‘Best designs are those that dissolve into behaviour’ – Naoto Fukasawa

Born in Yamanashi, Japan in 1956, Naoto Fukasawa graduated from Tama Art University in 1980. He began his career at Seiko Epson. He then moved to San Francisco and joined the design firm ID Two. He worked on projects like Silicon Valley’s computing and electronic industry. He was also actively involved with the design concept of Apple. In 1996, He set up IDEO in Tokyo and headed the office. 

He also conducted many design workshops for young minds and designers highlighting his design philosophy of ‘Without Thought’. Throughout the years he has also contributed to the product development for many well-known companies around the world, some of them being Herman Miller, B&B Italia, Driade, Magis and Artemide. 

Naoto Fukasawa has designed a wide variety of products over the years ranging from simplistic tea kettles to elevators and huts. His designs might look subtle to the eyes, but it has deep poetry attached behind it. He calls this concept of satisfying modesty – ‘Super normal’. On a close look, it can be observed that he doesn’t use any right angles in his designs. He prefers the angle R2.5. He favours the emotional over the intellectual and designs thinking on how a person can use a product simply. 

Naoto Fukusawa: Ideology and Philosophy Sheet1
Naoto Fukusawa © www.andersnoren.se

Some of his design philosophies are discussed below

Objective thinking | Naoto Fukasawa

This philosophy is about products being not about the designer’s mind but something that fits into the daily ambient life of the client. This way of thinking involves looking at life from an Objective status. So he avoids designing ‘his something’ or following ‘his style’ while designing a product but rather try to understand the inner needs of the user group. 

Design without thought 

“Finding ideas in people’s spontaneous behaviour and realizing these ideas in design is what Without Thought is about.” An example of this spontaneous behaviour is naturally choosing the red button of the remote while turning off the TV. Studying these kinds of spontaneous behaviours will help the designer identify the customer’s immediate needs before they know them themselves. A good design is something that you can use easily and intuitively without even realising it and without a need to learn to use it or change one’s habit for it. Some core principles of this philosophy are : 

  • Using all the senses
  • Observing People’s habits
  • Understanding the relationship between the product and the environment

Design in perfect Balance – Hari

Hari translates literally to tension, but it has a more complicated meaning. It links to youthfulness and innocence. The philosophy says that each design project comes with its own set of outside forces but the designer should not just try to fulfil these. Because then, it would factor down to a basic design and will end up being one among the many. 

‘A plain bowl is boring, but a bowl that can’t hold anything is useless.’ 

The Brian Eno of Design

Fukasawa follows functionalism in his design, an approach that was perfected by Dieter Rams but there was an evident distinction between their works. While Rams does not mind making his product look more industrial if it caters to the people’s needs, Fukusawa shies away from this and tries to always make the product more instinctual. 

Design that creates a later wow – Yugen 

This is very similar to the meaning of Yugen (subtle profound) which means “Suggest and not reveal layers of meaning hidden within. Invisible to the casual eye and avoiding the obvious. Even though his works speak of simplicity and terseness, it never equates to emptiness or dryness. This is due to the hidden meaning behind all his design concepts sculptured with economic and refined design forms. 

Muji’s Philosophy | Naoto Fukasawa

Muji is the company that Fukasawa found his fit in. The philosophy of the company is based on the Japanese mentality of being humble and quiet. It wants the design to speak for itself. He doesn’t want to explain the design to the user, they should be able to understand it on their own. 

“I try to design not from the perspective of creating something new, but rather from a viewpoint of helping people realize something that they knew already,” Fukasawa writes in Naoto Fukasawa: Embodiment, a new monograph about his work from Phaidon 

His new book embodiment records the designer’s body of work. In the book, he compares his designs to the process of making soup, more precisely to that of the taste of Umami. The seasoning of the soup differs from person, place and culture. He uses very little ‘seasoning’ in his designs. Just like unami, which is a pleasant taste that occurs naturally, his designs are also natural, simple and easy to understand by the user. He doesn’t showcase his designs extravagantly and doesn’t feel the need to do so. 

“Perhaps I’m searching for an archetype. Or perhaps I’m trying to express an image that already exists within me. No, I’m trying to discover the image of an archetype that lies within all people.”

Naoto Fukusawa: Ideology and Philosophy Sheet2
The wall mounted CD Player by Muji. © www.dezeen.com


Budds, D. (2015). Naoto Fukasawa On Designing With Objectivity And Interaction In Mind. [online] Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3052429/naoto-fukasawa-on-designing-with-objectivity-and-interaction-in-mind [Accessed 6 Jun. 2021].

Design Sojourn. (2007). The Design Philosophies of Toshiyuki Kita and Naoto Fukasawa. [online] Available at: https://designsojourn.com/the-design-philosophies-of-toshiyuki-kita-and-naoto-fukasawa/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2021].

liGo Magazine. (2018). Designer Profile: Naoto Fukasawa. [online] Available at: https://www.ligo.co.uk/blog/designer-profile-naoto-fukasawa/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2021].

www.hermanmiller.com. (n.d.). Naoto Fukasawa. [online] Available at: https://www.hermanmiller.com/en_in/designers/fukasawa/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2021].

Dawdy, J. (n.d.). Naoto Fukasawa: The Craftsman of Japanese Sensibility. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/naoto-fukasawa-the-craftsman-of-japanese-sensibility/.

‌naotofukasawa.com. (n.d.). Naoto Fukasawa. [online] Available at: http://naotofukasawa.com/about/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2021].


Inspired by architecture and filled with a passion for writing, MeghaSubodh is an Architecture student pursuing her studies in RV college of Architecture, Bangalore. Influence of people, culture and climate on Architecture is an area that evinces much interest in her. She is desirous of giving voice to Architecture through her writings and is consistently striving to improvise herself in this field.

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