Anonymous is beautiful: “The Profiles of Design” by Naoto Fukasawa

Naoto Fukasawa is a highly acclaimed Japanese industrial designer who designed many iconic products, including household items for MUJI.  A wall-mount CD player, a MUJI product, is part of the MOMA permanent collection.

Although he worked at the design firm IDEO in Silicon Valley from 1989 to 1996 (subsequent to which period he headed IDEO Japan) and his customers spread across the globe, there is unique “Japanese-ness” in his design. It is the power of silence, or the latent energy that quietly but potently emerges when his products meet our “behavior.” He wrote a book “デザインの輪郭 (The Profile of Design), TOTO Publishing, 2005.” It tells a lot about how he sees “design,” which may be very different from what you’d expect to hear from such an acclaimed designer. 


Fukasawa’s writing is very poetic, or rather, like haiku (there’s actually a chapter on Haiku in the book). He beautifully connects raw words with little details, leaving ample rooms for readers to wonder, imagine, and especially, leverage their own senses to capture what he really means. Direct quotes must be the best way to introduce the essence.

What is the profile of design?

At the end of the day, I am designing the “profiles” in empty space.

They are something obscure and blur that surrounds physical existences.

There’s a moment when the relationship starts taking a shape. When I capture it, I suddenly see it clearly even if it’s a complex one.

I want to make “I don’t know what it is” my ultimate goal.

At some point I almost feel like I know what it is,

but eventually I have to decide that I still don’t know. That elusiveness is what I would like to describe in this book.

Design that dissolves into behavior

“You are trying to find what’s at the core of our consciousness,” Masato Suzuki once said about me.

So I think when I say design that “dissolves into behavior,” I am talking about the situation where we act almost automatically, responding to what the core of our consciousness tells us.

Ultimately it’s not our will that determines our actions. We make moves driven by the surrounding environment.

NOTE: Masato Sasaki is an ecology psychologist at the University of Tokyo.


Haiku and design have a lot in common.

When I read a book by Kyoshi Takahama, I was in awe.  He advocated “客観写生 (kyakkan shasei – objective sketching)” and declared that the the haiku become ugly when they are created to let your emotions out. 

It was eye-opening to know the existence of a beauty that could only emerge when you finally eliminated “you” from your own art.

Note” Kyoshi Takahama (1874 – 1959) is a Japanese Haiku poet who advocated authentic, traditional Haiku style rooted deep in natural beauty.

Ordinary (futsuu)

I think I cemented my core competitiveness by realizing that “all I need to do is to do what I think is decent and ordinary. No overemphasizing is necessary.”

I used to to the opposite trying to create something “extra”-ordinary, because that’s what people expect from the designers. But at some point I had to admit that I liked “ordinary” than extra-ordinary. So I decided to stick to it.

It is actually more extraordinary for a designer to give up the strong appeal that can “wow” people.

It is much more difficult than surprising people when everyone expects to see something that is not ordinary.


So it takes a lot of courage to do “ordinary.”

When I check my own work,

It is like observing the sand trickling between my fingers.

Most sand fall through, but few manage to stay. I say, “there. these ones managed to stay.”

Designing is reversing this process.

By “ordinary,” I mean that a chair is a chair, and a table is a table.

I won’t resist people’s expectation.

But being just ordinary does not make a product shine.

It’s not enough.

It has to have unique aura in its ordinariness.

I believe that Japanese appreciate latent value that does not surface easily.

Live with minimum

I believe that it is a very rich experience to live with minimum.

We just don’t realize how gorgeous it is to be in a tidy, clean space not disturbed by “stuff.”


I think being anonymous means being highly functional.

Imagine the time after I eventually decompose.

If my design still survives, and if it did so even after wars and disasters, or even after all the information was wiped away…

If people still used my design and loved it after all, I think I could say that my design finally became truly anonymous.


I think people feel like their sensors are aroused when they experience my design.

If they actually had antennas, they would have felt like all of them were suddenly activated and keenly detecting something exciting.

You feel ecstatic when your body and senses are fully aroused and engaged.

It’s an ecstasy to unleash your own potential by yourself.

Fukasawa, Naoto.  (2005).  デザインの輪郭 (The Profiles of Design). Tokyo, Japan: TOTO Publishing

All quotes above were translated by the author.