Active Connector (AC). How was it like to create a standard for the revolutionized product as mobile phone?
Mr.Usuki. At that time, nobody thought about what the life would be like if people started to carry their phones around outside office or home. As we were designing the standard and creating the concept of ‘Mobile Phone’, we had to imagine what kind of action people would take. For example, we thought people wanted to use the phone quietly so that they would not disturb others, which this idea turned into the function of ‘manner mode’. This experience shaped my view on design.
AC. After seven years of being involved in the phone design team, you changed your promising career to launch the start up yourself. What made you to take such big different step?
Mr.Usuki.I was very afraid. But I felt deep passion in me that I wanted to pursue my designer career as a freelance. While I was still pondering before making a big decision, to pursue my freelance career or not, my father, an architect, told me to go to Italy! Why Italy? Well, apparently he saw a TV program that time, which showed that many brave and passionate young Japanese flew to Italy and did some kind of ‘internship’ to learn about art/design. He thought that I could be one of them, if I want to pursue my design career and be outstanding in this field, as Italy has been long known for its top quality design.
AC. So you went off to Italy; you had nothing, no concrete promise of your future in the foreign country, but only your passion?
Mr.Usuki. Yes. I still remember my father’s word: ‘Unless you starve to death, you can do anything anywhere. An
d today, it is so hard to starve yourself to death anyway.’ It is true, right? By flying to Italy, I felt like I jumped over one big hurdle that had been limiting my decisions for long in my life. I felt like I cleared my doubt and fear completely after that. Since Italy, my motto is ‘Even if I am not confident, just try, and think about the result after that.’ Sometimes, at least in my case, my strong sense of responsibility or rather fear of failure had been pulling my legs and prevented me to try something new. Now I am not afraid to try new things.
AC. I can see that in your career history! After Italy, you were involved in launching a new startup, called ‘CUUSOO Kaden’ (which is now changed its name to CUUSOO Seikatsu). What was CUUSOO Kaden all about?
Mr.Usuki.It was almost like a Kick Starter,: At CUUSOO Kaden website, people were chipping their idea into. Basically we wanted to revolutionize the concept of marketing and designing. So basically, people shared their idea of what kind of product they want to have, and more people agree with the idea, our company went to negotiate with manufacturing firm to create the product. It was almost like we were being ‘Doraemon’; consumers dreamed about having something they long wanted to have, and such dream seemed to be possible only when many more people wished so. However, such idea did not work out well. Many of the idea suggested by consumers were far beyond what existing technology could materialize. There was a gap between what consumers wanted and what manufacturing firm could actually do. So in short, we failed. Our idea was too idealistic.
AC. It seems like you could have been Kick Starter at such early time, if it would have been more successful. Your idea was surely a great innovation, I would say.
Mr.Usuki.Well, in my personal opinion, whether the idea or product can be truly innovative or not really depends on the area, time, and bit of methodology. Kick Starter became very successful in the US because there is already a culture of investment. Also our idea was focusing on getting people’s voice/support on ‘idea/prototype’, whereas for Kick Starter, they collect actual investment in the form of money from people.
Mr.Usuki.It was truly random. After the start up company, I actually became a freelance, once again. There, I was working on some project of the clients, which I became acquainted through the startup experience. While I was working on that project and needed to take a concept video for one client, the client asked me to have a very ‘urban like looking’ model in the video. I did not know any of such kind, so I asked my friend and he brought his friend who seemed to be qualified. That man was a son of my business partner later on. He was a son of Mr.Sakai Naoki, who is a very prominent ‘Conceptor’. I got a lot of influence from him. He is behind a lot of successful popular products. His son invited me to his house party one day, and Mr. Sakai liked my design. Then we decided to launch the company together.
AC. Did you think about continuing that company for your lifetime?
