In particular, Koike credited internationally known graphic designer Ikko Tanaka, who died in 2002 after serving as Muji's artistic director for two decades, with having shaped the brand's no-frills identity. "Tanaka, who pointed out that Japanese package design was becoming excessive, seemed to have decided from the start that if he were to develop a product line, monochrome packaging would be best, as it made a very strong statement against an overly ostentatious era," Koike wrote.
The book also shows Muji's advertising campaigns over the years. One of the earliest examples is an advertisement that appeared in a newspaper in 1981. The ad is titled "The whole salmon is salmon." The ad explained that Muji's canned salmon uses flakes that include the meat found near the head and tail of the fish, encouraging shoppers to re-examine things that are often overlooked or discarded.
Fukasawa illustrated some examples. Among them was a person improvising an umbrella stand using a gap between floor tiles. Another person, who was walking and typing a cell phone message at the same time, was seen following the yellow Braille marker tiles on the sidewalk, using them as a guide.
Fukasawa said designs extracted from such spontaneous and apparently subconscious human behavior were "inevitable" and have cross-cultural elements. Another source of inspiration, Fukasawa said, are everyday objects such as items for the home and kitchen and furniture that he sees around the world.
John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, said at the forum that well-designed tools present infinite possibilities for a user. Maeda mentioned the story of film director J.J. Abrams and his "magic box" — a cardboard box containing an unknown object that Abrams has kept for decades without opening, choosing to just appreciate the process of imagining what might be inside.
Maeda said good design and good storytelling have something in common, which is their ability to inspire people to "anticipate what comes next." "Muji is about the experience. Of course, function and design are important. But Muji's essence is its power to awaken people," Hara said. "Muji is a mechanism for generating imagination."
While Muji products are largely known in Japan for their value-for-money quality, abroad they have established a strong reputation for their design. The MoMA store in New York has sold Muji products since 2002, nearly six years before Muji opened its first U.S. store in New York. (The Japan Times)