Good Design is Universal

Reflections on my first trip to Japan



When design stops working, designers adapt and update. Great design survives, but it also evolves. In our homes, we renovate to meet our changing needs.

One of my favorite ways to hit the refresh button is travel. On my first visit to Japan recently, I was mesmerized by the tiny side roads of intricately designed neighborhoods: Every home seems curated by its owner for soothing appearance, and many apartment towers set themselves apart with touches of stone and color. Legendary rush-hour crowds maintain a natural, expected order. There is no trash on the street or in the ridiculously efficient and complex transit system. The longest we waited for the metro was five minutes, reminding me how much I fume daily in traffic on I-25. Urban safety—considered natural and almost absolute there—changes the way one lives and explores. Visitors and residents walk streets and alleys at all hours without fear. As my husband noted, the user interface—or UI in tech terms—of Japanese cities is astonishing; every American planner and politician should be forced to live in Tokyo for a couple of months, just to see how it can be done.


A sampling of the stunning fabrics at Owl

In a design-focused neighborhood of Tokyo called Meguro, near our hotel, we came upon a small shop named Owl, where the owner commissions her own brilliant fabrics and assembles them with a sewing machine in the back of her tiny showroom, making runway-quality coats, hats and bags with whimsical animal motifs. She burst with pride about her work, and it wasn’t difficult to convey my excitement despite knowing only three words of Japanese. Much bowing and smiling took place, and a purchase.

Differences are to be shared, not feared. That truth was reinforced daily in Japan. Good design is universal, even as it differs and evolves. But civility counts for a lot in daily life, too—something our recent politics proved through utter failure.

I wish you all a peaceful 2017, filled with renewal, connection and more than a little bit of mountain Zen.SaveSave

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