Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato

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By Dwell
The renowned Japanese designer discuses furniture, technology, and relishing the small details.

During this year's Salone del Mobile in Milan, design studio Nendo exhibited 50 Manga Chairs, a collection of seating each with an individual design inspired by Japanese comics. The chairs physicalized comic book techniques such as speech bubbles, emotional icons, and effect lines. The installation was set in a grid to reflect comics' sequential nature and to tell a story through the personality of each individual piece. And on September 8th, 2016, the chairs are set to arrive in New York at design gallery Friedman Benda. When Dwell visited Milan we sat down with Nendo founder Oki Sato  to hear his thoughts on the industry and technology.  


I want to start with the chair. Why did you choose it as a focus for this exhibition?

I really feel that the chair is different compared to the other furniture pieces. You spend a lot of time in a chair; I think it’s really personal in a way.

Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato - Photo 1 of 6 - The installation is comprised of 50 stainless steel chairs. 

The installation is comprised of 50 stainless steel chairs. 


Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato - Photo 2 of 6 - Each chair has a distinct personality. Inspired by the visual devices typically used in Manga, no two chairs are alike. 

Each chair has a distinct personality. Inspired by the visual devices typically used in Manga, no two chairs are alike. 

What inspires you right now when it comes to furniture design? Where do you believe the most innovation is happening? 

People who have been making office furniture are thinking about making beds, sofas, and things like that. Everything is starting to blend into one single thing. I think the borders are getting very blurry within the home.

How do you use technology to support your practice? 

I try not to start from technology. Sometimes I find an interesting technology, but I try to get away from that first. I start from small stories and am inspired by small things. Then it’s like a puzzle—I look for the best matching technology or materials. Sometimes the technology starts the design for you, and you start to feel like God. You have a 3-D printer and you feel that you can design anything that you want. 

Do you worry that as technologies continue to change, things can quickly become dated? 

The latest technology that we have at this moment, maybe five or ten years later, even a small child could do that. So it doesn’t really make sense to start from technology.

Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato - Photo 3 of 6 - The result is a series of playful and experimental forms. 

The result is a series of playful and experimental forms. 

Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato - Photo 4 of 6 - The European installation was exhibited at Basilica Minore di San Simpliciano during Salone del Mobile.

The European installation was exhibited at Basilica Minore di San Simpliciano during Salone del Mobile.

This exhibition, to me, uses furniture to convey certain emotions…

A lot of people ask me if this [collection] is a product, but to me it’s an ongoing process. It makes sense to share ideas, even if it’s not a finalized product. It’s important to share ideas—that’s part of design. 

Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato - Photo 5 of 6 - The chairs are completed with a mirrored finish. 

The chairs are completed with a mirrored finish. 

You’re producing so much each year—how do you continue to introduce new feelings and sensations?

The range of design is expanding. I’ve been designing chocolates the last few years. There are so many different small stories and emotions that people are looking for. I feel there’s a lot more things that I can work on.

What materials interest you right now?

I come at an idea and, it’s the same with technology, I try to come up with a matching material. Or when I meet a new client, if they are good at woodwork or glasswork, I work on that. I don’t have a favorite material.

How does your design process start? 

Small ideas, small things. I’m really interested in the tiny stuff. We were painting all the edges [of the installation] all day long yesterday; we had this black felt tip marker. We had these white lines, and I didn’t like that. These small things are the most important. Nobody notices that, but in the end, it’s very important to us. Those small things make the big differences. It’s the same thing in my design process. Maybe a crack on the floor, or just a shadow. All these things inspire me.

Pull Up a Chair: An Interview With Designer Oki Sato - Photo 6 of 6 - Much like Manga itself, the chairs appear to be animated while stationary. 

Much like Manga itself, the chairs appear to be animated while stationary. 

50 Manga Chairs will be on exhibition at Friedman Benda from September 8—October 29, 2016.