Materiality not only influences the physical attributes of objects and environments, but also shapes experience. In design, each material decision is charged with meaning, and materials convey particular social, historical, and technological information. Sophisticated designers recognize that this embedded information can be used to elicit particular responses from a viewer, based on his or her prior set of experiences. The process of manipulating this material code for positive effect is a critical stage in the achievement of design innovation.
Japanese design is a particularly important sphere in which to study material applications, due to the high level of craft and material mastery demonstrated by Japanese designers. For many practitioners in Japan, technical acuity is accompanied by a sophisticated understanding of sensory perception. Kenya Hara, founder of the Hara Design Institute and art director of MUJI, calls this experiential knowledge information architecture. To Hara, design does not result in a physical artifact so much as a cognitive experience: “A designer creates an architecture of information within the mind of the recipient of his work. Its structure is comprised of the stimuli that enter through assorted sensory perception channels. The stimuli, which are brought forth by the senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste and various aggregates of these senses, are set up in the brain of the recipient and there emerges what we call ‘an image’” (Hara, 2007a).
Excerpted from “Manipulating the Material Code: The Transformation of Material Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Design.” Elvin Karana, Owain Pedgley, and Valentina Rognoli, eds. Materials Experience. Amsterdam: Elsevier B.V., 2013.
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