Mediating between beauty and necessity

Sketches for the washing machine Aqualtis.
Sketches for the washing machine Aqualtis.

Japanese by birth, Italian by adoption, Makio Hasuike is the ideal partner for talking about the state of the art in the sector of household appliance design. How has it changed over the years? And how much and in what way is it going to modify in the future?

He had planned to remain in Italy just a couple of years, to know from close up a world and a culture that had fascinated him when he still was a young student of Architecture in Tokyo. Today, almost fifty years after his first arrival in our Country, Makio Hasuike can consider himself Japanese by birth but Italian, or even better “Milanese”, by adoption, considering that since then he has no more left the city of Milan where he started his career as industrial designer.
“Milan in the Sixties – starts narrating Makio, sitting at the desk of his Studio in Porta Romana area- with its lifestyle, its lively fabric of entrepreneurs and intellectuals, allowed me to discover a relationship between designer and industry that greatly differs from the Japanese collectivist model. A relationship based on the critical dialogue and not on the cancellation of the individuality of the designer who, on the contrary, in Japan had to prove the absolute appurtenance to the company where he worked “.
And it was just this difference that convinced Makio to remain here at us and to put himself to the test as professional man, after only five years of “Italian” experience and a collaboration with the Studio by Rodolfo Bonetto, one of the forerunners of the Italian product design.
Therefore in 1968, after winning a competition and being chosen as external designer of Ariston, the Marche company that today has become Indesit Company, Makio Hasuike decided to set up his own design studio.
“What fascinated me in Italy was the fact that a real design school did not exist: this offered greater freedom of expression to the individual, outside the thought standardization imposed by the various currents and schools. Design studios were almost all external and independent from the business production world, generated by the creative spirit of the single person. On the other hand, there was anyway also a small group of courageous entrepreneurs who appreciated and developed these personages’ work”.

Aqualtis, by Makio Hasuike for Hotpoint Ariston.

With what point of view did you approach the world of the Italian industrial design?

I studied in a period in which the influence of the German rationalist school was very strong and, according to its philosophy, design is at the service of society and companies represent an instrument to offer a democratic product to consumers. Therefore, my education at that time suggested me that the designer was entrusted with the task of carrying out a silent revolution inside houses, realizing something significant to improve the domestic life.
When I arrived in Italy, on the contrary, I was surrounded by a totally different context, permeated by the concepts of beauty and charm, where the designer was pursuing something that might last forever and become an icon, or, why not, an archetype. At that time, design, in your Country, was something for few people, an expression of the thought, free from any obligation or social function. Just this aspect was very precious for me: such an elitist approach allowed me to cultivate the individualist part of my thought and to discover, in a certain sense, which was my nature. The Italian concept let me understand that the design is not only social function but also continuous research of new values and new ideas. Exemplary, from this point of view, my collaboration with Vittorio Merloni from Ariston, enlivened by moments of great experimentation, certainly more elitist, such as the Unibloc kitchen in 1968 and the OSA system in 1978, and moments of great commercial success with consumer products, such as the washing machine Margherita in 1985 and other “anonymous” objects like water heaters, hobs and refrigerators.

Studies for a hob by Scholtés.

Since then until now, in Italy, what has changed?

I think that today the designer is a mediator between beauty and necessity, with the final target of improving large market products, also and especially through a research that proposes an individual vision of innovation, guided anyway by the attention to companies’ productive needs.

Going back to the household appliance world, what has changed in the industry of this sector from the years of the boom until now?
Enterprises have physically changed, if one can say so. Today they have an international scope, they do not serve only Italy anymore but they export their products towards other markets and for this reason they have assumed ever-increasing sizes, widening their production lines to enlarge their offer. Also the mission has changed: today it is essential to meet consumers’ requests in real time, at that time there was essentially the will of doing something new that would leave the sign. At that age the productive world was still conditioned by the elitist vision of the ItaIian design: also in the household appliance sector we tried to conceive a product with a soul, an aesthetic appeal, an emotional impact. This was the priority goal. Today this emotion must come to terms with the rationality dictated by the laws of a global market where technology cannot be elitist any more but within everybody’s reach.

Margherita, designed in 1985 for Ariston.

Has the way of designing changed, too?

The instruments at the designer’s disposal have certainly changed. In the past we worked with paper and pencil, we studied on sketches designed by hand and the only external aid was that gadget that you can see over there (he indicates, laughing, an old universal drafting machine that still makes a fine display in the studio; editor’s note). Today the computer allows realizing product renderings that approach in realistic way the final idea of the object. To rely immediately on the simulation of the result takes away the magic of imagination, in some way, but it also shortens times very much. The rendering use has undoubtedly amplified the attention to the slightest detail and allows anticipating its shape from any possible angle. We can say that in this way, during the design process, the prototype undergoes continuous variations in almost real time. The disadvantage? If before, with the manual design, three sketches were sufficient to get the idea, today, through the rendering, we succeed in proposing even one hundred variants for a single project and also decisional times are extended in some way. I almost might say that, by contradiction, the speed given by instruments interferes with the creative fastness…

What are the challenges of a designer who designs household appliances?
Today the designer must constantly deal with productive processes. Aware of these constraints, he can neither overload the product nor leave it bare and raw. Hence the importance of mediating his own creative individualism with the company’s requirements and the market’s demands. To design household appliances means in part to give up our individualism and to learn working in team with the company’s men, dialoguing with the management. Concerning this, we must be able to acquire a common vision. But most of all we must have the sense of the time to be in tune with the market.

