Industrial Design Archives Project
The Industrial Design Archives Project (IDAP) is an attempt to consider industrial design products, particularly household appliances, as a key element in shaping post-war Japanese lifestyles, social trends, and values. It sets out to accumulate official records (product information) and memories (oral histories), to inspire analysis and research from fresh perspectives, and to encourage use in ways that contribute to our future.
The IDAP started out life in fall 2014, as a collaborative endeavor between the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art Planning Office (name at that time; currently Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka), Panasonic Corporation, and Kyoto Institute of Technology. Activities hitherto have included creating test versions of digital archives, holding public discussions about the significance of digitalizing industrial design archives, and interviewing company designers who experienced first-hand the dawning of a new era of commercial design in Japan. Now, in order to facilitate the creation of more diverse connections with a range of companies and research institutes, the IDAP has decided to step free of the exclusivity of its three collaborators, and has set up the Industrial Design Archives Conference. Henceforth, the conference will be at the center of the Industrial Design Archives Project’s activities.
Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka and archiving industrial design
Since 2014, the Nakanoshima Museum of Art Osaka Planning Office has played an active part in the Industrial Design Archive Project (IDAP) and functioned as the secretariat for the Industrial Design Archives Conference, which has members including electrical appliance manufacturers, universities, and researchers. The IDAP focuses mainly on the collection of information and research on the development of industrial design developed in Osaka and the Kansai area, covering housing-related building materials and equipment in addition to household appliances.
‘Artwork within everyday life’ and the museum
Up until now, museums have seen design as an extension of how people view art. Even since the time when the Nakanoshima Museum of Art Osaka Planning Office was functioning as the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art Planning Office, it has focused on the importance of design in the development of design and visual art culture, and viewed design as ‘artwork within everyday life’ in its collection policy. It has tended to view the role of the art museum as being to publicly honor design that rivals works of art and deserves to be called a ‘work,’ and to focus on the individuality and expression of ‘artists’ who are known as designers.
Taking a fresh look at design in the art museum
However, virtually everything in the world is designed. And, some believe that, to borrow a concept from the German industrial designer Dieter Rams, “good design is as little design as possible.”Perhaps it is true that, while superficially resembling design that is widespread outside art museums, the design that is extolled by art museums is actually fundamentally different. If so, as an art museum, we must face that fact and reconsider what standards to use in handling design, and what to present and with what aim.
The history of household appliance powerhouse Osaka
After World War II, Osaka became a household appliance powerhouse with a concentration of industry focusing on household and commercial electrical appliances. The city has continued to supply Japan and the world with household appliances ever since. If Osaka’s electrical machinery manufacturers hadn’t built power plants, trains wouldn’t have been able to run on the railway lines. Rather than focus on social infrastructure projects involving the national government like the general electrical machinery and heavy electrical machinery industry firms in Tokyo, Osaka firms took advantage of the geographic distance from the capital to be flexible, manufacturing lightweight, household-voltage electrical appliances to illuminate the homes and support the lifestyles of ordinary people.
Putting industrial design into the archives
As an art museum created in Osaka, any collection and research of postwar design needs to take into account Osaka’s history as a household appliance powerhouse. But art museums hinge on works being viewed, so we face the question of how to evaluate industrial design products whose true value is understood by being used. One approach to evaluation would be for the museum to collect the products. That would involve the physical limitations that would come with collecting the items. For example, even if you were able to devise certain standards for evaluation, it would be impossible to exhaustively collect the practically limitless number of products that have been designed and manufactured. The approach we came up with was to hold off on evaluation for the time being, focusing instead on collecting and collating information, rather than the products themselves. This approach led us to archive information rather than collect the actual products that were designed, and to establish the museum as the hub of a network of corporations and research institutes rather than handle everything in-house. It is our wish that the information that is collected becomes a resource for research that makes use of a new, next-generational perspective in which the data points representing individual products join to form lines, which then spread out to cover whole areas.