Takram, a design innovation firm based in Tokyo, leads as an example of how to juggle different design disciplines and use future thinking to optimize products for the here, now and beyond. Founded in 2006 by design leader, thinker and practitioner, Kinya Tagawa, Takram is a hybrid creative technology design engineering firm that pushes the boundaries of design practices by working with progressive organizations to create transformative products and services for today. They also make plenty of room to ideate many concept-driven designs that envision and comment on what our future holds.
That's why we've partnered with Takram on a limited run series beginning next Monday centered around "pendulum thinking," a methodology readers can learn from to result in better, faster and more economical product development. Over the next couple of months, the firm will share with our readers some of their unique methodologies. Topics will range from prototyping and engaging stakeholders with the question of why a product or service is necessary to the user experience, to their thought process behind storytelling and the weight it holds in their practice, all the way to problem reframing to explore new design possibilities.
Before kicking off this series, we wanted to give our readers a chance to look into the mindset of the Takram team and learn a little more about their story. We had the pleasure of interviewing creative technologist and London studio director, Yosuke Ushigome to learn more about this unique agency.
Core77: Can you tell me a bit more about what Takram does and where the idea for the studio came from?
Ushigome: The idea for Takram was formed when our founder, Kinya Tagawa was an intern at one of the global consumer electronics companies in Japan. He joined the business hoping to work on both design and engineering aspects of product development, but when advised by the HR department that this would not be possible, or even a good idea considering they had a great design department and a great engineering department, he realized that his attitude towards the role of design didn't fit the standard industry definition of 'designer'. For six months, he tried to decide which area to focus on – design or engineering – but unable to pigeon-hole himself, he determined that perhaps he shouldn't choose at that point, instead postponing his decision to pursue a career as a design-engineering hybrid at The RCA in London. After graduating in 2001, Kinya joined Shunji Yamaka's Leading Edge Design studio, subsequently establishing Takram in 2006 to prove his transcendent vision of design, engineering and business as one.
The studio has experienced steady growth over the last 14 years, in terms of both geographical footprint and creative capabilities. Working on incredibly diverse projects utilizing a variety of design disciplines for a swathe of different industries sounds exciting from a designer's perspective; are you quite selective about the projects you take on? What would you say is the connecting thread between them?
Takram has a clear mission that guides everything we do, not only as an agency but also as individual designers, which is to discover and deploy value through design, whether that's commercial value (for clients), personal value (a learning opportunity) or social value (for the greater good of people and planet). As a guiding principle for Takram and Takram members, defining the intrinsic value that can be extracted from a project is as much a part of our design process as UI/UX design and prototyping.
OTO is a Takram designed UX device meant to transform personal health data to make insight accessible, relatable and actionable.
Are we selective? Absolutely. But this doesn't necessarily involve rejecting clients or projects because they don't fit standardized interpretations of value. Clients come to Takram with unique problems, sometimes not even a problem, but a question about "what's next?" for their business, brands, products, and/or customer experiences. By asking the 'right' questions and considering the issue from multiple different perspectives, Takram reframes problems into opportunities, some of which might not appear to be the most exciting at face value, but our over-riding mission to learn, adapt, and transform ourselves and society through design ensures that every project is approached as a valuable opportunity. By implementing our own interpretation of value alongside solving the client's problem, the benefit for Takram extends beyond any immediate return to influence our approach, process, thinking, technology, and interpretations in the future.
Takram is known for working on a number of speculative projects in the midst of your day-to-day commercial work. Why does this feel important to do and how does it help with Takram's commercial projects?
Our view is that design is inherently a speculative activity. All of our work is speculative in nature because we're exploring transformation; we're proposing something new that's never been seen or done before. If it's not going to transform (business, culture, society, the individual…), why do it?
Whether commercial or our own speculations, every project we work on is approached as a learning experience for Takram. To reveal opportunities to improve something, we need to understand the context in which we're working, which requires members to immerse themselves into a huge variety of different subject matter.
Takram's "e-Palette" concept showcases Toyota's future vision as it transitions from automaker to mobility platform
Therefore, while design might be the output through which we speculate about future and concept, research – into future scenarios and trend implications, industrial direction, new technologies, new possibilities – is the foundation of our work.
How would you summarize the ways in which Takram's design process differs from other design studios? What do you think needs to change about the design processes currently in place in order to move forward and innovate?
