Over 10 Years - UNITEA Vol. 3

“Over 10 Years” is a series focusing on KINTO’s collections that have been around for more than a decade, bringing you the story behind their creation. The UNITEA teaware collection was born in 2006, in collaboration with industrial designer Fumie Shibata. Renown for her smooth, emotive expressions, she is one of Japan’s leading designers of everyday products. Here, Fumie shares her thoughts about how design can enrich our daily lives.​ ​
- What is your approach to designing a product?​ ​

Fumie: For UNITEA, I try to stay close to the real everyday context of how it might be used (I use it myself a lot actually). The design is mine, but at the same time it isn’t. During the process I am very conscious that it is going to be part of someone else’s life. The resulting creation will inevitably reflect my sensibilities, but that is my approach.​

- I think the gentle curves in your designs have a soothing effect on the user.​

Fumie: That’s a real compliment. But funny enough I don’t actually intend to create “gentle” shapes. In fact, there is a part of me that wants to create something different every time, that seeks new expressions, and I sometimes toy with the idea of using sharp angular lines. But it just doesn’t turn out that way. In design, I think that trying to create something “different” is superficial. When you really dig and think deeply, the ego disappears. I focus on the utility and the material, and the curved forms naturally come together.​
- In today's era when technology develops, I think there are parts that changed the way of thinking and the role of design. For example, it is now possible for anyone to easily make what they like with 3D printers. What kind of thing do you think is the design and the role of the designer in such times?

Fumie: That’s a very difficult question. But I believe a designer must not only present shapes and functions, but also advocate the idea that there is more than one way of life.
There’s pleasure in luxury items; in simple plain objects; and much in between. In the past happiness was measured by money and possessions. But I think people have realized that having many things doesn’t necessarily make you happy.​ ​
I for one believe it’s an important part of the designer’s job to suggest different forms of happiness through design. That means creating new vectors of happiness. With UNITEA it was a new way of using glass: I used design to present a perspective that had not been previously explored.​ ​
- It’s true that we can relieve ourselves of our stress and worries by knowing that there are alternatives to the present. Fumie, as a jury member for various awards you must see many designs – what, in your opinion, is a “good design”?​

Fumie: I think that in today’s world, you don’t start with a definition of a “good design.” It’s more of an empirical approach. As protagonists of our own lifestyles, we are each of us searching for “good designs.” There used to be trend-setters who would show us the grand scheme and the world would follow. But in the age of the internet, anyone can commend or question a design. It is no longer up to the experts, but up to all of us to determine what is a good design from the ground-up.​
This means we need put our heads together and keep thinking about what makes a “good design.” The future lies in collective thinking and continuous improvement. It’s a bit of a circular zen dialogue, but I think that “good design” is everyone being involved in the pursuit of a good design.

(Interviewer: Koji Kato)



Fumie Shibata

Product Designer / Representative of Design Studio S
Fumie Shibata is an industrial designer with a diverse portfolio ranging from electronics and everyday products to medical devices. Her talents extend to the creative direction of a hotel. Some of her best-known creations include “Beads Sofa” by MUJI, “Kenon-kun” thermometer by Omron, “9h ninehours” capsule hotel, “acure” next-generation vending machine by JR East Water Business, kitchen knives by TADAFUSA, “buchi” wooden toys by Sakai Kogyo K.K. Fumie is a professor at Musashino Art University, and is also the author of “Forms within Forms” (ADP).​ ​