Japanese Design Archive Survey
University, Museum & Organization
JIDA Design Museum
Interview01：14 July 2017, 17:30 - 19:00
Interview02：28 September 2017, 14:00 - 15:30
The JIDA Design Museum is run by the Japan Industrial Designer's Association (JIDA)* and houses approximately 1,300 historically valuable industrial design products. The main facility is the "JIDA Design Museum No.1 in Shinshu-Shinmachi", which opened in April 1997. There are three exhibition spaces in total: the gallery "JIDA Design Museum in AXIS", which is attached to the JIDA Secretariat in Tokyo and the permanent exhibition space "JIDA Design Museum in Kansai", which opened in the Osaka Design Center in 2012. The museum is managed by designers who are members of JIDA, collecting industrial products of historical value and related materials, and exhibiting their collections.
It's not just products from the past they are collecting. The "JIDA Design Museum Selection" has been held every year since 1999 to select, record and preserve high quality design products that are currently on the market. This project has further enriched the museum's collection. In this interview, we talked to Mr. Shiro Ina and Mr. Shigeru Onawa, who are the key persons supporting the management of this project, about "JIDA Design Museum No.1 in Shinshu-Shinmachi" which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
*The Japan Industrial Designer's Association (JIDA) was established in 1952 and is the only professional association for industrial design in Japan.
Date: 14 July 2017 17:30 - 19:00
Location: Japan Industrial Designer's Association (JIDA)
Interviewees: Shiro Ina (Industrial Designer, JIDA Design Museum Committee)
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki and Akiko Wakui
Author: Akiko Wakui
Ideally, we would like to take one of the most representative objects of the period and to create an exhibition that brings together the period and the space.
Background to the Design Museum
― I heard that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the JIDA Design Museum No.1 in Muse Kura in Shinshu-Shinmachi, Nagano. How did you come to establish the Design Museum in the first place?
Ina As you know, many industrial products are disposed of over the years. If left unchecked, good design cannot be passed on to the next generation. Concerned about this situation, a group of JIDA members formed the "Design Museum Concept Committee" in 1993. At that time, it started as an activity of the East Japan block of JIDA, but the following year it was upgraded to a center committee, which is an activity of the whole JIDA, and the name was changed to "Design Museum Committee".
The first thing we did was to collect things. The idea was to ask not only JIDA members but also people outside the company to donate actual design products that were worthy of being in the permanent collection and to preserve them in the stockyard.
In addition, since 1999, we have conducted an annual project called "JIDA Design Museum Selection" to select excellent products from among those recommended by JIDA members and the general public, and we have asked companies to donate selected products to enrich our collection. As well as collecting, we also organise exhibitions of selected products, and occasionally lend them to museums.
― In 1997, the first Design Museum was opened in Shinshu-Shinmachi, Nagano, why did you decide to locate it there?
Ina At the beginning of the Design Museum Committee's activities, the first priority was to find a space to store the collection, so we were busy looking for a cheap stockyard to rent. At that time, I received information from a JIDA member that an abandoned primary and junior high school building in Shinshu-Shinmachi, Nagano Prefecture might be suitable for a stockyard. In 1996, we decided to rent a building that used to be a branch office of the Legal Department, after having been shown around by the town office to various places such as abandoned schools and warehouses. The current stockyard has been relocated to a disused primary school and occupies two classrooms. Thus, from the time we were looking for a stockyard, we had a close relationship with Shinshu-Shinmachi.
― Muse Kura, where the museum is housed, is a former sake brewery that has been renovated.
Ina Yes, there was a project to renovate a disused old sake brewery and reuse it as an annex to the Art Museum of Shinshu Shinmachi, with a subsidy from Nagano Prefecture. So I was asked to create a design museum in it. We decided to turn the first floor into an annex of the Art Museum of Shinshu Shinmachi and the second floor into the JIDA Design Museum.
Two years earlier, we had the opportunity to hold a special exhibition at the Art Museum of Shinshu Shinmachi. It was very well received and gave us the opportunity to understand JIDA's activities and to create fans and supporters. It is because of these memories that we have decided to hold our 20th anniversary exhibition in two venues: the Muse Kura and the Art Museum of Shinshu Shinmachi.
