General Manager of Design Laboratory Manabu Kawada

Almost Crazily Original, but Actually Quite Practical
—That's What Design with Integrity Is All About

Manabu Kawada


Joined Yamaha in 1992. Started out designing sports equipment before moving on to handle a wide variety of products, such as electronic instruments, audio equipment, and GUIs for music production software. Studied at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London in 2001. After returning to Yamaha, was group manager for electronic instrument design and head of the Product Design Center before becoming director of Yamaha Corp.'s Design Laboratory in June 2008.

A Budding Designer

High school years - an early love of physics

The truth is that I never showed any particular aptitude for drawing when I was a child. I liked taking apart pencil sharpeners and other familiar tools, and in high school I planned to join the physics department when I entered university. I enjoyed feeling as though I were conducting my own experiments on paper when I worked on classical physics problems, to the point where I would make up problems of my own that weren't in the textbook. I'd compete with my friends to see who could come up with the most elegant answers. I also had an interest in philosophy. I struggled my way through works such as Husserl's Phenomenology despite their difficulty. Philosophical theorizing and scientific practicality-I believe both of these are deeply connected with design. When did I first become interested in industrial design? Well, I don't actually remember (laughs).
I do remember one time when, on my way home from school, I saw in the gift corner of a school supplies store a chrome-plated paperweight with a spherical depression that you could see your face reflected in, and I thought to myself, "Wow, what a neat design." Maybe I felt as though science and philosophy had fused together in a single physical object.

What's your department?" "Mountain climbing"

In university I entered the industrial design department in the school of engineering. But at the time I was so into mountain climbing that when people asked what department I was in, I replied, "The Mountain Climbing Department!" (laughs). I would carefully plan out mountain climbing expeditions and furiously read up on the necessary equipment, weather conditions, and first aid, while also getting in shape and saving my money, then finally packing several days' worth of clothing and provisions into my backpack and setting off for the mountains with friends. We constantly encouraged each other, but ultimately we each had to perform the act of walking on our own. Walking on in silence until we reached the peak, looking back at the long path that we had followed, step by step, feeling the wind blowing across our entire bodies-how fulfilled I felt in those moments, how delicious our water tasted! I can still remember it all.
The most memorable problem I had to work on as a major in industrial design was designing telephones. I wanted to try my hand at designing the figure of the person on the phone and the base that supported their conversation, and came up with a somewhat unusual human-sized phone, something like a cross between a chair and a light fixture. This is a scrapbook I've been keeping since those days. Looking back, I guess it was from this period that I began to enjoy thinking about the relationships between humans, tools, and space.