Part 4 of a Dialogue with Satoru Miyata – Taking a Look Back at KYOTO Design Lab’s Past Year

3/3/2016 Uncategorized Last modified 3 years ago

Mr. Satoru Miyata has served as the head of Kyoto Institute of Technology’s KYOTO Design Lab (hereafter referred to as “D-lab”) since July 2014. Working on identifying social issues and solving them, D-lab was established under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in its efforts to enhance the functions and improve the quality of national universities. It has been a year since D-lab started. Today we’d like to share a dialogue between Mr. Miyata and Mr. Yoshiro Ono, D-lab’s Laboratory Chief (and Vice-President of Kyoto Institute of Technology), about Mr. Miyata’s thoughts on building a relationship with a national university during the past year, and both of their thoughts on the future of D-lab.

Interviewer: Mr. Akihiro Nishizawa (Eight Branding Design)


How to Boost International Competitiveness

–Let’s take a look back over the past year. What was the primary reason for establishing D-lab?

Ono: The first reason that I can give is that there was a social demand for it. There’s criticism that national universities all over Japan lack international competitiveness. Therefore, in our university, we decided to proceed with university reform mainly in design and architecture education and research, which we are acclaimed for.

Specifically, we have directly invited the world’s top universities and designers and we have implemented PBL, or project-based learning wherein both teachers and students study on the same platform. We call this scheme “luring units from overseas.” We consider D-lab as the testing ground for this reformation. We are exerting efforts in ambitious education and research that hasn’t been done in universities before; and we have arranged for staff to support these efforts.

–Is this the first time that you are doing this?

Ono: Yes. There are plenty of research centers within the university, and we also have a lot of designers and architects. But these are not enough. Drastic reform is needed. Therefore, we thought of asking professionals outside of the university for the management of and guidance for the entire organization.

–That’s where Mr. Miyata comes in, right? Why did you choose him?

Ono: That’s because as a branding director, Mr. Miyata occupies the top spot among designers in Japan. We were thinking of what kind of work that we would like him to do at our university, and we’ve decided that we’d like him to be D-lab’s head.

–Managing and guiding the university’s organization, and as head no less. That’s a lot of responsibility, Mr. Miyata, and I think it’s difficult because the work differs from what you do at Draft. What was your biggest motivation to do this?

Miyata: These past few years, it’s become clear to me that design is not about creating things. While it’s true that our job is to create some output, design is also about how you think and the time line or time frame of things. Politics is the same. In Japan, people seriously study until high school, but once they are at university, they instantly change and just have fun. I thought that if this continues, Japan will be ruined.

Kyoto Institute of Technology not only has architecture and product design courses; it also has mechanical engineering, electronics, fiber science and engineering, and traditional handicrafts courses. This is a university that’s supposed to have all these connected mainly through design, so I thought that I must do the job of being head. Inviting specialists and students from abroad means that new relationships will be formed. There will also be instances when students will learn new things from people from other cultures – not from their families or teachers. As long as there are students who are able to acquire these things, I thought that it was a job that I could accept.


Reforming University Management Too

–Professor Ono, I’d like to ask about your management philosophy. From what stance and how are you managing the university?

Ono: Not just in our university, but almost all teachers think of their research labs as their castles that must be protected. This results in a narrow, inward-looking mentality, thus the university’s growth as a whole stops.

The great thing about Mr. Miyata was that he formed a conference about branding for young university staff members with comparatively short research experience – he brilliantly saw through the problem areas within our organization. All of the people who attend this conference have flexible minds. We don’t want a pyramid-like top-down form of management, we want capable people to work together.

Also, we are continuing to lure “units from overseas,” as well as holding workshops; and there are people whom we can tempt into joining and those whom we cannot. In conducting workshops, negotiations with people on-site, personnel allocation, and flexible communication skills are needed. If the workshop is perceived as the old way of conducting seminars, I don’t think the workshop will succeed.

–How did you proceed with D-lab in the beginning?