JIDA Design Museum Selection Project
― What are the selection criteria for the JIDA Design Museum Selection that you mentioned earlier?
Ina The five criteria for selection are: high level of design, innovation in concept, ability to propose new technologies, environmental friendliness and new styling proposals. Each time we produce a catalogue of the selection, we include a matrix of criteria on the product introduction page, so that you can see at a glance which criteria have been assessed.
― What is different about the GOOD DESIGN AWARD?
Ina The GOOD DESIGN AWARD is chosen from among the entries brought in by the companies, whereas in our case the designers themselves search for what they think is an excellent design. The main difference is that our purpose is to preserve the physical object.
― In the case of industrial products, the design includes the operation and the interface. What is your selection process for this?
Ina That's the most difficult part. For a product in motion we need to see the actual product, not just a photograph, so we ask the person making the selection to visit the shop and see the product in action. In fact, the selection is based on "currently available products" because we can see them in person. However, like a car, we can't evaluate whether it performs well when driven, so we put more weight on the shape of the design. The selection is made by designers who are experts in industrial design, so they can tell to some extent whether a design is merely form-focused or whether it has been designed with functionality in mind.
― Will all the products selected for the selection be donated?
Ina Some items may not be donated. That is why we keep a catalogue of all the products selected that year, with photographs, the designer's intentions, the reasons for the selection and whether they have been donated or not, so that we can keep a record of them. In other words, this catalogue is an archive in itself.
Difficulties in exhibiting industrial design
― Does the museum in Shinshu-Shinmachi hold regular special exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection?
Ina Special exhibitions are held once or twice a year. The exhibition we hold every year is an introduction to the products selected for the JIDA Design Museum Selection, and sometimes we hold another exhibition in between. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Design Museum No.1, so we are organising a commemorative exhibition entitled "Beautiful and Affluent Living and Design in the '90s vs. the '10s and Beyond", which looks at the changes in everyday life in the 1990s and 20 years later in the 2010s from a design perspective.
― I once asked Mr. Motomi Kawakami about the way industrial design is exhibited. At that time, he told me that industrial design is a very difficult genre, because it is not only about putting things as they are, but also about linking them to the times and the designer's life.
Ina That's right. I think that if you create a space where you can feel the atmosphere of the time period when you exhibit an object, the general public will accept that this style was adopted because it was the time period. I think that's what the museum should be, but unfortunately we haven't got that far. Ideally, we would like to take a single object that is representative of the period and present it in a way that brings the period and the space together.
Management of the stockyard
― Every year you have a collection of products that have been selected for the selection, so over the last 20 years you have a huge amount of products. How do you organise your stockyard?
Ina It's in a bad state, but at least it's divided into categories. We also try to keep as many secondary documents as possible, such as catalogues and specifications, as well as the actual products. For example, when we receive a donation of a physical object, we always try to keep a panel with the concept and the designer's ideas as a secondary document. This way, the next time we display the product, we can use what is written on the panel. But it's not easy to organise that.
― It costs a lot of money to organize them. Do the people in the Design Museum Committee do that?
Ina Yes, we do. As the place is far away, the transport costs are covered by the committee. However, the budget for the committee is not enough to cover the JIDA membership fee, so we set up a group called "JIDA Design Museum Support Group" to collect support money and cover the management costs.
― It must be a lot of work, but the opportunity to be exposed to a huge amount of material is invaluable. For example, is it possible to work with educational institutions and ask students studying industrial design to help?
Ina I tried it once but gave up. University students nowadays are very busy with classes and part-time jobs. However, some students are very enthusiastic. I sometimes act as a guide for the exhibition, and the other day I guided a university student who had come all the way from Hokuriku. And I not only explain the design to them, but I also let them actually hold the product in their hands and feel the difference in weight between the old product and the new one. Industrial design is a product that combines function, ease of use and beauty of form. They can understand a great deal by just moving a little, which they could not understand by just looking. I think it's important to tell them that.
The challenge is to find successors and an ever-increasing number of goods.
