Minimalist industrial designer Keiji Takeuchi was born in Japan and grew up in New Zealand, where he eventually attended art school. In 1999, he moved to Paris on a scholarship to study at ENSCI-Les Ateliers, an industrial design school. He’s since learnt from Naoto Fukasawa, one of the world’s most influential designers, and currently lives in design capital Milan. Keiji recently teamed with a new startup as product designer. The product? The Kickstarter-backed Magpie global GPS tracker, which is a pebble-shaped wearable that tracks your kids, your pets, your luggage – basically anything you don’t wish to lose. To date, 5,984 backers have pledged $262,055 ($10K was the goal) to help bring this project to life. Keiji kindly opened the doors to his studio in Italy to show us how this device was conceived, and answered a few questions on his process too.
What was your brief when you came aboard to design the Magpie device?
Let me explain a bit of how it happened. Derek [Handley] and I studied at [the] same collage in New Zealand, Selwyn College in Auckland, and we’ve been great friends since then. I often visit New York for my work and we try to catch up. We often talked about developing something together, but we never really had a solid medium to work on. One day, Derek introduced me to Raul [Oaida] and they explained to me about this unique innovation they were working on internally. I got excited and we started talking about how this device should have a friendly and haptic shape, rather than looking like another electronic device. Then we started to exchange ideas and I was in the project.
What length of time transpired between your hiring and the completion of the project?
I think we started talking about it around September 2016. But the nature of this project was very different from working with an established client. We had to work through the entire process together on every step. I just say it was tougher, but more rewarding. It was a very nice experience for me.
What were your greatest challenges in designing this particular product?
I did not want it to become just another electronic gadget that has a short life. This is a device that can live with us and I wanted this device to become a part of our life. In order for a technology to become a family member, I knew it had to be welcoming and friendly. So throughout the process, I was focused and I made sure that this product looks quietly happy and it invites us to touch and roll it in our hands like a pebble. Stones and pebbles are both made of same materials. But pebbles are more friendly and we prefer to pick up pebbles over sharp edged stones. I wanted to design a device with the same spirit.
Who’s the target market/s for the Magpie and how did this influence your process?
Target sounds a little too strong for me. We simply wanted to help people and I felt this technology can provide great opportunity to support not only the physical needs of people, but also to support our emotional concerns.
When designing any product, what constraints does future manufacturing of that product put on your design choices?
I think I have a basic understanding of different manufacturing technology, so all my thinkings are somehow build up on it. I do not really think about the manufacturing process at first. I typically look for the ideal solutions and then I look for an ideal manufacturing technology and when constraints face the design, I find a way to work with it. The most important thing is not to lose the soul of the original idea along the way. If you don’t lose the origin and the goal, you can get there.
What did you most enjoy about this process?
It was my very first project to work with a startup. But I enjoyed it a lot because these people have dreams, passions and they are willing to take a risk. It makes the project more purposeful and I think design can really give its performance in such a situation.
When you’re considering taking on a new project or client, what kind of work attracts and excites you?
There are a lot of companies that develop products just for marketing purposes. On the other hand, there are people who believe in design. Being in Milan, I see a lot of latter kind of people for furniture industry and it is great to collaborate with. But I think a similar mindset is growing in US with technology and this organic flow of technology and design is something new for me and I am really enjoying it. I am lucky to work on both parts of the world.