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  • "Good Design" and "Good Quality" for the Consumer (1965)
  • Toyoguchi Katsuhei (bio)
    Translated by Penny Bailey (bio)

The Vogue for Good Design

"Good design" (guddo dezain) has recently become all the vogue. Wherever consumers go, they find "good design" for sale. But oddly enough, these very products are often not in any way imbued with the principles of good design. Before we can make judgements on "good design," however, we must first consider various factors. For instance, at the product planning and design proposal stages, we need to ask: will the product be truly useful, or might it in some instances be excessively mundane or even harmful to society and mankind? ("Mankind" may be a little exaggerated, but you get my point.) Furthermore, in order to prevent wasteful overproduction and excessive consumption, we should investigate whether similar products already exist. And, of course, we must also bear in mind other important factors, such as consumer satisfaction, product integrity, and value for money.

We often see poor design judgements in small to medium-sized enterprises, where it is still all too common to find products and designs that are lacking in utilitarian value and are, moreover, detrimental to society — for example, dubious and disgraceful Japanese toys and accessories in the U.S. market that are intended to mislead the consumer, from flimsy fountain pens and lighters that only last a few days, to imitations of luxury foreign goods and other tasteless, garish products. Regrettably, the production of such commodities is still extremely widespread. We need to eliminate this practice by appealing to the good conscience of manufacturers. Although there should not, in theory, be designers who support such production, dubious goods somehow continue to flood the market.

Stop Imitating!

Before the war, Japan's export commodities were infamous not only for their cheap, inferior quality, but also for their not infrequent imitation and appropriation of foreign [End Page 144] designs. The vast majority of these products were manufactured in small- to medium-sized enterprises. However, it must be noted that the responsibility for their manufacture was not always on the Japanese side. That is to say, it was not uncommon for unscrupulous foreign producers to approach manufacturers with requests for cheap imitations of high quality samples.1

In cases where designs were appropriated from overseas sources, complaints arrived at the Ministry of Trade and Industry's Industrial Law Department via foreign diplomatic missions or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The department would then initiate an investigation into whether or not the products in question were in violation of the Export Trade Transaction Law (a law preventing Japanese producers from exporting goods in conflict with industrial property rights overseas).2 Where violations were identified, manufacturers were cautioned to cease production, or in some cases, subject to the termination of their exportation rights.

After the war as well, serious complaints from overseas frequently accompanied such incidents. In response, in 1959, the government ceased simply ignoring instances of appropriation and imitation and implemented the Export Goods Design Law (Yushutsuhin dezain hō). The recently established design centers for household goods, ceramics, machine fibers, and textiles have implemented a design registration and certification procedure for export commodities in order to stem the fraudulent use and appropriation of designs.3 The policy has been extremely effective in curtailing unlawful activity, and fortunately, many industries are now striving to cultivate their own design practices. This process is somewhat meaningless however, if it is not applied to the domestic market as well, because the problem is not unique to the export market. We all know that it is unacceptable to willfully appropriate work that others have poured effort into. Yet the culprits justify their actions by arguing that releasing the work will be of benefit to Japan's national development.4

Excellent ideas are generated by corporate heads, salesmen, and factory workers alike. Design is an integral component in the evolution of these ideas into objects of actual value. Regardless of how good an idea is, in the absence of design it cannot become a product. Backed by good ideas and a supportive organization, a talented designer will punch far above his weight. Charles Eames is a case in...


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pp. 144-151
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