Japanese retailer Muji prides itself on producing beautiful, functional objects and clothing that bear no trace of branding – unless you count the unmistakable simplicity of corrugated card or plastic or the highly distinctive matt aluminium finish of so many handy boxes and cans. But what exactly are the people at parent company Ryohin Keikaku looking for when they select these “no brand goods”?
A competition launched by Muji earlier this year (DW 5 May) has given us a chance to find out. Entries were invited from the Far East and Europe to design “My Muji product”, described on the entry form as “ideally, a new product which would fit in well with existing Muji ranges and reflect the Muji concept”.
A series of complex categories was established to accommodate all comers, and the selection process was divided into two stages. Some 200 entries were chosen from the first round of basic “ideas” submissions to develop prototypes of their products for the second phase.
Judges for the competition include celebrated Japanese graphic designer Ikko Tanaka, creative director Kazuko Koike and designer Asha Sarabhai, along with essayist Toyoo Tamamura and author and adventurer C W Nichol. Prizes are generous – the first prize of 1m yen is worth more than 6000 – and there’s the chance to see your prototype developed into a Muji product.
The final results are due out next week, scheduled to be announced in Japan as a media ad campaign on Sunday 3 December.
Meanwhile, we at Design Week decided to make our own selection from the second stage entrants going forward from the UK. Richard Woolf of McDaniel Woolf, who, while at Harper Mackay, designed Muji’s four UK stores, Design Week editor Lynda Relph-Knight and Ryohin Keikaku London chief representative Kohei Takahashi vetted the contenders.
We were looking for the same qualities as the main competition judges. But we went a little further and chose products we thought were a good idea, whether or not they suited the Muji format. Those choices are shown here.
But, of course, you’ll have to wait until next week to find out how closely our views match those of the Japanese judges – and exactly what constitutes a “no brand” product.m