Ask an Expert | Yosei Ikeda
Design Competition Winner
Award winning product designer, Yosei Ikeda, provides some insight into how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting his business and his expectations for the design industry as a whole. Ikeda has an uncanny ability to make ideas come to life, but we wanted to know if that process is being hindered by recent shutdowns or if this experience is changing the way he looks at product design altogether. So let’s dive in get to know Yosei Ikeda and how designers are reacting to the current pandemic crisis.
Doug Mockett: How has the recent Coronavirus pandemic affected your work load and what adjustments, if any, have you had to make to your daily routine?
Yosei Ikeda: First, a little background: about a year ago I transitioned away from doing independent product development work because the constant stress of finding clients and ensuring bills could get paid was untenable for me at that time. That stress completely stifled my creativity and any joy that I got from solving problems and creating new things.
Fast forward to today, I feel rather guilty for the experience this pandemic is creating in my life. In a way it has enabled me to thrive and live my ideal life. I have the enormous privilege of being employed by a wonderful, caring company who is continuing to pay its employees despite closing its doors due to being “nonessential.” This has allowed me to completely indulge in my creativity without having the distractions of finding client work and paying the bills. This unique opportunity has allowed me to get back in touch with my passion for design and creation, completely untarnished by the stresses of life.
I have learned that I am most productive between 9:30am and 1pm, and that having periods of quiet time to simply think and be inside my own head is incredibly important for finding solutions to problems I’ve gotten stuck on, or to dream up new ideas. By carving out time each day for both of these practices, I’ve seen an unprecedented jump in raw output. These lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to discover them.
DM: How have the various businesses that you create designs for been affected? Is production slowing down?
YI: Interestingly, despite having largely “closed up shop” to my independent product dev work, two of my major past clients have reached out to connect, human to human. Both clients have been making incredible progress on their projects in the last couple of months. While I only have a small sample size, it seems as though people are accepting the situation and pushing very hard to make progress in spite of the interruptions being caused by COVID-19. That being said, I know many companies are experiencing major disruptions and will feel the effects for a long time, and some may not be able to survive. Resilience and supportiveness has been my dominant impression through the pandemic, which is really uplifting, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge the harm COVID-19 is causing as well.
DM: What long-term implications do you see COVID-19 having on the design industry as a whole? Will industrial design return to ‘normal’ or do you see it taking a different direction?
YI: While it’s impossible to predict the outcome of this disruption, I have some hopes for how this may affect the design industry, and work culture as a whole. First, based on my own experience, I hope that the interruption to the daily grind in many peoples’ lives will result in a flourishing of creativity and productivity. I think there are some unhealthy habits and assumptions baked into the American work culture. For example, it is generally accepted that if a person is suffering or working extremely hard, it means they are being productive. I don’t believe that this is true, and think that suffering is in fact a major distraction to being truly productive and creative. I hope some people will get in touch with what makes them thrive, and carry that forward into the future.
Second, I hope that once the immediate crisis subsides, some more care and attention will be paid to how we use our planet’s resources. I fear that, in a round-about way, the pandemic came about in part due to humanity’s own actions. While I expect there to be an enormous push to make things feel “normal” again, I hope that some people will begin to make changes to how resources are used and how business is done. I hope designers and companies will begin to consider things like what materials go into their products, the longevity and repairability of those products, and not only the profit they can make from them.
DM: How has technology impacted your design process?
YI: Modern technologies such as CAD software, rapid prototyping machines, and online hiring services have enabled unbelievable levels of individual productivity, myself included. Anyone can effectively run a fully-equipped design house out of a studio apartment as an individual. Considering the not-so-distant past, this is so amazing. The technologies constantly becoming more available to people, coupled with human creativity and ingenuity will lead to major shifts in how people live their lives. Such exciting times we live in!
DM: What is one thing you wish you could change about the way we approach design? What is important to you that you feel others may overlook?
YI: I mentioned this in a previous question, but in my mind the complex web of design, business, and economy cannot be improved quickly enough. The principles that our economy is based on leads many companies to focus solely on growth, which leads to the creation of unnecessary products, planned obsolescence, and unchecked resource use. I hope that someday our social norms and economic models will allow for a more prolific existence of long-lasting, beautiful, and helpful products that can be repaired, repurposed, or recycled easily. I hope that designers and businesses will place a priority on using our limited resources responsibly, rather than solely focusing on growth and profit. Sadly, I am far too uninformed about economics and sociology to have any sense about how to enable those shifts, but as a designer, I will always strive to focus on the long-term impact of my ideas. I believe that designers can be far more creative when certain restrictions are put in place, and things like choices in materials or the robustness of a product are prime examples of helpful restrictions. Design and business will never stop as long as humans exist, so I hope our methods can evolve to protect our beautiful planet while still enabling people to live happy, fulfilling, and comfortable lives.
DM: After winning Mockett’s Annual Design Competition, what’s your next project going to be?
YI: At any given time, I have four to five ideas rattling around in my head. I plan to nurture those ideas and see where they take me! Not all of the ideas are physical products, and right now I’m experimenting with playing nature sounds in my home at all hours of the day. With so many people stuck inside on account of the pandemic, I’m hoping that hearing birds or crickets, and a babbling brook will help people find a little bit of peace and calm in an otherwise stressful time.
Find more of Yosei Ikeda’s projects at https://www.designikeda.com