture. To the "layman from the west", one might view China as a place that produces cheap products, or a place that does not hold that high of an esteem compared with its neighboring countries, Japan and Korea. And while China has a much richer culture and heritage than it gets credit for, from a strategic standpoint, those in the business know that the Chinese market presents opportunities across multiple industries - manufacturing, consumer goods, services, etc. It is true that the global market dynamics might shift in the coming years, but China nevertheless is still a significant player in the game. Compared to countries like India, what has given luxury brands the kind of leverage they have in China?

 

On the Micro Level

One of the reasons behind this is that in China, the idea of personal success is closely associated with the accumulation of wealth and status. It is embedded in their culture. One noticeable example of this trait can be seen in Chinese New Year celebrations, the most important holiday in the Chinese calender. Wishes of health and wealth are aplenty during this time. A lot of the visual imagery and auspicious rituals also correspond to the idea of accumulating prosperity. And when wealth does accumulate, what happens?

It's interesting how the general perception of wealth is more extroverted than introverted, and luxury products feed that perception, providing a tangible way for one to express their status and wealth. While commitment to invest in a nice house or an expensive car is often out of reach for the middle class, a handbag is something that is attainable while still carrying the association of a certain social status. Hence, luxury fashion goods present to the masses an attainable status of wealth. Also, Chinese consumers want the real deal when it comes to luxury goods, conveniently feigning off imitation brands and funneling income into legitimate luxury brands. Luxury services, like spas and wellness activities are also on the rise, perhaps a reflection of the direction product design in general is heading, where services and digital experiences take center place over physical products. 

 Kumquats, 金橘 (Jīn jú) share the same word as gold in Chinese, 金 (Jīn). It is commonly seen during Chinese New Year as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The ideal of wealth is prevalent in Chinese culture. ( photo: Kenny Louie)

 Kumquats, 金橘 (Jīn jú) share the same word as gold in Chinese, 金 (Jīn). It is commonly seen during Chinese New Year as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The ideal of wealth is prevalent in Chinese culture. (photo: Kenny Louie)

What's Next?

Luxury brands enjoy, and will continue to enjoy, a comfortable presence in the Chinese market as they are directly in line with the Chinese culture and its ideals. I find myself wondering, what strategies can brands in consumer products, or even digital products, employ in order to achieve the kind of leverage that the luxury market is experiencing? 

Shoemaking

I've always had a slight fascination with shoes, as it is an element of one's outfit that reflects mood, personality and style. Through my stint at Pensole last spring, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of footwear, not only for the design of shoes, but the whole storytelling and manufacturing aspect of it as well.

What I like about this video is that it personalizes the shoe making process, essentially embodying the soul of the craftsman into the shoe itself - perfectly befitting the aesthetic of the final product, a dress shoe. It wouldn't be as effective if it the final product was say a running shoe, for which a technology focused video would be more appropriate.

via theformed.com