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It’s hard to avoid mentioning the effects of COVID-19 on the design industry when the pandemic has so drastically altered the way we consume. Still, economic setbacks have motivated some compelling creative projects.
When faced with a downturn in business in Aichi Prefecture last April, Aichi Design Vision, sponsored by the startup support initiative Aichi Manufacturing Network (AMN), began exploring design-led ways to promote and expand manufacturing industries. Known as the home of Toyota Motors, Aichi boasts numerous specialist automotive and robotic parts makers, all of which have helped bolster the nation’s economy. Aichi Design Vision’s focus, however, was to steer such companies away from their usual fields and utilize their skills to create brand new homeware products.
“We received six applications from manufacturing companies to participate,” says AMN representative Kaoru Hara, who explains that four were finally chosen and paired with up-and-coming designers. “To help inspire designers, we made videos about each company’s skills and technology so they could decide which matched their particular creative visions.”
This month, “On Design” looks at the four resulting items, which were released earlier this year on the crowdfunding platform Makuake.
Making the cut
Paired with design unit Aatismo, Seiwa, an aluminum cutting and milling manufacturer of automobile and industrial robot parts, was tasked with the most artistic piece of Aichi Design Vision: the Ooparts-001, a striking circular package opener.
Aatismo has been making its name in minimalist architecture, product design and art, so it’s no surprise that the Ooparts-001 is not just a tool, but an objet-d’art. Beautiful to behold, its form and gleaming wave-like facets are precision cut from a single slab of metal, making it a weighty object that can stand vertically for display. A small crescent-shaped indent provides a tip just sharp enough to pierce packaging tape, while the faceted texture makes it easy to grip.
Aatismo says it was inspired by ancient hand-chipped flint blades — a simple tool now updated for contemporary use by Seiwa’s high-tech manufacturing technology.
Tea on the road
Designer Taikan Hoshino originally hoped to use Suzuki Chemical Industry’s durable plastic to create his Junen Kyusu, an unbreakable contemporary Japanese teapot. The resin used by the company to manufacture plastic automobile parts was already certified as safe for food containers, and the fastidiously clean environment needed to produce such components made it ideal for tableware production.
After some experimentation, however, Hoshino opted to introduce a new material to Suzuki Chemical Industry — Tritan, a BPA- and BPS-free plastic even more suitable for frequent and long-term exposure to boiling water.
It’s the functional design details of the Junen Kyusu that highlight Suzuki Chemical Industry’s expertise in plastic molding and pressing. A double-layered body improves heat retention, the spout is subtly ridged to prevent dripping, and its snug-fitting lid twist-locks into place with a click. Also, while it’s uncharacteristically large for a kyūsu (Japanese teapot) — around double the size at 500 milliliters — its lid is attached to the handle so that users don’t need to hold it in place while pouring.
Suzuki Chemical Industry’s automobile parts are designed to last 10 years of use, hence the teapot’s name, Junen, meaning 10 years in Japanese.
Sitting on cardboard
The Corncob is a fun DIY stool kit, conceived by Junichi Ishigaki for Nagae-Siki, a cardboard packaging manufacturer that also produces chemical interior materials and cutting tools.
To be constructed without the use of glue, the stool comes flat-packed as sheets of card pre-cut into 76 pieces. That sounds like a lot to work with, but Ishigaki’s idea was to create a product that would also be an enjoyable activity for kids and their parents to make together.
Once all the pieces have been popped out of the sheets, they slot together to form a dense curved cylindrical stool that, thanks to Nagae-Siki’s reinforced corrugated card, can support up to 800 kilograms. It weighs just 1.5 kilograms, is completely recyclable and biodegradable, yet designed to last.
Though Ishigaki had children in mind when coming up with the Corncob, its smooth shape and purposely exposed corrugated texture make it just as attractive as a design piece. Two versions are available, a pouf-like seat without legs and another raised on four chunky posts like a mini table. Colored low-formaldehyde and thick partially recycled plastic felt seat options are also available to add a pop of color.
Hideya Minamiji’s Cobitsu — a hinoki (Japanese cypress) frozen food container — is not only a new product for masu cup maker Ohashi Ryoki, it’s also an allusion to the origins of masu.
Now mostly used to serve sake, the masu box began as a measuring cup for rice or sake. With this in mind, Minamiji has angled the box to allow it to be stacked, given it an anti-stick coating and designed a lid for it to be used as a freezable and microwavable cooked rice container. To secure the lid, Minamiji added a silicone band that stretches diagonally across the box, a design reference to a square written symbol popularly used during the Edo Period (1603-1868) as shorthand for “masu.”
Hinoki, a naturally humidity-resistant wood, helps control the moisture of the rice as it warms, while producing a pleasant woody aroma as steam is released from beneath the lid. For these items, Ohashi Ryoki also uses leftover felled timber and waste from the wood industry.
By Mio Yamada, The Japan Times