Design Studio LondonKunihiro Takei

What snowboarding taught me about design

The first product I worked on after joining Yamaha was the DD9 electronic drum kit. At the time I made multiple notebooks' worth of sketches. In all the products I've ever worked on, I've still never made as many sketches as I did for on the DD9. Plus, in those days there weren't separate computers for each employee; I remember having to submit everything in hand-drawn form. Afterward, I worked on designing products such as portable keyboards, synthesizers, and digital mixers.
I also worked on the Inpres golf club from its first generation. This product was a major turning point for me. I had never played golf when the project started, so I spent some time agonizing over how the club should be designed. I had just switched from my beloved hobby, skiing, to snowboarding, which I was really getting into. I was a great admirer of Mack Endo, a pro snowboarder who had been a leader in the Japanese snowboarding scene during its infancy. I made frequent visits to the slopes on Endo's home turf, and also took part in the snowboarding camps he held, where I learned snowboarding from him as we went through all the day's activities together. I believe that the foundation of my design work today lies in what I learned from Mack Endo.

User and tool becoming one, like Son Goku and his magic cloud

Mack Endo's snowboarding career has been a continuing search for the sweet spot where the board's center of gravity and the boarder's movements harmonize. Once you find that spot, the board takes off like a bullet. Mack calls it "boarding with torque." Another saying of his is that using tools is like Son Goku and his magic cloud. Son Goku, a monkey god from East Asian folklore who is both a master of martial arts and a mischievous prankster, had a magic cloud upon which he could fly with complete freedom through the sky. He could do loops and rollovers without falling off, and even if he did happen to fall, the cloud would always catch him. So he never panicked; he was completely at one with his tool.
I began to think that maybe the philosophy that I had learned from snowboarding could be applied to golf club design, too. The center of gravity is important in golf as well—if the club's center of gravity and the ball's center of gravity line up, the ball will go flying in a perfectly straight line without you having to do anything. It's the "torque" that Mack talked about. Trying to find that sweet spot is what makes sports fun, and it's when you find it that tools perform at their best. I wanted to put that idea to use in my design. So I started by setting the club's center of torque at the Yamaha tuning fork mark on its head, and built my design from there.
This philosophy can be applied to musical instruments and acoustic equipment as well. For instance, I drew upon it in the design for the M7CL digital mixer on which I later worked. With a panoply of faders and other controls, the M7CL is a mixer for music professionals and incorporates a concept called "Centralogic" in its control logic. By gathering together the various parameters that are of importance in the different situations that sound engineers face in liquid crystal touch panels and controllers directly underneath, the engineers can concentrate on them. The engineers can focus on the "torque-iest" parts and put their all into controlling them—that's the sort of functionality I believe we made a reality.

Inpres X (concept sketch)
M7CL (concept sketch)

Sharing the Yamaha Design Philosophy from London

I currently work at the Yamaha Design Studio London. I share the office with David Keech (, a designer now active in London with whom I previously worked at Yamada Design Labs. David, a trombone player as well as a designer, was the first non-Japanese designer to work at Yamaha Design Labs, and he had a great impact on us in many areas. The Black Yamaha design project on which he collaborated was a big milestone for us at Yamaha Design. Even after leaving Yamaha he has maintained a good relationship with us, and I am deeply grateful to him.
My mission in London is to share Yamaha's designs with the world. London is an important global city, and many designers from around the world live there, so I can share Yamaha's design philosophy with them directly. I'm also working on building connections with the UK music scene, and I've established relations not only with big-name artists, but also with young underground artists who still haven't broken into the mainstream. In particular, I want to absorb some of the essence of the young artists of London's East End, their originality, their "garage-iness," their "bulkiness," to try and smash Yamaha's square, teacher's-pet image. One example of my recent activities is my project with STEREOART, a duo consisting of a cellist and an electronic artist. I had them use a specially-made black lacquered silent cello as inspiration for composing a song, which they performed at the Japanese embassy. I'm also engaged in ongoing collaborative projects with RCA (Royal College of Art) students, such as the "Making Fan Series," and I continue to work on new projects with them.

Yamaha's design studio in London with David.
With RCA students