Driven by my aspiration to work abroad that I have harbored since joining the company, I took advantage of an in-house system and was assigned to work at Daikin Europe N.V. in Belgium for a year in my fourth year with Daikin.
In Belgium, I was responsible for the entire design process. While there is a designated designer for each product in Japan, in Europe one person does the design regardless of the genre―I did everything related to the design including responding to inquiries about products.
Even upon returning to Japan, I continue to work on design development and support for European products while keeping in touch with the local development and marketing staff.
Differences in design culture between Europe and Japan
I realized firsthand that there is a difference in the characteristics and way of thinking between how people in Europe and Japan view design. In Japan, people tend to pursue understandability and usability when it comes to design―the functionality for organizing and/or communicating information. On the other hand, in Europe, I feel that most of the public have their own sense of what they find attractive regarding style and concepts of design.
In Europe, the traditional sensibility for design widely infiltrates people's daily life. For instance, because of the traditional custom of hanging paintings on common household walls as interior decor that has persisted for many generations, it has been embodied as a mature civic culture.
For this very reason, I can say that my design job was smooth sailing. When I was having a discussion with a developer in the technical field, we could still quickly share the same intuitions with the same perspective. When I made proposals, there were times when I got opinions like, "this makes more sense and is a beautiful design," which goes beyond technical feasibility.
What was difficult, however, was that you cannot expect communication without putting out your intention in words each time. What you would be understood with others "between the lines" in Japan must be conveyed by rationally explaining your ideas, holding discussions, and going through the communication process of building consensus in Europe. Europeans perhaps feel that having clear logic increases the level of sophistication or perfection of the design.
The importance of branding learned in Europe
In recent years, we are seeing more and more ways of describing designers, such as product designer, graphic designer, and UI designer. However, I prefer to not to let myself be entrenched in these segmented definitions, but rather get involved in different processes of business and do a much broader range of creative work.
One of the things I learned in Europe is the importance of brand design. The culture to keep the corporate philosophy and messages under control is historically well-rooted, and everything begins with raising your flag to say "this is our product."
As you can see with European car manufacturers like BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo, their products have solid brands that are established both abroad and in Japan, and which convey a strong message beyond borders and cultural differences. Such branding tasks where you explore and discover universal design methodology and design language, and proliferate them across the world, are challenging as well.
Challenging the possibilities as a designer
Daikin Industries has a free-spirited corporate climate. I wish to actively overcome national and divisional separations, and cut across to get involved in different projects as a designer. I also want to absorb the differences in design sense and concepts that come from regional diversity around the world, so that I can further improve my own expressiveness and technical skills.
What I keep in mind when I work in Europe is to not push Japanese rules or designs that only I want to do. I always watch what I say and how I act. Unless people think that what I wear and have, and how I behave, is tasteful, I cannot earn their trust.
It may sound unoriginal, but I prize the proverb, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." While absorbing the ideas of local partners going back and forth between Japan and abroad, and jointly working on design, I will continue to take on new challenges by defying expectations with good sense.