DEFINING MOMENT: I've been doing my work unplanned and have played it by ear, so far. I am concentrating and devoting my passion to the project in front of me rather than having a long-term vision. In this way, maybe I'm able to open new paths and create new styles spontaneously each time.
SOURCE OF INSPIRATION: I've noticed that a daily work routine really helps me and works with my designs. If you keep on repeating things every day, you will notice the small differences, and I feel those small differences become my design sources in a way.
WORDS OF WISDOM: I think you really have to be addicted to design and just enjoy it.
Nendo has been such a key representative of Japanese design for so long that it might surprise some to learn that its founder was, in fact, born in Toronto. Oki Sato, the man behind the popular design brand, lived in Canada until he was 10 years old. Today, the world looks to Nendo to be inspired, to see things differently and ultimately to learn how to dream bigger and better. Sato has, after all, ticked most of the boxes a designer would fantasise of marking off - and all before turning 40.
Sato is the proverbial "designer's designer" - he stays true to his craft and his intuition and is utterly unaffected by fame, fortune or the pressures of media attention. "This is my hobby, my pastime, my occupation," he says. "It is like breathing or eating. I would say I'm a design geek [or otaku in Japanese]."
Sato founded Nendo in 2002. The name comes from the Japanese term for modelling clay and Sato has done exactly that - moulded projects from his mind into the real world. "In Japan, people who have studied architecture usually only design architecture; interior designers design interiors; and product designers design products. But I wanted to design more flexibly and to transcend genres. That is why I started Nendo," he says.
"I believe that the way of thinking about the design of a small piece of chewing gum or a house should be the same. Although the process is technically completely different, I try to design both scales in a similar way," he says. And this is why there is a signature Nendo thing that is unmistakable. For Sato, the role of design is quite simply about solving things and about finding new solutions. It's a feeling of creativity and finding its voice. "It is about what kind of story you can find behind the object, whether it's products or architecture or graphics. It is all the same to me," he says.
The Nendo range is endless: from the well-known projects such as designing high-concept furniture, retail stores and exhibition spaces all over the world to adding unique and more unexpected items such as watches, magne-hinge glasses, chopsticks and even shoes for Tod's (under the name Envelope). Then there are collaborations with a broad range of other brands, including Cappellini, Moroso, Bisazza, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Baccarat, Camper, Puma, Starbucks and even Coca-Cola.
Nendo's latest activity is at the Design Museum Holon, in Israel, where the design studio is getting its first, large retrospective exhibition titled "The Space in Between", which will feature both old and new pieces extending from the beginning of Sato's career until today. In addition, a new pet range has just been revealed. Called "Cubic Pet Goods", the range came about with some interiors projects Nendo has worked on.
"We do not have to limit areas or genres, so we can involve many different makers or companies proactively," Sato says.
This is pretty much how the Sato brain works - always ticking and thinking about design and its process in entirety. And, as he says, his work is heavily influenced by having spent a childhood in a quiet place surrounded by nature and then moving to a dense and busy city. "What was 'everyday and ordinary' to my friends in Tokyo felt somewhat 'unreal and stimulating' to me." He was able to find new ideas and look at things from a new perspective.
Everyday life is where Sato's ideas and concepts come from.
"I try to look for the small things that are hidden, things that people don't really care about or things that people have already forgotten,"
"I think it's those small things that make people's lives rich and comfortable. It's always about giving people a small smile in the end."
But right now, it is Sato who's smiling about his most recent projects. "I've branched out to design for a university rugby team and supervise the lead character in a television drama series," he says. "I'm so excited to be working in fields such as sports and entertainment, where designers really haven't been involved before."
And it doesn't stop there: Sato's plans are always evolving. "I think my dream project would be to create an object that is way beyond my imagination," he says.
It's exactly this imagination that has captured the world's eye and brought his projects to the forefront of design. "Every project is different and it excites me every day. I believe that when we work in many different fields, [the projects] influence each other. I can find new ideas within different projects," Sato says. "And the more projects I work on, the more ideas I develop."