― Isn't it important to train successors in order to keep the museum running for a long time?。
Ina That's exactly what I think, that everything is a person. I think there are people who will do it if it is accompanied by a minimum amount of remuneration, but I think it is very difficult to do it unless there is someone who really likes design and is willing to make it a hobby. To put it another way, I think it might be necessary to create an environment that is easy to manage, no matter who takes over. For example, we will create a data base of what collections we have and where we store them. At the very least, if we can do that, then when we want to do an exhibition on a certain theme, we can put in a keyword and it will come up with something relevant. That way, we can do some things.
― Have you already been converted into data?
Ina For the moment, we have a minimum of information in data form.
― That's great. Apart from the succession issue, what other challenges do you see for the future?
Ina Another challenge is what to do with the ever-increasing number of objects. Every year we receive about 40 items from the selection, so the number of things we have is increasing. I think we have to change the direction of the project, not to accept everything, but to keep only a few of the selected items as permanent. For example, since 2014, we have created a Gold Selection Award for the best products in the selection, so only these products should be donated.
― Is there still room in the current stockyard?
Ina We can't afford it anymore. It's just a matter of changing places. There is also talk of being able to rent a sake brewery in the same Shinshu-Shinmachi area at a reasonable price, and once we move there and have a bigger space, we will start collecting more and more. The more we collect, the more we have to pay to manage it, so there is the question of whether one association can really sustain it.
― So you need more selections.
Ina Thanks to everyone's support, the JIDA Design Museum Selection catalogue has now reached its 18th issue. We are just about to start our 19th issue, and the year after next will be our 20th, so it will be a milestone. I think we have to use that as an opportunity to think about what's next.
― I know it's a lot of work, but the most important thing is to keep going, and I hope you will continue to do so. Thank you very much for your time today.
Date: 28 September 2017, 14:00 - 15:30
Location: Japan Industrial Designer's Association (JIDA)
Interviewees: Shigeru Onawa (Representative of Design Office G1, JIDA Design Museum Committee Museum Management Section Research and Record Team Leader) * As of September 2017.
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki and Akiko Wakui
Author: Akiko Wakui
We are reviewing our collection on a higher level: chronological, topical, epochal and aesthetic.
Start with the collection of physical items at risk of disposal.
― Last time we interviewed Mr. Shiro Ina about the activities of the Design Museum Committee, and now we would like to ask Mr. Onawa, who is in charge of the archive, to talk to us again.
Onawa I was not yet involved in the museum activities at that time, so I would like to introduce an episode that I heard from Mr. Wataru Nagasaka, one of the founders of the JIDA museum activities, who has served as a director and secretary general. In 1992, when JIDA held a large exhibition as part of its 40th anniversary project, we borrowed things from companies and individuals for the exhibition, but when the exhibition was over and we had to return them, he was very reluctant to do so. This is because companies often dispose of products after a certain period of time because they don't want to capitalise them. Also, we don't know what will happen to the individual. So he was conflicted about whether he should return it, but if he did, it might be the end. Because of this, we thought that JIDA should take the lead in preserving the work that we designers have done. So we started with an activity to collect things.
― I think that design is not only about the finished product, but also about the process and the thinking behind it, is that what is left behind?
Onawa We have a project called JIDA Design Museum Selection, which selects the best design products on the market today, and each time we hold an exhibition in AXIS Gallery to introduce the selected products. We also organise a design forum with the designers of the products that have been highly commended in the selection. Last year we started to record and preserve the content of these meetings, as they provide valuable insights into the development of design. We also keep the panels that explain the products used in the exhibition. Some companies make panels that explain the process from the sketch of the idea to the rendering to the finished product, so we also keep the panels that explain the design process that you mentioned.
We also ask the companies that participate in the selection to fill in various forms, such as the name of the designer and information about the product, which we then file away to create a considerable archive.
― Apart from the selection, do you also collect donations from collectors?
Onawa Not so long ago we used to get it unconditionally, but now the stockyard is full. This was a bottleneck and needed to be sorted out. The collection has been reviewed in the light of the history of industrial design to ensure that it reflects the times, is topical and epochal, and is aesthetically pleasing.
