A Higher Purpose

Interview by Elizabeth Tan
Photographs courtesy of Nendo
Translation by Joanna Ong

Japanese for “modelling clay”, Nendo is Oki Sato’s playground for the bustle of ideas that bloom daily in his head. With a roving eye for detail, the 37-year-old captures little moments that are otherwise overlooked in our busy everyday lives. As his thoughtful and intuitive mind pieces these moments into ideas that blossom into prolific works with Camper in the US, collaborations with design geniuses Giulio Cappellini and Maddalena De Padova, and even an exhibition for Elle Decor Japan, he successfully creates points of intrigue, bringing fresh new flavour and perspective into the world of design.

Oki Sato has a compelling story himself. He was born in Toronto, and raised in Tokyo. Graduating with a Masters in Architecture from Waseda University, Tokyo, his adventurous soul took on product design as well. In the next few lines he relates how his architectural background has influenced his take on design, and despite the numerous huge accolades to his name, asserts that they were born from small yet valuable ideas.

A Higher Purpose oki sato nendo

Hidden – Unveiling Japanese Design; exhibition design for Japan External Trade Organization, Singapore.

Please share with us what you are currently working on.

We are currently producing a “Cool Japan” room for the METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in the Japanese section of EXPO Milano. Also, we’re collaborating with about 20 regions that produce traditional crafts, in the production of international exhibition objects, as well as in the designing of the display space for said objects.

Moreover, we’ve been selected as the Maison & Objet ‘Designer of the Year’ 2015, for an exhibition to be held in January in Paris, so we’re in the midst of planning the installations for that. Finally, we’re also involved in the renewal of the interior of Siam Discovery in Bangkok.

Congratulations on the Maison & Objet ‘Designer of the Year’ 2015 honour. (We interviewed Tom Dixon, Masion & Objet’s ‘Designer of the year’ 2014 in The U Press N°6.) You have a wide documentation of work all over the world, do you think design is shaped by cultural and traditional boundaries?

With the spread of the Internet and the equal availability of information worldwide, I feel that such boundaries are declining. However, as they are still significant, we have to be sensitive toward them. Especially in the case of Japan, I’m of the opinion that such boundaries remain significantly more than in other areas.

A Higher Purpose oki sato

Softer than steel; furniture collection for Desalto.

What are the challenges you have faced setting up Nendo?

There are many cases of Japanese designers working in big companies after graduation, gaining experience under the teachings of a famous designer, and then becoming independent.

However, in my case, after I graduated from an architectural university course, I became an independent designer. At that time, I didn’t really know how to proceed with projects or how to operate a business. I had to learn everything through hands-on experience, so everything at that time was a challenge.

Moreover, having only studied architecture, I did not have any design experience at all, and was lucky to receive the teachings of Giulio Cappellini and Maddalena De Padova who are geniuses in their field. They set the foundation for me in terms of design.

A Higher Purpose oki sato

Space dipped shirts; installation design for COS.

How has your architectural background influenced your take on design then?

A designer with an art degree would focus on constructing beautiful, lovely, and stylish forms. Rather than such a focus, my own design comes from a logical problem-solving stance, which I believe was influenced by my background as an architectural student.

 Read more in The U Press N˚8 (Singapore edition).