What role has the household appliance gained in daily life today and what spaces has it conquered?
Today, as in the past, the household appliance remains a tool that aids in our daily life. Something has changed in its “occupation” of the domestic environment. While at the beginning these appliances were fundamentally conceived as free standing, today they are mainly built in. Living spaces, in fact, are increasingly reduced and there is the need of furnishing them in compact way. At the same time much more attention is paid to the aesthetical appeal of the product. Maybe because, just owing to the reduction of spaces, lots of appliances in the past relegated to the service areas of the house today are “on show” directly in the most lived and visited rooms, such as the kitchen or the living.

What is mainly taken into account in the design of a household appliance?
Safety and its energy efficiency.

Let’s take a leap into the future. How do you imagine the household appliance in 2050?
Considering the domotics development, I imagine an appliance with low environmental impact able to dialogue in integrated way with the other household appliances of the house, becoming part of a smart system programmed for a correct management of the domestic environment. I think that the future goes towards the creation of a digital format standard oriented just to the dialogue of household appliances, irrespective of the appurtenance brand.

Drawings for a oven produced by Ariston.

Household appliance and entertainment. Concerning this, what will the direction be?

Entertainment can contribute in giving an innovative boost to the sector and I think that some household appliances are more suitable than others for this integration. Let’s take the refrigerator as example: there are some models that have been already equipped with TV, Internet and a real computer that can dialogue with the user to remind him the expiry date of alimentary products, to signal anomalies in temperature or preservation. The refrigerator might become a sort of baby-sitter for children that come back from school and want to have a snack or must make shift to prepare the lunch. Then there are hoods, they do provide various interesting ideas, thanks to applications such as blue tooth. What I can say, though, is that we must be careful of the excess of functions and applications not to disorient the user and not to deter the appliance from its primary function.

What was the project that has given you greater satisfaction?
Certainly the design O.S.A., which stands for Open System Ariston and dates back to 1978. Drawing inspiration from the built-in world, I conceived a modular system of household appliances for the kitchen that, even if they were free standing, were devised with a new layout, no more linear along the room walls but semicircle-shaped. The target was to revolutionize the way of interpreting the space of free standing appliances. With a single sinuous shape we gave life to a real working console. The idea had a great resonance and won a series of prestigious awards, such as the Gold Compass, nevertheless from the commercial point of view it was not a success because the right distribution channel lacked and the market was not ready, yet. Despite all that, OSA was a great satisfaction for me and for Indesit Company, through which to launch for the first time a precise message: also the free standing world, like the built-in one, could propose something integrated and coordinated, with a strong aesthetical appeal.

Margherita and Aqualtis. Can you tell us something about these two washing machines to which you have linked your name?
Margherita was born in 1985. This design was based on a very clear concept: to offer an innovative product without necessarily having to change productive lines. I worked at the porthole, eliminating the traditional visible hinge, and on the front side of the appliance, conceiving it completely white. Today white is not only acquired but it is almost given for granted in the household appliance world and on the contrary in recent years we are playing on colour a lot. In the first Eighties, however, household appliances were still “marked” by steel or black details that hampered aesthetics, for this reason with Margherita I transmitted the concept of novelty working on apparently insignificant details that have afterwards characterized the way of conceiving the washing machine.
Aqualtis, in its turn, comes about twenty years after Margherita, with a very different concept because different was also the role played by the washing machine. I had to work especially on the optimization of spaces and on ergonomics, two very important aspects in the final consumer’s choice today.

What does the designer take into account while designing a household appliance?
When you conceive a product that will be part of our daily life you must be careful not to upset too much the consumer’s habits. It is the main rule. The designer cannot disrupt the daily routine but on the contrary he must communicate a sense of continuity, transferring anyway all the added value of innovation into the product. The success of a product resides just in the ability of communicating this added value.

Who is the designer of the third millennium?
A figure that stands in the middle in the dialogue between company and user.

Born in Tokyo in 1938, he graduates in Industrial Design at the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1962. He starts his professional experience in Japan as designer at Seiko, implementing the designs of a series of watches and timers for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Since 1963 he has been residing in Italy where he prosecutes his activity in different design sectors. In 1968 he establishes his studio in Milan. In 1982 he undertakes an experimental project designing and launching on the market various innovative products, in the specific case new types of briefcases: so he creates MH Way. The wide-ranging design activity puts him directly in contact with aspects concerning production and distribution. The company, still operating today, is one of the rare examples of successful design company. His designs have won prestigious prizes and awards and are on show in permanent exhibitions in several museums in the world.