Miyata: I proceeded in the same way I brand other companies. Each organization has its own members with their own roles. Ages are different, and there are differences in abilities too. There are many kinds of people so I have to observe how they are. The first thing I did at D-lab was to challenge them into making a logo. But I received complaints from the teachers – was the head testing their abilities? – (laughs). I made comments on the resulting logo, but I did not assess it. The reason was that it was a task for them to put their thoughts together. So I think they probably thought, “Why isn’t he giving an answer?” That’s because normally they do battle in a world where answers exist.

Ono: The first thing that Mr. Miyata emphasized to us in the beginning was that “the purpose of design is peace.” But we had no idea what that meant.

–So that’s when Mr. Miyata started to give a lecture, right?

Ono: Since the initial establishment of D-lab, we’ve had the word “Kyoto” for our concept. But during the early spring when the university’s staff members and I were discussing this concept, we had a plausible theory, but in the end, we were frustrated because we didn’t come up with a plan on how we should proceed. On the other hand, during the discussions after that autumn when Mr. Miyata was already the head, Professor Shigeatsu Shimizu , whose specialty is cultural heritage conservation, proposed a logo highlighting the origins of Kyoto’s grid (on a map), and everyone reacted to it. In the next meeting, I pointed out the “two-sided neighborhood” system composed of the neighborhoods in the heart of Kyoto City, and Kyoto on a north, south, east, west grid, and the diagonal lines of the boundaries of neighborhoods stood out. You aren’t aware of these diagonal lines when you’re walking in the town, but these lines indicate Kyoto City’s invisible structure.



*The neighborhoods’ names aren’t determined by the town’s block or ward names – they are given based on the streets. Both sides of a street becomes one neighborhood, so the town is divided into Xs.


Becoming an Organization that “Dresses” Itself, a Place Where Specialties Complement Each Other

–What is the role of D-lab?

Ono: In the first three discussions that I had with Mr. Miyata, we talked a lot about the basics.

Miyata: In the discussion about D-lab’s future that you had with just the university’s staff members during the early spring, you talked about raising a topic that would capture a certain kind of interest from society. But that’s not what it should be, isn’t it? You should be preparing for the worst more. You’re dealing with foreign universities on an equal footing, but actually, you really should be leading instead, so even if your discussions are solidified amongst yourselves, there’s no point.

–It seems that “dress” has become a keyword for D-lab. Can you tell us what this means?

Ono: “Dress” is a concept that we’ve come up with during our bi-monthly meetings with Mr. Miyata. Professor Ryusuke Naka, whose specialty is the workplace, was the first to mention “dress.” Kyoto doesn’t have a cooking culture of “boiling” – its culture is that of “dressing” (incorporating), where each ingredient complements and brings out the best in the other ingredients. Professor Naka says that he noticed this as our discussions proceeded. Actually, even the relationships that people in Kyoto have with each other aren’t “boiled down,” they’re more of maintaining a distance. In other words, “dressing” (incorporating) is important. So we thought that D-lab would be the place for this concept. Through our discussions with Mr. Miyata, the participants began to share that goal.

–Yes, “dressing” is indeed university-like. Companies can’t just finish at “dressing.” They need to boil things down and solidify them. Although I think finishing at “dressing” seems difficult.

Miyata: Companies now whose growth have stopped have the same type of organization as that of traditional Japanese universities. The company presidents have weak leadership skills, and they are replaced every few years. In worse organizations, even when they have subsidiaries that are supposed to do more advanced work, the company presidents are replaced every two years. This is too much for employees who have to work there. It took a lot to create D-lab, and it would be absolutely pointless if D-lab tried to proceed retaining the structures and organization of the universities of old.

Ono: Yes, it’s not good to have the same structures that universities have had so far. This connects to the idea that a “place,” (in this case, D-lab), is necessary.

Miyata: We’ve had meetings for half a year, discussing about how D-lab should be, and there was no talk of divisions like those found in research labs. At that moment, I thought, “Oh, things have changed.”

–It’s a really necessary way of connecting, isn’t it? D-lab is now actually operating, how has it been?

