Design is essentially a social process involving problem-solving through study and interactions. Can an intensively collaborative activity such as design adapt to the challenges of a remote working environment, social distancing and isolation necessitated by the pandemic?
Since design responds to the realities of modern living, how are designers adjusting to an environment that’s constantly in flux, and navigating this strange, uncharted territory from their individual homes and home studios? Will the dynamics of design evolve to accommodate the new realities?
Herman Miller posed these questions to some of their favourite design partners, whose answers will be shared in this ongoing series, ‘How designers stay productive while working from home’.
The irrelevancy of distance with Keiji Takeuchi
The cancellation of Milan's 2020 Salone del Mobile furniture fair was an early signal to the global design community of just how hard the pandemic would hit Italy. For Milan-based designer Keiji Takeuchi, staying productive – we won't say ‘positive’ – during the ensuing nationwide lockdown has meant slowing down, being more intentional, and taking up baking.
With the Italian economy starting to reopen, what is the mood like in Milan?
Even in such a heartbreaking situation, there is still beauty. I think of the Music for Hope project, and Andrea Bocelli singing ‘Amazing Grace’ on Easter Sunday outside the Duomo Cathedral. What Milano as a city and the Duomo created to support our citizens and also people in different parts of the world represents the power of art that this city and this country believes in. I felt this was truly amazing – and also, so Italy.
How have you managed to stay creative during the lockdown?
The most important thing for me is to think of how to adapt to the situation rather than focusing on what I do not have here with me.
With creativity, anything is possible. The other day I sculpted some design models with our daughter’s modelling clay. For quick maquettes, we also used a dough that we made by mixing some flour with water.
When you are working on a project alone at your home studio, what are you doing to involve others in your design process?
This period is giving me an opportunity to take things slowly – to ‘cook’ design more slowly. So I am now taking more time to think and question myself.
I find that I’m drawing a lot more before jumping to the computer. And I am asking my assistants to focus on research and experiments rather than building shapes on computers. We can wait to build the shapes for now, but gaining knowledge is always welcome.
What are the benefits of working remotely?
I think a team will learn to minimise ambiguity when communication no longer has physical cues to rely on. We need to grant each other grace, but at the same time, we can't necessarily tolerate misunderstanding. Two people may have two different understandings of the same word. So when we are explaining a concept to one another, we need to work toward a common understanding – to picture the same word in the same way.
At the same time, when multiple people can envision the same goal, the energy is so powerful that physical distance becomes less relevant.
What tools do you use to stay connected with your team?
We use a lot of hand-drawing sketches in group chats, which allow us to collaborate quickly, in real time. I’ve found it is also a softer tone of communication.
What are your best tips for staying productive at home?
If we think of ourselves as being locked down, our thoughts are already pointing in the wrong direction.
I certainly understand that there are many unfortunate victims, so I don’t want to minimise that by saying ‘stay positive’. But working to comprehend the situation rather than complaining about the situation is the most respect we can pay to our society.
When we believe in making the situation work, we will see that there are many opportunities for us to appreciate – like spending more time at home. Many people may have found innovative ways to stay connected with their family and friends. So in a way, maybe social distancing is actually bringing people closer at heart.
How have you been using your time outside of work hours?
Cooking has always been my passion, and I’ve started baking as well. It is a source of happiness and peace for me to make something to share with the family.
How – if at all – will this crisis change your approach to design?
After this is over, I don’t think we can even think about approaching design in a traditional way. I feel that the role of designers will be impacted in both large and small ways, and we just need to be open enough to accept the situation and to react to it. I hope we can be purposeful enough to rethink our role and to be resourceful enough to support different industries.