Spotlight: Yu Ito

Yu Ito was born in Tokyo in 1983 and grew up in a family of artists and designers. In 2003, he moved to California where he studied furniture design. In 2009, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Industrial Design. Since then, he has been working as a furniture and industrial designer in America, Spain, and Japan. His materials ­driven design process is based on his belief that the solution becomes powerful when materials and tools are used in a way that follows their native properties. His products have been exhibited and sold internationally.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I am a designer based in Tokyo. I design a wide range of furniture products for small and relatively large companies in Japan and Europe. Although I often work on projects that are in the form of assignments where the clients have rough ideas of what they want, my favorite kind of projects are the ones that are either material oriented or manufacturing technique oriented — it is exciting for me to seek the potential of materials and manufacturing methods, and to apply it to shaping something new.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I have been working with a start-up company here in Japan called MACRW Co., Ltd. (short for Magnesium Alloy Cold Rolling Works) to come up with a collection of furniture pieces that are made entirely with tubular magnesium. Though the material is commonly used with the techniques such as press-forming and die-casting, it is still rare to see furniture made with bent and welded magnesium pieces. We are going to be at 100% Design in London next month and are busy preparing for it at the moment.

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other designers are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? I think there are some “flashy” products that are made and consumed quickly, while I prefer products that are developed with thought and care, and are meant to be appreciated for a lifetime. The challenge for designers is that the first kind seems to be conquering the online media. It does not change the way I work, but it is something to be concerned about.

How did your interest in art or design begin? I grew up in a family of artists — a painter grandma, a textile designer mother, a graphic designer sister, and an architect father. I was always making things with them as far as I can remember.

How has living in Tokyo affected your design practice? One thing about living in Tokyo is that the space is so limited. I grew up in a small apartment where I had a tiny room with a wardrobe. The wardrobe held everything from clothes and books to toys and craft tools. It also had a pull-down desk for studying. At night, we would pull out a mattress for sleep. The little room was my dressing room, my study, my workshop, and my bedroom. My multi-functional and space-conscious products like the IMPILA lamp was definitely inspired by these experiences.

What products or companies are you interested in right now? I saw Clamp Chair by Andreas Kowalewski online lately and I fell in love with it. The way the parts are formed and jointed are amazing.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? The process varies project to project, but it always starts by clarifying what the clients would want and what materials and tools are available for me for the project. I often play with the materials and make full scale models out of paper. Then, I would polish the details going back and forth between sketchpads and CAD software.

Tell us a joke. I am Japanese — too busy working to tell you a joke.

What’s your favorite thing about your city? The food here is the best.

What is your beverage of choice when working in your studio? A fresh cup of coffee.

What are you really excited about right now? Me and my fiancée are planning on moving to the U.S. (where she is from and where I studied industrial design) in the spring next year. I am excited about what will happen to our new life and my design practice.