Panasonic Design’s dark but calming installation at the London Design Biennale encapsulates the brand’s refreshed approach to tech – one that connects less with 20th century consumerism and more with the Japanese approach to care and respect.
Currently on show at the biennale at Somerset House, Panasonic’s Kasa is a darkened room filled with stepping stones and beautifully crafted, flickering electronic lights. If a visitor treads on the stones too aggressively or quickly the illuminations flicker and die, yet a calm stroll through the room sees them continue to ‘burn’ bright.
The experience is a metaphor for the way consumers should treat their objects at home, explained Takehiro Ikeda, creative director of Panasonic Design.
“We are trying to demonstrate the new relationship between the object and the human being,” he told The Drum. “Interactions [with products] and the way we feel about them needs to be reconsidered in the future.”
Ikeda wants consumers to consider, “what are the kinds of things that you want to keep for longer periods? How do you want to treat your objects carefully?” This is in tension with the consumerist appetite for buying new stuff – a force that has largely driven the consumer electronics market throughout the last half century.
It’s interesting that a 100-year-old brand such as Panasonic should take this stand, particularly in an age of constant product launches from the likes of Apple and Samsung.
“People are now more sophisticated, more informed, [better] educated,” Ikeda explained. “So for us, as a big major brand, we need to take responsibility – and leadership – and start asking people: what kind of life do you want to live in? We believe that's not about buying new things but treating things that you love for a longer period.
“The Japanese certainly have this idea of treating things carefully, keeping them for life and fixing them when necessary. Kintsugi is a good example – if you break a dish you fix it instead of just buying a new one. And it's often that the one that's fixed which has more value than the original piece.”
Ikeda could not speak on the wider strategy behind bringing this approach to a global audience, however it’s one that Panasonic has been adopting for a while. Kasa was developed in partnership with Japanese craftspeople the tech brand's new design studio in Kyoto, however Ikeda, a former design strategist at Seymourpowell, is based in the company’s London Flux division.
The UK centre was designed to bridge the gap between marketing and product design while also maintaining conversation with designers in Kyoto. “
"The new HQ in Kyoto [was opened] to understand and digest the rich culture of Japan and demonstrate it in a more modern, understandable way,” said Ikeda.
Kasa is also symbolic of the conequential stronger synthesis between east and west. The creative director is happy that the installation feels thoroughly Japanese, without “talking about sushi or karate”.
“It's the right balance we want to deliver to people as a message,” he said.