This week a packed Shenkar College auditorium of designers, design students, and enthusiasts listened avidly to Satoshi Yasui, Senior Design Director at Muji. Although he did not speak about 3D printing, his guidelines and concerns are very much in line with the 3D printing revolution and evolution happening right now. Yasui-san outlined Muji’s methods and guidelines in its design process and they included lessons for any design business.
Muji positions itself as the antithesis of brands, especially in Japan – no logo, clean good design, affordable price, and minimal packaging. Before delving into the guidelines, Yasui-san stressed that good is not best and that is an important distinction for Muji. Like the saying “Perfect is the enemy of good (enough)”. He then proceeded to the 5 guidelines:
1. World Muji Designers
Even though Muji is a Japanese company, it works with designers from all over the world including Sam Hecht, Konstantin Grcic, and Jasper Morisson. Muji’s policy is to look for the best designers and work with them. Given their no logo and affordability vision, they do not publish which item was designed by which designer – that would be branding, the opposite of their vision. Yasui-san also mentioned that if the cutlery designed by Jasper Morisson were branded as his, the price would have to climb significantly. Muji uses 3D printing for prototyping products – using design files and 3D printers is particularly useful when the design team is in more than 1 location.
2. Global, Local, Universal
Muji has hundreds of stores, over half are in Japan and the rest are spread around the world (especially in China), and expansion continues. Muji looks for local specialty items everywhere to incorporate in its global offering, provided they have universal appeal. Some of the items are taken as is and some are redesigned. Yasui-san mentioned that since they do a lot of their (mass) manufacturing with Japan in mind, the items are very affordable in Japan. However, at times, the logistics costs make the same item abroad much more expensive, up to double the cost. In the future Muji would like to look into manufacturing outside Japan to lower these costs – another endorsement for Distributed Manufacturing. I believe that 3D printing can be very helpful for this, especially with Make it LEO.
3. Environmentally Friendly Material
Muji’s environmentally friendly approach has many implications, not least of which is Muji’s minimal packaging, the antithesis of the importance placed in Japanese tradition on elaborate packaging. In general, Muji looks for environmentally friendly materials and processes for its designs. Muji has recently started building complete houses, initially in its resorts, and the materials used (such as wood and reclaimed materials) are all environmentally friendly. Muji’s color palate follows this guideline as well: it is very much white and neutral and includes dyes that are natural in composition and appearance. The bright colors in the pictures in this post all come from the upcycled (3D printed) parts added to the Muji products or from the people, not the products, in the 3D printed figurines (see picture sources on bottom).
Muji places a lot of emphasis on knowing their customer (see our related post) and teams are sent to observe customers at home (or in the office) in all its messy glory to see what new product might benefit Muji’s typical customers. The latest observation teams are concentrating on Hong Kong where apartments are particularly small so clever storage solutions are even more important. Yasui-san expects interesting products to result from this observation mission.
5. Communication with Customers
Observation is important but in the design process it is also important to communicate with customers to understand their needs and willingness to buy a particular product – another aspect of knowing your customer. Yasui-san mentioned they poll customers to measure their interest in a product. A minimal number of positive responses is required for the product to go to mass manufacturing. 3D printing enthusiasts: think about small run printing of end products to let people buy and use several different products (hundreds or thousands of people) before deciding on which ones or which variations to mass manufacture. The less popular products can continue to be made in 3D printing for those people that want them.
What do you think of Muji’s guidelines to the design process? Do you have any to add? Please comment below.
The pictures in this post are all Muji related and 3D printed from 2 sources: the Muji To Go promotion, and Project TAKT‘s 3 Pring 3D printed upcycling of Muji products (photo credit: Muji and Masayuki Hayashi).