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After devastating 3.11.2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsumami that washed away modern architecture, many businesses have been taking actions to re-define the relationship of nature and human, and the future of product design. Find MUJI’s philosophical approach.

Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, which devastated the modern society, was a huge wake-up call for many Japanese to look back the way they’ve come, and think about the way they would be going.  Architects reacted, and the world of design also reacted.

MUJI initiated a campaign called “Mono-Hachibu-Me.”  MUJI’s website translates it “fitness 80.”  I understand it as “a product 80% full.”  Maybe you can leave remaining 20% as a buffer, or “emptiness“.  This is based on old Japanese saying “You’d better stop eating when you are 80% full.”  It is the wisdom to stay healthy by eating decently.  It implies that you’d have to listen to what your body tells very carefully, and stay self-restrained.

Applying the same philosophy to consumption, MUJI is re-examining everything they produce or do by questioning “Is this really needed?” and “Haven’t we gone too far?”
As a brand pursuing “just right” (not too much, not too little) and self-sufficiency,  MUJI uses the slogan “Mono-Hachibu-Me” to ask the world what the “just right” level/amount is for humans.  And it’s a joy, says MUJI’s website, to re-examine our own desires that might have gone too far and excessive, and fine-tune them back to a healthy, appropriate level.

Anything excessive can be eliminated if it’s not adding critical values, or not helping users in a longer-term.  Product sizes, length, widths, and volume can be re-defined, and container design can also be re-evaluated.  You will be surprised to find so many things can be trimmed by 20% without sacrificing functionality or serviceability at all.  For examples of the excesses that MUJI started trimming, visit MUJI’s website.

 Here are some of the examples I observed that could be less than 80% because the extra is not adding much values.  Interesting thing is that some products have different size protocols in different regions.  And in many cases, smaller ones are easier to handle.  If that’s the case, trimming could actually increase customer satisfaction.

Staples. Left: American standard. Right: Japanese standard.

Paperback: From Left,  Guns, Germs and Steel, 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches.  Harry Potter, 5 x 8.2 x 8 inches. Small Architecture,  Cha-no-seishin.

Smaller staple and smallest paper back. They fit nicely in your hand. It could be called “apprehendabe.”

Ultimately, reduction in design can occur in a drastic way.  MUJI’s toothbrush stand condensed what’s required for a toothbrush stand to a minimalist yet beautiful, soothing form. And it excited many users.  Although we don’t usually question what the right size is for a daily household item such as a toothbrush stand, it’s a question worthwhile to ask.  We may be surrounded by excess materials that may not be adding any value or satisfaction.  How much trimming would your belongings need?

Toothbrush stand: Left  Regular size stand, Right  MUJI.