Mr.Usuki. I had a great experience of running the company for sure. It was very structured and repeatable consulting we provided. Based on in-depth quality research data, we provided a consulting in designing a prototype that will reflect the clients’ needs as well as the consumers’ needs: market research based design. I was involved in variety of creative work starting from concept building, prototyping, video marketing, and promotion. But 2011, infamous Leaman shock happened. It was the time I felt a limitation in having big companies as clients. I decided that if I want to pursue the true innovation, I have to start alternative company.
AC. What do you mean by facing the limitation in having big companies as clients? How does it lead to the innovation?
Mr.Usuki.Big companies are run by ‘Bubble Generation’ people. These people think that money is the source of innovation. Many of them think that, more money you invest, better innovation you will get, which in my opinion not necessarily true. Also they often target the mass market and they try to win the business by numbers. In big companies, they do have research and prototype that are ‘edgy’ and bit ahead of time. But they are limited only in their research level, and such products will hardly ever be in the market. Japanese makers are still tied with the idea of mass market/mass production. When it comes to mass production, Japan can no longer compete with China. There, labor cost is much cheaper, and the product cycle is much faster. There is no much innovation Japan can make as long as they are still targeting the ‘mass’.
AC. You then launched LONOF prior form of your current company, in 2011. You went to China to work with Chinese and American venture firms and tried innovation in distribution system. So you went to China to learn how China is doing the innovation and what Japan can still do about innovation?
Mr.Usuki.In a sense, yes, first handedly, I learnt the mindset of Chinese people in business, which seemed to be contributing their own strength. I participated in the meetings with Chinese businessmen, and there, people seemed like almost ‘fighting’. I see people were throwing things at each other, no kidding, literally. One thing they often talked was ‘who can copy our idea? And what should we do in such case?’ In China, copying the product or idea is so common that everyone should take such case into consideration when developing the idea. Whereas in Japan, we often talk about ‘protecting the product’ by having a patent. I was so convinced again that Japan could never compete with China. Simply Chinese people are able to produce products much faster, much more, at much cheaper price. What is left for Japan, then if we are still targeting the mass market?
AC. So you established your current company, LONOF Design. I see that you have very cool mission statement of your company- ‘here is the saying: “No one is wise in his own affairs”. In order to improve the process of design and creations nowadays, we intentionally taking position of “outsiders” and macro view to approach projects to ensure the directions. What exactly are you trying to achieve through your company?
Mr.Usuki. Through various experience, I realized that strength we, Japanese, have, traditionally is the fact that we really work on prototyping. I think there is some kind of the artisan spirit in Japan. Even though I said that edgy products are hardly in the market, companies still do invest in creating prototype that may not have market needs. Such kind of craftsman-ship is so rare in Asia.’ Through my company, I want to maintain this beautiful Japanese culture of Artisan Spirit, which we work on creating small number of great design product that can change the people’s life. Our target is not only in Japan, but also US or Europe, or even emerging market, which not all the people’s mentality are on ‘more consumption’. I think it is the right time. Market is demanding this kind of lifestyle/product; we already have culture that can respond to such needs.
AC. Who is in your team to realize such innovation?
Mr.Usuki.I have one team member from Taiwan. He is being the bridge between Japan and China, or/and Taiwan, Hong Kong that are our target market. We never thought it is anything special to have a person with international background. We are targeting global market, and it is very logical and natural decision for me to have a person like him. He not only connects us and other countries, but simply his perspective deriving from different cultural
l background contributed a lot in our business development. I think diversity is no longer a choice, if you are targeting global market.
AC. What do you think the challenge is in terms of having diversity in the team?
Mr.Usuki. I think there are some problems in terms of language. But I am not so pessimistic about this. Technology will surely respond to our needs of overcoming the language barrier. Technology always responds to the needs of the time, and why not this time, when there are great needs?
“No one is wise in his own affairs”. In order to improve the process of design and creations nowadays,we intentionally taking position of “outsiders” and macro view to approach projects to ensure the directions.LONOF DESIGN provides not only Design, but also from Conception, Video production, Prototyping, Marketing, to Promotion. To make surprise toward reality, we keep challenging.’ From LONOF Design HP
For more information: http://lonof-design.jp