Kenji Ekuan
Kinkaku-ji Temple
Tea House, Jikko-in Temple
Stone Garden,


Interview with Hall of Fame contributing writer Kenji Ekuan

Kenji Ekuan is chairman of the GK Design Group and since 1998 he has been chairman of the humanitarian organisation “Design for the World”. His ideas created international design trends. It is important for him, among other things, to understand design as a source for improving life. His contribution as contributing writer to the latest publication of the red dot edition, “Hall of Fame”, is about „The Tomorrow of Design. Simplicity is the ultimate”. Kenji Ekuan made himself available for a red dot online interview.


red dot online: Mr Ekuan, to what extent does Japanese design differ from Western design  creations?
Kenji Ekuan:
In short, the Japanese concept of attention to others differs slightly from the Western approach. Japanese designers are normally anxious to accommodate all the wishes users may possibly have. Therefore their products are often equipped with additional functions or devices that most people may seldom use, meaning people may use them only once in 10 years, for instance. Manufacturers are nevertheless inclined to include every possible function just to look after the user. When a product requires many functions and extra devices however, this naturally makes it difficult for the designer to come up with a simple design. Therefore in many cases product design has to be the well balanced result of simplification and the incorporation of functions very rarely used.

red dot online: In your essay in „Hall of Fame“ you write on the aesthetics of simplification and cohesion. If such aesthetics is intrinsic to design, what can it contribute to the global future?
Kenji Ekuan: Nobody can deny the importance of sustainable development and saving resources. Therefore we should see nature as our sole origin, as ‘Mother Nature’ that is, and the earth should be respected with awe. Aesthetics is the proof of this respect and I hope it will suggest an essential design approach as our contribution to the global future.

red dot online: Since 1998, you have been chairman of the humanitarian organisation „Design for the World“ that wants to help people in need. Yet, design is usually more associated with products made for wealthy clients. To people who live in developing countries and find themselves in distress or in social exclusion, design generally seems to be an irrelevant factor. But for all that, what is the importance of design to these people in particular and what are the objectives „Design for the World“ wants to achieve?
Kenji Ekuan:
Regardless of what the object of design is, humans need design.
I believe that it is the essential purpose of industrial design to serve the people, be they rich or poor.
For anything humans use in their day to day life, they need design and it is a clear and concrete proof of the fundamental human right to live.

red dot online: What are the most intriguing design challenges you perceive? Is there a special dream project you would like to realize?
Kenji Ekuan:
I would like to build a temple-like facility that houses a symbol. In the facility I would like to meditate in front of the object symbolising the order between the human world and the Dougu world. Dougu is a Japanese terminology broadly defining all kinds of built things. In other words, all man-made things except our own naked bodies are often called Dougu in Japanese.

About Kenji Ekuan

Kenji Ekuan, born in 1929, graduated in 1955 from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. In 1957, he founded GK Industrial Design Associates, which later became the GK Design Group, the chairmanship of which he holds today. In 1973, he was Executive Chairman of the organizing committee for the ICSID ’73 Kyoto Congress. In 1976, he was appointed President of ICSID and in 1989 was General Producer of the World Design Expo ’89 Nagoya. Since 1998, he has been chairman of the humanitarian organisation “Design for the World” and also holds important positions in designoriented associations such as the ICSID, the Japan Design Foundation and the Japan Finland Design Association. Kenji Ekuan has received numerous awards including the 1979 ICSID Colin King Grand Prix, the 1995 Sir Misha Black Medal (England) and the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan) in 2000. He received the insignia of Commander in the Order of the Lion of Finland in 2004.

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