Product designer Keita Suzuki (left) who participated in AGC's Milan Design Week project as a creation partner, and Akio Suguro (right), Business Creation Group Manager of AGC's Business Development Division.
In April 2019, an installation was unveiled that drew massive interest at Milan Design Week 2019, the world's largest design festival held in Milan, Italy. Its title was "Emergence of Form." This exhibit featured artistic works that merged AGC's advanced production technology and high-performance ceramics with captivating creations from the mind of product designer Keita Suzuki, who has been welcomed by AGC as a partner.
Why would AGC, a materials manufacturer, be interested in taking on the difficult challenge creating an installation for Milan Design Week? Because, when a materials manufacturer and designer combine their talents, it opens the door to future possibilities.
We sat for a talk with Mr. Suzuki and project member Akio Suguro, Business Creation Group Manager of AGC's Business Development Division.
Akio Suguro (hereafter, Suguro) AGC is a materials manufacturer, not the kind of company that produces final products. That means that, for us to bring our materials to the world, customers need to first choose them.
For example, sophisticated design capabilities are demanded for products that use glass, like in smartphones and vehicles. I want designers to know that AGC can provide the materials they need to realize these kinds of high-level designs. That is one of our main reasons behind exhibiting at Milan Design Week.
Given that we want our materials to be seen by as many designers as possible, Milan Design Week offers one of the best places to achieve that goal. Also, instead of just putting products and technologies on display, we felt the best way for AGC to highlight their appeal would be to present them together with artistic works that are created by combining the sensibility and skills of a designer who is our creation partner.
AGC's Akio Suguro, project member since 2017
As a product designer, Mr. Suzuki designs in a wide range of fields from soy-sauce dispensers to smartphones and even trains. His strong wish to work with AGC was realized through this project.
Keita Suzuki(hereafter, Suzuki) There are probably no Japanese designers who don't know about Milan Design Week. Since AGC had already exhibited there four times by 2018, it had not only elevated its brand image among the design industry, but also attracted many designers eager to work on projects with them. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic when I learned that they chose me as a creation partner. AGC is not the kind of company that makes final products, but rather is a B2B company whose strengths lie in materials and technology. That's why, for the installation, I wanted to create something that embodied "technology" in its pure form.
The theme of exhibit is "Emergence of Form," whose concept is to reproduce nature using glass and ceramics. My vision was to make the ultimate technical capabilities look natural.
In the world of painting, nature has been the ultimate example of expression for centuries. This is true in the design world as well. We reproduce this nature with the power of the technology. But, of course, this would not be possible without highly advanced technology.
The emergence of a bubble is expressed by bending large glass to its utmost limits. Photo: AGC
Suguro I was quite surprised by the concept of "reproducing nature." For us engineers, reproducing nature is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. If it's bending glass, for example, we would want to bend it to an exact customer specification.
Mr. Suzuki set the goal of reproducing nature, which is something that can't easily be expressed with numbers. By bringing in values outside of our typical thinking, he pointed us towards some great ideas and directions that we might never realize in our everyday B2B work alone.
Ceramic art. Water surface ripples were meticulously simulated via 3D printing, glazing, and firing. Photo: AGC
Product exhibition area set up in the hall. Visitors could pick up materials to experience the technology. Photo: AGC
Suguro Mr. Suzuki also exhibited our products near the installation to show the connection between the artwork and our products. I was surprised by the design, which used the artwork concept as a 'lead-in' to show our products together with it.
Suzuki Since media members are quite busy at these events, we also made sure the line of flow led them towards the product exhibits to ensure they didn't just view the artwork and leave. From the designer's standpoint, Milan Design Week is the place to go and discover the latest trends and fads. In other words, it's where people go for inspiration.
When designers see materials that inspire them, they always ask themselves if there is some way to use it in their designs. Advanced technology provides the means for a variety of possibilities.
Suguro It certainly does. Actually, Mr. Suzuki gave us some new possibilities for our technology, and I think even some hints for new business ideas among them.
Suguro Since we're not the kind of company that manufactures final products, we focused our efforts on creating an exhibit that emphasized our technological capabilities in response to Mr. Suzuki's idea for the display.
Some of the glass and ceramic objects used in the installation didn't necessarily meet the standards of our products. For some, if someone were to ask to buy them, we'd be like, "Are you sure about that?" Normally we would want to say, "But that one over there that meets all the standards looks much nicer"! Still, when Mr. Suzuki said things like, "This one brings out the character of glass better," I was actually taken aback. I thought, that's a perspective I never really thought about.
AGC plans to hold a homecoming exhibition in Tokyo from May 24
Suzuki To me, this year's design also had a deeper, hidden theme, which is that there are possibilities that lie beyond just the value that Japanese companies pursue.
Suguro Oh really. I didn't realize you thought that.
Suzuki Yeah, sorry for not telling you before (laughs). This hidden theme is the mindset towards manufacturing and quality. Japanese companies make things of perfect quality. For example, it's common sense to think that dusty or scratched glass is no good. But there is also another perspective that says 'that is precisely what makes it beautiful.'
Although 20th century has been an era of perfection, these days a more diverse set of values has emerged. People are demanding things that evoke emotion―that go beyond perfect.
Glass and ceramics―the two different materials Mr. Suzuki used to express the beauty of nature. He explains that, to designers, Milan Design Week is a place of inspiration where they come to catch the latest trends.
No one is impressed by the concept of being able to create a perfectly scratch-free beautiful object. This exhibit showed everyone the possibilities that lie beyond "perfect" with AGC, a company that makes perfect products.
One hint came from a sense of craftwork, which is trending in Europe now. Materials and products that each look slightly difference from each other are growing in popularity. You might even say it's a craft boom like never seen before.
I wanted to show that Japanese companies, especially because of their ability to make perfect products, can also make things that have a remarkable sense of craftwork.
Suguro That's interesting. I also had a strong desire to create something that no one has ever seen, and give people a sense of wonderment. I take great satisfaction in the fact that, through our collaboration, we can make people discover a new kind of value. We also gain a greater sense that developing new materials might lead to new designs.
Molds made with AGC's ceramic molding material for 3D printers. The installation also took advantage of these advanced capabilities
"Emergence of Form" art installation. Photo: AGC
Suzuki The future ahead will bring an age of materials. Fake materials won't be accepted by people anymore. Consumers are now demanding authenticity over mass production and mass consumption.
I think AGC possesses 'authentic' materials. They have an emotional connection that affects people's emotions. People who see them feel a sense of connection and find them beautiful. What surprised me happy at this year's exhibit was the fact that people actually came up and wanted to purchase the artwork―it also made me happy. That's because wanting to buy it showed how much it resonated with them.
This year's exhibit was bustling with visitors, attracting many designers and developers. Photo: AGC
Suguro Participating in Milan Design Week gave us plenty of inspirational hints, and having multiple chances to take on these projects has been an experience without equal. Our job now, as a company, is to give serious thought about how we can use these hints to uncover new needs, and how we can use them in actual business.
Now that it's over, looking back at Milan Design Week reminded me how important it is to continue collaborating with talented people outside the company like Mr. Suzuki.
Collaboration brings us closer to our customers. We learn what moves them emotionally, and I look forward to applying the experience gained in this project to future efforts.
AGC's possibilities come to the surface through participating in Milan Design Week and looking at things from the perspective of designers outside the company. It allows us to take the next step of appealing to the senses through our unique technical capabilities and high level of perfection in materials. AGC's challenge of utilizing insight and knowledge both in and outside the company has only just begun.