To transform, we cannot follow a linear path leveraging existing solutions; Takram benefits from a far more iterative process that transcends the notion of problem and solution, tangible and conceptual, thinking and making, speculative and grounded. We term this approach 'Pendulum Thinking', which represents the specific characteristics of Takram members.
Any agency that can call upon different experts to answer specific challenges during the course of a project can work like this, but our ambition is to achieve this level of interdisciplinary design, engineering, contextual thinking within the individual.
Takram members are able to swing their pendulums across multiple planes of reference; naturally curious and always questioning, they have the ability to transcend the boundaries of disciplines, which is a strength drawn from engaging multiple perspectives in the course of (speculative, commercial, individual) work.
Not only does the ability to transcend the different, interconnected pressures placed upon a new product or service (for example) lead to more robust, informed and broadly relevant concepts, but such a unique and multi-faceted thinking process also results in quicker, more efficient workflows and, ultimately a cheaper iteration / development lifecycle.
What are some recent projects Takram has worked on that really exemplify how your team is exploring the directions in which the future of design could, and perhaps should, be headed?
Three types of project exemplify Takram as a development partner for transformative business:
- Future vision
- Data visualisation
- Integrated product, service, brand design
Enabling clients to visualise "what's next?" and plotting a path to help them achieve this ambition is particularly exciting for Takram; our longstanding relationship with Toyota being a great example of how we use design to visualise new futures.
Takram has been an innovation partner for Toyota for over a decade, from prototyping concept car dashboards for Detroit Motor Show to visualising Toyota's CAM future via ePalette, which is a concept reflecting Toyota's ambition to transform from vehicle manufacturer to mobility service provider.
Everything we do is data-driven, so another focus is how data can be better utilised to inform decision-making. If data remains inaccessible to a decision-maker – whether that's a company CEO or a jogger in the park – it remains meaningless. By making data accessible for data stakeholders – understandable, relevant and action-oriented – they can, in turn, make better, more informed decisions.
RESAS is the world's largest data visualisation system for a nation's economic 'big data'
Two recent projects exemplifying Takram's attitude about the role of data visualisation being more than aesthetic representation [of data] are OTO, a transformative fitness device [for cyclists], and RESAS prototype, the world's largest visualisation system for a nation's economic Big Data, the production version now being widely used by decision-makers in Japan's local government to inform regional economic policy.
The heart of both projects is leveraging data as a tool for stakeholders to generate robust, relevant and actionable insight, whether personal health and wellness information as per our work with OTO, or governmental decisions requiring the interrogation and analysis of vast amounts of disparate data.
A great example of a project that represents Takram's multi-disciplinary design in a holistic brand, product & service ecosystem is our work with Konica Minolta's Monicia PMS monitoring platform.
Combining concept making (UI, UX, product design & engineering), branding and creative direction, Monicia helps women track their symptoms and make informed lifestyle decisions (e.g. sleep, diet, hydration, workload etc.) based upon where they are in their menstrual cycle.
What traits in a designer do you look for when hiring new talent?
Leave your ego at the door and come to us with a "can do" mentality. Design is inherently collaborative, so while we want our designers to have a strong point of view, we need them to be open, collaborative and respectful to new ways of thinking and working.
Transformation is rarely, if ever successful when being driven from one perspective or by one consideration (e.g. UI or UX or functionality or messaging), instead requiring multiple-perspectives and multiple-inputs to ensure a product or experience is relevant and viable.
Designers don't come to Takram as a fully formed multi-disciplinary designer, but constantly working across different challenges, industries, disciplines, departments is an active learning experience that transforms both the individual and Takram as a collective of interdisciplinary design experts.
And be nice. Be supportive of members, take constructive criticism willingly and respectfully (which goes back to "no egos"), and take responsibility. Own your decisions, celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes.
How do you think the role of the designer has evolved in recent years? What are some of the most important skills designers need to possess as design advances into a new age?
The subject of design is becoming increasingly complex, but the nature of design remains the same, which is about creating solutions for people.
Whether a digital experience or a new building, the context within which the design and its users will operate is fundamental to any design project. If a design is contextually out of place, it's irrelevant.
Regardless of design discipline, designers per se need to embrace a more holistic approach in their work that integrates broader considerations beyond an end-user to encompass social, cultural and environmental aspects of the product, service or experience.