Archive for February 2009

MUJI Invades America

Posted by Dylan Tran on February 9, 2009 2:16 PM

It’s ironic that in brand-obsessed Japan, one of the most popular brands is MUJI (short for Mujirushi Ryohin). What began in Tokyo over 25 years ago as a simple concept to create “no-brand quality products,” has now transformed into a global empire with over hundreds of stores in Asia and Europe.

Up until now, MUJI products, which include stationery, housewares, clothing, and toiletries, were only available in the U.S. through select museum stores such as the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. But in the last year, MUJI has finally invaded America, opening three retail stores in NY (SoHo, Times Square, Chelsea) with plans for many more locations nationwide.

I’m excited about this because MUJI products have long epitomized modern simplicity and functionality. MUJI pays attention to the smallest of details for the most basic of necessities. Take this aluminum card case, for example, which is elegant and minimalist in its design. The lines are sleek and clean; the materials are beautiful and lightweight. And it works amazingly well.

MUJI card case

Notice there’s no MUJI logo on the product? You won’t find it on any of their 7,000 items. That’s because the genius of MUJI is that the design is the brand. The aesthetic is so unique you won’t have trouble identifying any of their products.

MUJI has also set themselves apart by simplifying the packaging. Most items come in a plain plastic wrap to let you see what you get. There’s no printing, just the price sticker. And they’ve streamlined the manufacturing process in other ways as well, reducing waste and improving efficiency. They use earth-friendly natural and recycled materials in their products. Check out these foldable cardboard speakers, for instance.

MUJI speakers

All of these smart strategies have helped to keep MUJI’s prices low and affordable, and to garner them a devoted legion of fans worldwide. By emphasizing innovative design and high quality as the standard for their “no-brand,” they’ve managed to distinguish their products in a crowded marketplace. And that’s something we can all learn from.

Modeling – The Shape of Finance, the World and Everything

Posted by Robert Weitz on February 2, 2009 1:25 PM


Product designers/artists are very reliant on physical realities, whereas poets and mathematicians can be more abstract and ephemeral. The designer is often charged with fulfilling a specific need, like “paint that ceiling and tell a religious story” in the case of the Sistine Chapel, or “let’s try and fly” in the case of the Wright Brothers.

Typically, the artist/designer does some inquiry, prepares sketches and then executes the design, and in some cases, produces the final product. This method, probably invented in the craft guilds and later extended into the industrial revolution, relies on a carefully executed dialectic that begins with a cause, is interpreted by a creative mind and then produced often according to cultural precepts and traditions.

The resulting form, whether a religious building or an Apple iPhone, is the result of cultural narratives, artistic nuance and creative imagination.


While great theoretical strides were made by radicals like the Dadaists, Fluxists, and say, John Cage, the simple structure of need, creative imagination and production remained fairly well intact until recently.

The work of German artist Andreas Nicolas Fischer exemplifies a fairly bold departure from the typical design process. It offers a glimpse of a future where the designer/artist envisions and creates with no natural object as a cause, and where the designer/artist designs the process, not the final object.

Fischer “concerns himself with the visualization of data, which normally lies beyond human perception.” His role is to set up a generative process that relies on data sources that have their own “shape” and evolve over time.


His drawings, sculptures and installations are the result of a process he sets up so that the data generates a form. Of course the artist enters the mix as the one who sets the thing up, but the resulting forms are neither random nor planned. They are formal demonstrations of natural phenomena, and the resulting form demonstrates data points collected from nature.

I found that his forms tell stories, are emotional and in some cases, are profound. I’m sure that people more familiar with the data points he is describing, say his modeling of financial markets to a financial analyst, would be able to recount specific narratives not unlike the faithful gazing at the chapel ceiling.