Anyone who has come in contact with any modern design has surely heard of Tokyo design firm Nendo and seen the distinctive projects directed by the highly accoladed founder and chief designer, Oki Sato. If you think you haven’t, just recollect the spherical spectacle that is Tokyo 2020’s Olympic cauldron.
My first encounter was with ‘Space Dipped Shirts’, an installation for COS at Salone del Mobile 2014. Yes, the one with the white shirts seemingly levitating at different heights in a queue and dyed according to how the rectangular racks frame them. I could describe in detail about the gradients aligning to where the borders overlap, but it won’t beat the visual pleasure of the pictures.
The minimalistic nature of Nendo’s work often lends to the idea that the concepts are simplistic but the execution consistently presents an ingenious marvel. I remember wondering about the logistics involved in that installation; the precision and planning of the colour measurements corresponding to the framing overlap and the heights of the stands… these are some of the considerations.
It’s only a pity I never got to see it in real life. It would have been fascinating to get different optical perspectives when moving around a space. So it’s fairly exciting news that everyone now gets a chance to physically interact with Nendo designs. Not all, obviously. Just the ones we can take home.
In March, the studio launched its official online store, nendo house. A shop of greatest hits and exclusive products; some items are on build-to-order basis, but international shipping is available for most. The current range encompasses a majority of home décor and accessories, and the team tells us plans are under way to open the flagship in Tokyo in autumn.
“We use nendo house as a platform of R&D of our design activities,” the design firm shares briefly. “[The vision is] for fans to have access to nendo design.” Worldwide outlets, when the time comes, are not out of the question.
For now, the e-retail front isn’t lacking. Besides basic add-to-cart features, product pages are all accompanied with the concept behind the design and signature sketches (of which figurines you can also procure).
There’s the aesthetically gratifying Gaku lamp for Italian lighting manufacturer Flos, the extremely clever Paper-torch melding Elephantech circuitry and Takeo paper, and the admirable traditional craftsmanship highlighting Aomori wood in the Bunaco- speaker. That’s not to say all products serve a practical purpose; but should they not, you can be sure there’s a story behind it.
A favourite of the design team, Random-top is one of the newest limited products on the site. The irregular toy puzzles you at first glance. An unsymmetrical form composed of haphazard straight lines, it looks like the furthest thing you could imagine for something that spins.
Nonetheless, applying the principles required to make any object spin—centre of gravity, weight, tip shape and axis—the team used computational algorithms and brass weights to find the optimal combination to make the apparently impossible possible. Capable of spinning above 10 seconds, the Random-top was constructed after more than a hundred combinations over 200 attempts with a 3D printer to corroborate.
“We always believe the form follows fun and function,” Nendo's managing director answers, “We [also] believe sustainability is an indispensable condition and always take it into consideration when designing.” As the studio mission states, “Giving people a small ‘!’ moment.” These defined as the rich moments hidden in our every day that we fail to recognise or eventually forget.
One that perfectly captures this playful essence in my mind is the Roopuppet tote bag. The team takes a mundane feature like the side pocket that’s key to Japanese bag brand Rootote, and transforms it into a puppet. Rather than act as storage inside the bag, it pops out in the shape of a human, a kangaroo, or even a dinosaur; because why not?
If it is Nendo’s aim to reacquaint us with these small “!” moments, the shop as a token collection of its many collaborations, together with the prospect of purchase, has certainly brought the point home.