Discussing Design as a Form of Culture Across Ages with Taku Satoh

On June 8, 2024, many eager visitors attended the talks and panel as part of Nusaé’s Harmonizing exhibition at Taman Ismail Marzuki(TIM)’s Emiria Soenassa Gallery. Still located at TIM, the event was held at Wahyu Sihombing Theater with keynote speaker Taku Satoh as well as presentations and a panel discussion moderated by Diaz Hensuk of FORM AT with Nusaé’s own Andi Rahmat, Adjie Negara of Paragon Group, and Stephanie Larassati of Atelier Larassati.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Taku Satoh is a decorated Japanese graphic designer with a career spanning decades. His extensive career, which he kindly shared with the audience, include works for clients such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, and more. After working at Dentsu, he went on to found his own design studio by the name of Taku Satoh Design Office (TSDO). He is also one of three directors of the 21_21 Design Sight gallery in Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo. In this hour-long keynote speech, Taku Satoh presented various examples of design projects he has worked on, starting from brand packaging for Nikka Whisky’s Pure Malt, Meiji’s Oishii Gyunyu milk, Lotte’s Xylitol chewing gum, logos for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Kanazawa, the 21_21 Design Sight gallery, Issey Miyake’s BAO BAO bags, advertising campaigns for Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, to design and exhibition concepts for Design Ah (2013, 2018) and water (2007).

A trademark of his design is subtlety, simplicity, and functionality. Throughout his presentation, it was clear to see that Taku Satoh does not limit his design process to the product as it is but the product as it will be. This is particularly evident in his design for Nikka Whisky. He went out of his way to pursue research and propose something new without the client’s prompting. The bottle he designed, while drawing similarities to laboratory equipment, was designed with longevity in mind—being versatile enough to easily be reused to store other produce. While this form of sustainability is a common consideration now, it was quite revolutionary when Taku Satoh first designed the bottle in 1984, exactly 40 years ago. This reusable bottle was also able to gain popularity through word of mouth alone due to its design.

There were similar lessons to be learned from the other highlights of his portfolio. The packaging design he created for Meiji’s Oishii Gyunyu milk also showcased this deft implementation of subtlety. By reexamining his own consumer habits around milk products, Taku Satoh designed the packaging without the bells and whistles that may be expected in order to capture the attention of consumers. He employed a masterful understanding of how subtle packaging can in turn intrigue potential buyers by adeptly controlling the amount of information that buyers are able to see depending on their distance with the product. As the customer approaches, they gain more and more information on the product. The packaging design has a simple white background with dark blue and red kanji writing, but as you come closer and closer, a thin image of a glass of milk emerges when the product is in consumer hands. Taku’s design for Lotte’s Xylitol gum uses a font commonly found on toothbrush packaging to imbue a more “dental image and its star logo is in fact a top-view of a molar to showcase the gum as teeth-friendly but stylized enough to avoid too strongly invoking the image of dentistry that may put buyers off. This packaging and logo has been unchanged since it was first designed in 1997. The logo he created for Issey Miyake’s BAO BAO bag takes inspiration from the existing pattern of the bags themselves and the Pleats Please by Issey Miyake campaign he design doesn’t so much focus of individual clothing pieces but rather on pleats as a medium and material with the pleats taking the shape of various animals.

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Taku Satoh also designed the 21_21 Design Sight building, a design gallery, together with Issey Miyake and Naoto Fukusawa. He still serves as one of the directors to this day. He also designed the logo, which is a light blue plate with 21_21 pressed into it in white.This logo is a metaphor for design as a point of view with the name gallery being a play on 20/20 vision. The logo was designed to be removable and placed on objects around us as an invitation to look at these things from a design perspective. Taku Satoh concluded his presentation by stating that design functions to connect two things. Circling back to the theme of Nusaé’s exhibition, he perceives the role of design as a way to create environments that allow for harmony, not to create harmony itself. One way to achieve that is to maximize the potential of things that already exist. He underlined the principle of "きづかい" (read: Kizukai) in design, namely consideration of other people. For him, good design is design that is not excessive, "just enough".

Taku Satoh’s keynote speech was then followed by three short presentations from Andi Rahmat, Design Principal at Nusaé, Adjie Negara, Architect and Design Principal at Paragon Group, and Stephanie Larassati, Architect and Founder of Atelier Larassati prior to a panel discussion moderated by Diaz Hensuk. Andi’s presentation reiterated the five principles of harmonization; subtlety, adaptability, contrast, fusion, and aptness, in design employed at the core of Nusaé’s practice. Adjie, in turn, emphasized the role of design, especially packaging design, as believed by Paragon group in selling both a product and a value. Lastly, Stephanie’s presentation focused on social impact through temporary land occupation—stressing the ability and importance of interim uses of temporary spaces to fulfill the needs of society. 

The following panel discussion asks some crucial questions. On the matter of working towards and maintaining harmonization in an environment that is ever-changing at a rapid pace, Andi stresses the importance of doing “just enough”.  “In analyzing a design project, we can look at the problem that needs to be solved, past case studies, and options for how to solve the problem along with the impact of these decisions,” Andi began. “What we do will be revised in the future, and what we do now also continues or revises what people have done in the past.” 

Stephanie implored the need to understand the needs of your design partner or client. “What differentiates architects and artists is that we work to help other people, both in terms of business and the impact we have. We try to understand what our partners are creating and need. It takes empathy, skill and experience to understand their purpose. After that, we can decide on the design steps that can be taken. At At-Lars (Atelier Larassati), we look at options and read scenarios of existing situations, and dare to challenge our own opinions/designs,” she explained. Adjie emphasized functionality. He explained, “Design is at its core about functionality. Is this necessary or not? Is the impact big or not? For example, when Kahf released beard serum, a friend of mine put it in his hair for fun, and managed to grow his hair. So then Kahf renamed the serum Beard & Hair Serum.”

Both the keynote speech and the panel discussion platformed invaluable lessons in design. The event allowed each practitioner to respond to Nusaé’s central theme of harmonization and how each of their design practices in turn reflects this concept. Not only did the event serve as a cross-disciplinary discussion around design but, crucially, it also allowed for a cross-cultural exchange of ideas around design.

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About the Author

Kireina Masri

Kireina Masri has had her nose stuck in a book since she could remember. Majoring in Illustration, she now writes, in both English and Indonesian, of all things visual—pouring her love of the arts into the written word. She aspires to be her neighborhood's quirky cat lady in her later years.