Interview

What it Means to Learn Design at SFC

Shunji Yamanaka

A Campus Designed as a “Mixed System”

As a designer, I feel that the role of product design is changing. Up until now, it has been said that design is about how to make technologies and things that already exist look attractive. Since around the end of the last century, however, the role of design has developed into asking what kind of value should products provide, and what technologies must we develop in order to achieve this? In this kind of era, SFC is the perfect environment for learning design. SFC is a unique campus designed from the start as a “mixed system” where new things would be born from collaboration with people from a variety of specialized fields, with IT technology as a base.

The distinguishing feature of SFC is that as students reach higher class levels, they become better able to produce ideas. Until I came here, I believed that age and experience had little to do with ideas. But at SFC, upperclassmen clearly come up with better ideas, which made me realize that producing ideas is something that can be learned. Here, it is demanded that students frequently produce ideas. When we examine something from a variety of angles, shifting it, twisting it and combining it with other things, ideas are what we find in unexpected places along the way. The pattern in that way of thinking is something that can be both taught and practiced.

Yamanaka lab
Yamanaka lab

Learning New Skills Through Sampling a Variety of Fields

I want students to be comprehensive designers who aren’t limited to their specialties. Core skills are required, but students should not feel bound by them. When you want to create something, there should be many skills among the elements you will need in the production process that you’ve yet to learn. But it is important to have the spirit to do everything yourself, from sketching, to electrical construction and programming. Imagine a movie director. Amateur directors create their films will filling every role themselves. Even as the scale of the projects grows and others begin to take on tasks, the director has a grasp of everything from cinematography to the emotions of the actors. While the director is well acquainted with all the details of the work, he or she utilizes the power of others in order to create something better. I believe that this is the ideal direction of production.

Even so, it is impossible to learn all the knowledge and technologies you would need from scratch. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to effectively sample the skills you need. For example, if you need programming for a production, speak to someone who knows that area. As you explain what you want the programming to do, have that person teach you what kind of formulas to write, what kind of values to operate. I believe that this kind of learning is critical for contemporary, comprehensive production. SFC has specialists active across a variety of fields, making it a suitable environment for this type of learning.

Teaching that Shows Everything from Sketches to Thoughts

Students in the Yamanaka lab have two ways of learning. One is to give shape to the thing they wish to create while receiving my instructions. For students who choose this pattern, I leave everything from the production of an idea to the presentation up to the independence of the student, offering only support. An example of this would be the educational toy proposed by a graduate student graduating this year, which lets users learn about color principles. This project grew through the participation of a number of students.

Another method is to participate in my projects. The projects come in a variety of formats, and whenever I find areas where I think that designers could be helpful, I may create many more. These projects could include a spaceship that combines design and functionality, or an artificial leg project that questions the relationship between people and man-made objects. In some cases I will be in charge of the actual design work, but I will perform as much of the sketching and CAD design in front of the students. We will share the thought process, and I will answer questions as we move along with production. It is not often that designers show the production process to others. I want students to learn many things as they fulfill the roles of assistants.

A Creative Network that Spans Multiple Fields

Recently large numbers of art school graduates are entering the lab as graduate students. I also support students going to art-related graduate schools after graduating from the lab. I want to produce graduates who feel free to move between different fields at will. I hope that these graduates will take production to areas that don’t fit within the society’s frame, without limiting themselves to only product design.

Thanks to the internet, we’ve entered an age when it is extremely simple for capable people to publicize themselves. People who connect with other creators and do great jobs without being tied to organizations such as large companies continue to appear. When I was young, the academic cliques were in power; today, I want to create a different and entirely new creative network, with SFC at the core.

Yamanaka lab
Robotic Interface Project 「Flagella」
Yamanaka lab
Educational Toy Project「colormy」
Yamanaka lab
Bio Mechanical Project 「陸上用下腿義足」