Kazuo Kawasaki photo

Kazuo Kawasaki

Professor, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Design
and Architecture
Nagoya City University
Nagoya, Japan

 


Kazuo Kawasaki, who has earned international acclaim for his award-winning industrial designs, is constantly seeking new ways to use his diverse knowledge and experience in the service of society. The recently established School of Design and Architecture at Nagoya City University provides the base for his explorations in the use of computers in design, robotics, new production techniques, and the needs of an aging population in Japan.

"The designer must be a witness to the end of industrialism by placing one's self on the cutting edge of times, foreseeing the future."
- Kazuo Kawasaki

The program at Nagoya City University began in 1996, with an orientation to "harmonize and fuse art and engineering" [to address] health, urban environment, and landscape. It has a unique entrance examination system, half of the students are women, and there is a completely new type of curriculum." The opportunity to become a professor came at the time when he was ready to make a career change to address his concerns about design in society. The university gave him an opportunity to plan the interdisciplinary curriculum as well as work closely with the medical school. Kazuo, who earned his Ph.D. in medical science at Nagoya City University, has been working on the design of artificial organs.

Kazuo is very expressive about the role of the designer: "the designer must be a witness to the end of industrialism by placing one's self on the cutting edge of times, foreseeing the future." He is equally committed to high levels of educational effectiveness in institutions, corporations, and lifelong educational circles, and evangelizes his firm beliefs in his frequent writings and presentations.

In a 1997 interview for Axis, a Japanese design magazine, Kazuo discussed his ideas for the future. "I'm thinking of a new method for molding model manufacture. Molding models are crucial to an industrialized society. Even with the advance of computerization the manufacture of metallic molds, on which production is based, is dependent on the technique of skilled artisans. There is certain to be a shortage of them in ten years. Preparing for this eventuality, I'd like to do research into 3D-CAD/CAM to see if it's possible to construct an expert system for the manufacture of molding models." He is also articulate about materials, and says about plastic, "There has never been a better material that suits the demanding needs of configuration in design...I have cherished this material and have struggled with it to achieve the most out of its nature in creating various forms." He also proposes a radical new robotics design to fill the need for many new caregivers as Japan's population ages. He believes a robotic caregiver could be programmed to be "sensitive, caring and responsive" to users' needs.

Kazuo Kawasaki was born in 1949 in Fukui City, Japan. Throughout his teenage years he wanted to be a novelist like Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata. As an undergraduate at Kanazawa College of Art he was devoted to athletic training and absorbed by sports such as rock climbing and skiing. He also focused on his studies and graduated with a degree in industrial design.

His first job after the university was in the audio products division of the Toshiba Company. Kazuo thought that the company was an expression of the history and tradition of Japan, while also leading the way toward the transformation of Japan as a society. At Toshiba, he garnered crucial experience in production, sales, service, and business systems.

In 1977, when he was twenty-eight years old, Kazuo was injured in an automobile accident that resulted in his paraplegia. Writing about the rehabilitation process he went through, Kazuo has said, rather dramatically, "Just when I thought I had been abandoned, even by Yama, the king of hell, I was transformed." Since the accident Kazuo has used a wheelchair. In fact, one of his favorite designs is the titanium wheelchair he later created for himself. "I realized that by designing a wheelchair that closely met my own physical needs I could create a functional design that other people with similar needs might use."

By 1979, Kazuo already had become a free-lance designer. He founded his own company, Kazuo Kawasaki Product Designs, Inc., and oversaw both product design and business strategy. The company created a variety of industrial design products. This company, and two later enterprises, Ex-Design and Ouzak, Inc., introduced products for which Kazuo is famous around the world. His first major success was the Takefu Knife Village, a traditional craft production center. Later, again working with titanium, he designed frames for eyeglasses in which the earpiece and nose bridges can be mixed and matched by the consumer. During that time, Kazuo also worked as a consultant to former Apple CEO John Sculley, and helped in the design of notebook computers, including the "Jeep" for elementary school children and the "Sweet-pea" for multimedia family use.

Kazuo's academic career began in 1982, when he became a part-time lecturer in the industrial design department at the Kanazawa College of Art. In 1989, he switched to Fukui National University, a public institution, because he felt an obligation to share his insights and experiences with young designers who represent the future of the field and the future of Japan.

Photograph of a computer monitor.
Kazuo's recent design of a rotating flat screen computer monitor is an elegant and practical office tool.

Description of Photograph:
This photograph demonstrates the variety of positions possible in the monitor designed by Kazuo. Several somewhat translucent images of the monitor screen are super imposed in layers in over the original image. Each layer shows the screen at a different angle of rotation.

His design work has been commercially successful and is in the permanent collections of museums and design centers around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the International Design Centers of Stuttgart and Nagoya, the Seoul Design Center, and the Architectural Museum of Ljubliana. These products include the titanium wheelchair named Carna, "the female guardian deity of a life," and Hola, a clock named after a goddess of time.

He has won many international awards for his work. For Takefu Knives, he won the Silver Prize of Design from the Japan Design Committee in 1983; for Carna, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Designers (ICSID) Prize for Excellence in 1992 and the International Design Award of the State of Baden in Germany in 1993; and for the eyeglass anti-tension frame, the Grand Prix & Millennium Prize of SILMO in France in 2000. His design office is in the new International Design Center Nagoya. An interactive multimedia exhibit there showcases the work of leading Japanese designers and includes many examples of Kazuo's work.

Although he is angry with some design organizations for their thoughtlessness and the lack of access at conferences, he notes that challenging those situations gives him more energy. Although he does not participate in advocacy groups and doesn't think they are helpful, he is interested in being a mentor.

Kazuo lives with his wife, an environmental product designer, in Nagoya. Students gather regularly at his house for dinner and relaxation. He is a model train hobbyist and enjoys the company of two Shiba dogs. "Once I discover an interest in something, I collect it with passion: I love my dogs!"

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