― How much more space do you have in the stockyard?
Onawa This has given us some leeway, but even so, the number is steadily increasing every year and I think it will be full in another four or five years. The current collection and future donations have to be more carefully examined and selected. It is very difficult to dispose of them now because they cost hundreds of thousands of yen. At the same time, we need to work out how to store our things, but we have to do it on weekends while we work, so it's not easy.
― There are some companies that show their products and technologies as a company history museum, but I can't find any company that has a collection of products and documents as an archive of industrial design.
Onawa There are companies that have pages on their internet sites where they introduce their products from a design angle, but I don't think there are any facilities that actually display the design process. I think it's a case of companies saying that they can't give special treatment to a design because they don't make money from it. However, I have heard that many companies are very supportive when a museum organises an exhibition with a focus on design.
A selection focused on product design
― In recent years, the GOOD DESIGN AWARD has been given not only to product design but also to a wide range of genres such as mechanisms and entertainment activities. Isn't there any plan to hold an award purely for product design at JIDA?
Onawa It is not called an award, but about four years ago we created a Gold Selection Award within the JIDA Museum Selection. We don't have a set number of Gold Selections to award, but so far we have had around 40 to 50 products selected, of which 4 to 5 have been awarded Gold Selections. This award could be considered a real JIDA award.
― This one looks more like the German Red Dot Design Award than the GOOD DESIGN AWARD.
Onawa I think so. Last year, the head of Canon's Design Center said that he was relieved to see such an exhibition that showed the focus on design, as he had been promoting a purely product approach to design.
― Are there any facilities like the JIDA Design Museum abroad?
Onawa From the very beginning, we were determined to be the only museum run by designers, and when the president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) congratulated us on the occasion of the grand opening of our first building (July 1997), he said that we were the first museum in the world run by designers. But I don't actually know.
Although we have published a catalogue and distributed it free of charge to museums, design institutions and design universities in Japan and abroad, we are not aware of the situation in other countries, especially in smaller museums. So there may be similar facilities that say they are run by designers, or there may be none at all.
Operation of the Design Museum
― How many exhibitions does the museum in Shinshu-Shinmachi organise each year? How many exhibits are there?
Onawa Two or three times a year. There are about 50 pieces on display. In addition to the permanent collection, there is an annual selection of exhibitions. The permanent exhibition is not always the same, so when we change the content, we sometimes treat it as if it were a special exhibition. For example, if the exhibition has been about the 50's, the next one could be about the 60's, or a representative selection from the 50's to the 2000's. For our permanent exhibitions we only display objects from our collection, but for special exhibitions we sometimes borrow objects from companies and individuals.
― Industrial design is not something to be admired in isolation like art, but as a tool in our living environment, it is difficult to display.
Onawa It's very difficult to know how to show something that everyone knows. The year after next will be the 20th anniversary of the selection project and we are planning to hold a commemorative exhibition, but Kazuo Tanaka, the chairman of the board of directors, was concerned that "if we simply put old things on display, people will just think that they used to use these things in the past and they won't be able to see the design". That's why we're trying to find ways of lighting and making the panels so that the shapes we've assessed can be seen properly.
― Is there a permanent staff member at the museum?
Onawa No one is permanently stationed here. The museum is on the first floor and the first floor houses the gallery and café of the Art Museum of Shinshu Shinmachi, which is run by the city of Nagano, so we have asked the shopkeeper to lock the second floor. So we've been able to manage this by sharing the services of the Art Museum of Shinshu Shinmachi.
― The museum is also a medium to inform the public through exhibitions, but are you involved in any activities to promote interest and awareness of design?
Onawa I think there are more activities that result in awareness raising through design education rather than direct promotion. In addition to holding various workshops, we hold an annual event for university students in Nagano called the JIDA Museum Festival. There, we support them in a dialogue, discussing design and practical matters such as portfolios to take to manufacturers.
― Twenty years have passed since the creation of the Design Museum. I could see how the collection, exhibition, selection and design education of products has evolved over the years. Thank you very much for your time today.
JIDA Design Museum http://jida-museum.jp