PrinciplesNaoto Fukusawa

Naoto Fukusawa Design • Omotesando, Tokyo • August 20, 2015

Naoto Fukusawa is a storied product designer who started IDEO’s Tokyo office, directed design at MUJI, and now runs Naoto Fukusawa Design. We spoke on creating harmony between people & things and creating affordances so natural they disappear.


Look for the hole between all the puzzle pieces in the moment; this determines the shape of your design

Ask an objective question

I ask something objectively. I focus on how people use an object without thinking. The body is more honest—sometimes the mind makes illusions.

[from his book:] My design already exists in situ—all I have to do is give it concrete form. People already know the different parameters that determine the appropriate solution without ever realising it. 

Balance inner and outer forces

Behaviour is determined by mutual pressure between people, objects, and buildings—like an elastic net. The outline of behaviour is the intersection of outer forces and inner forces.

The outline of “inside forces” is two things: the outline of a body, and the outline of one’s presence or awareness.

[from his book:] Look for the hole between all the other puzzle pieces in the moment; this determines the shape of your design. Cut precisely along those outlines to balance inner and outer forces.

Look at surrounding behaviours

[from his book:] Relationships between people and things are never constant. A bicycle basket resembles a waste basket and is sometimes used as such, while yellow textured tiles meant to guide the blind now guide texters.

[from his book:] When designing a printer, look at the behaviours around printers, not the shape of printers. Printers are inextricably entwined with trashcans. 


Communicate through affordances so natural that nobody notices

Don’t tell people what to do

Designers should not tell people what they should do—affordance is just natural. It should not be too obvious how to do something, not like a traffic sign.

We have to quietly communicate through affordance. Like, climbing a mountain, you notice which rocks and tree branches have been polished from all past climbers touching it.

A person can say "I agree with you” to the designer, in a piece of good design. It’s the integration of the person’s values and the designer’s values.

Create a minimal relationship

When you find a function uncomfortable, you notice it. When something fits well, you don’t notice it.

“Minimalism” does not mean “simplicity”. It’s a “well-fitting-together”. The relationship has to be very subtle, not obviously connected. For example, when we walk, we don’t think about our legs or the floor. Yet we smoothly, naturally walk because the relationship between our legs and floor is minimal.


Make things so useful they disappear

Design just enough

All gadgets are going to disappear in their shape. They will either disappear into the wall, like a TV, or towards the human body, like a smartphone.  

But if there is no physical form, we still need to interact with something, even if it’s just a flat icon. A product must always have some dimension that harmoniously works with our senses.  

Normal objects make people happy because they are easy to use. I am focused on normal objects, those that have been in use for long time and will continue to be used for a long time.

Enjoy uselessness, sometimes

For useful things, disappearing is good. But you need to have some useless things, too. Design has to be functional—but art is not like that.

For example, Ai Wei Wei sliced the head off a human sculpture, a Chinese national treasure. It’s just a stone, but with a very thin layer of dust around it from 1000 years.

He found such a great little thing to expose, but finding those things isn’t easy. You know, “exposing a normal thing that already exists in a new way is art.”