Ono: Recent design scholarship is based on the idea of “inclusive design” which tackles what minorities in society think, and how to revitalize people. On the other hand, architectural scholarship has originally been about catering to people, or in other words, the client, so cities have deteriorated. At D-lab, one of our biggest themes is how to revitalize such cities. The solutions to issues such as these have become clearer by “dressing” (incorporating) the fields of expertise of the “units from overseas” that we have lured into D-lab.

In addition, in order to understand cities, research must be conducted, and how ideas should be developed must be considered. How do cities thrive in the first place? This is also a big theme. At D-lab, we do things that other universities aren’t developing; and we hope to “dress” (incorporate) various universities’ fields of expertise. The goal isn’t design – it’s peace where cities and people are in sight.


Efforts with an Eye into D-lab’s Succession

–Aside from creating a “place,” you actually conduct projects – about how much of your projects are international  projects?

Ono: More than 90%.

–Since that’s the case, has anything changed this past year?

Ono: With D-lab running continuously for a year, the students, as well as their teachers have begun to say that they want to study overseas. It’s a wonderful effort. My everyday work is about securing spaces for stimulating D-lab’s activities, and passing down my relationships with the units from overseas that we have lured into D-lab to the younger ones. Changing the old system that is known as a “national university” is also one of D-lab’s greatest missions.

–Just by getting into contact with foreign universities is really different, isn’t it? How much can students participate?

Ono: About 10-25 students can participate in one project. There are projects that we accept applications for, and there are those where we pick students beforehand. Students can work really hard even if a project lasts for only five days.

–A year has passed. What policies do you have for D-lab’s future operations?

Miyata: At any rate, I’d like to actually create a lab center. I think lots of things will change if we have one. An open space, a place that anyone can freely enter, because it’s important that anything can start (with having such an environment). If this materializes, I think that it will become such a vigorous place that we’ll need a larger space.

Ono: I also think that creating D-lab is ideal. “Luring units from overseas” is currently advancing because there are specialist advisors, but I think that passing on this work to the younger ones is yet to happen.

Miyata: It would be great if we could regularly disseminate the things that we’ve made together, and the place where we share these things to the rest of the world.

Ono: That’s right.


KYOTO Design Lab

KYOTO Design Lab (D-lab) explores methodologies directly related to the application of design to incur social change through design. Leading designers and researchers from around the world are invited to stay in Kyoto, a prominent cultural city; and along with partners who collaborate in projects from various viewpoints, we are engaged in identifying issues and providing solutions for issues such as the revitalization of mature cities, the sustainability of emerging cities, and design for comfortable living in a rapidly-graying society.

▼Back Nomber
Part 1 of A Dialogue with Satoru Miyata: Preparation is Courage
Part 2 of A Dialogue with Satoru Miyata: “Everything Else is Trivial After my Encounter with Trees.”
Part 3 of A Dialogue with Satoru Miyata (First Half), with Two Guests from KIGI (Ryosuke Uehara and Yoshie Watanabe)
Part 3 of A Dialogue with Satoru Miyata (Second Half), with Two Guests from KIGI (Ryosuke Uehara and Yoshie Watanabe)

Satoru Miyata
Born in 1948 in Chiba Prefecture. CEO of DRAFT Inc.. Creative Director. Joined the Nippon Design Center in 1966. Received an honorable mention from the Japan Advertising Artists Club in 1969. After leaving the Nippon Design Center in 1970, established the Satoru Miyata Design Office in 1978. The company name was changed to DRAFT in 1989. Launched D-BROS in 1995, and commenced product design development and sales. Awarded the Asahi Advertising Award, the ADC Tokyo Art Directors Club Grand Prize, and the Yamana Prize of the Japan Advertising Awards. Subject of the book “Design Suru Na” (Don’t Design) by Keiichiro Fujisaki / DNP Art Communications.


About the Author

Eriko Fujitani

Born 1982 in Tokyo Japan.
Graduated from Bunka Fashion College.
In 2011, Joined Draft co,ltd.