-- The brand SHISEIDO, which is sold in 88 countries and regions, has just relaunched its makeup products in August 2018.
Komai：Yes, that is right. It was also the first time we worked on a product design with the Makeup Center of Excellence (MCOE) in New York.
-- What are Centers of Excellence?
Komai：It is a global value creation network model established in October 2016 for marketing and cultivating brands. Shiseido has set up strategically specialized organizations in different locations, each with global information, insights and influence in their respective areas - skincare in Tokyo, makeup and digital marketing in New York, and fragrance in Paris. These centers lead value creation such as consumer/market intelligence and product development in each advanced market, and then utilize the learnings in the global marketing of the entire Shiseido Group.
-- How has the MCOE been involved in this redesign of makeup products?
Komai：Partly due to the fact that Shiseido was originally established as a pharmacy, our forte is our skincare, which uses Japan's leading technology. Meanwhile, when it comes to makeup, trends are changing more actively and quickly around the world than they are in Japan. So, we created a global product concept under the leadership of the MCOE in New York, and embodied the concept into the products with Japan's technology, such as delicate yet bold colors, weightless and comfortable formulas, and innovative container designs.
-- How did the product design process move forward?
Komai：The product concept suggested by the MCOE was "Modern Japan," which was expressed with four key words, "Modern Juxtaposition," "Balance," "Multi-sensory," and "Precision."
Of those, we thought that it would be interesting to design something based on the theme of "Modern Juxtaposition." We developed the idea and proposed three designs. In this process, we followed the basics of SHISEIDO's product design, such as a feeling of energy overflowing from inside, a texture people want to touch, and usability.
"Juxtaposition" is a term that describes a state where contrasting things are placed side by side. We expressed this theme with a form as if a hard product is wrapped in a soft cloth, and a combination of glossy and matte textures. In addition, at the time of our initial proposals, we also presented a translucent package that softly shows the color inside as an expression of ambiguous boundaries between the inside and outside, but after all the current design was selected.
-- The shape and color of the package design looks sleek and stylish, compared to the girly design of the domestic Shiseido products in Japan.
Komai：That is true, I do think this is slightly American. Previous SHISEIDO packaging had a "mysterious" image, whereas this time the MCOE requested us to design packages with an emphasis on clearer identity of SHISEIDO. They were determined to symbolically use the SHISEIDO's brand color, red as the key color with black as the base.
-- What did you notice when working with the MCOE?
Komai：In many cases, when developing products in Japan we build up from the base. First, we set a cost target, and then identify feasible methods and specs while working on the design. I consider this process quite failure-proof, but sometimes it would make it hard to drive innovation. On the other hand, the MCOE's approach started with the design we really wanted to create, not cost or feasibility.
For example, this time we wanted to create the thinnest compact possible. If it were our usual product development process, we would simply choose the thinnest option from existing parts. But the approach taken by the MCOE was to try to find any possible way(s) to make it even thinner. It requires both time and cost, but that's how they move towards what they essentially want to do.
Quality control department experts at our factories are responsible for the finished products, and I think working with the MCOE was probably harder than they imagined (laughs). Nonetheless, those of us in the design team were able to try lots of new challenges, free from conditions or past achievements, which made it very interesting.
-- Regarding the design, were there any challenging requests from the MCOE?
Komai：Maybe when I was requested to incorporate kanji (Chinese characters) into the design? Kanji are actually popular overseas, representing the image of Japanese-ness. But depending on the design, the product could look tacky to Japanese people's eyes. However, instead of saying, "Let's leave the kanji," we thought, "How can we make kanji look innovative to the Japanese people as well?"
As a result, we were able to come up with what I think was a cool design by embossing "Tokyo, Ginza" in kanji, supplementing the brand name SHISEIDO, in a subtle manner on the outer carton. The interesting thing about design is things can be presented in whatever ways depending on the idea. I think that some designs can be conceived precisely because one has been involved in the same brand for a long time as an in-house designer, and I find this point appealing.
-- Did you re-acknowledge any strengths of your own, working with the MCOE?
Komai：I became convinced that Japanese manufacturing technology was amazing after all. I appreciated anew the technological capability of controlling everything including details and commitment to reproducibility upon understanding what we wanted to do. We meticulously shaped the dynamic vision presented by the MCOE using our expertise, right up to the finest points. The most challenging part was the process of realizing our ideal.
-- Since you joined the company you've been involved in product design; what do you think of as important in your work?
Komai：Let me see... I think the foundation is teamwork. And then quick responses. Some people elaborate and submit one idea, but I try as much as possible not to fixate on one answer, and create several proposals with different directions. What I try to make sure is that I develop my idea while listening to the opinions of my team on these proposals and improving them.
-- That's difficult unless you're a flexible thinker.
Komai：Because the staff at the Creative Division are employed based on specific job categories, they are rarely transferred, and so there is a tendency to increasingly focus only on one way of doing things, somewhat like craftsmen. Conversely, in the marketing team with whom we often work, there are many staff transferred from other departments.
Under these conditions, my opinion tends to be considered correct due to my long career in my job category, but that's not always the case. That's why I am careful not to give myself too much credit, to look at things with fresh eyes, and listen carefully to opinions based on other viewpoints.
On the other hand, I think that having a long experience in the same job category also gives us some advantages, as we see the best way to realize an idea based on the knowledge and experience accumulated. I intend to value both traits in my work.
-- On this occasion you worked with a team that crossed international boundaries, which I assume was very different from working with a team in Japan?
Komai：It was indeed pretty tough (laughs). But we kept thinking about what we could realistically do and how we could realize the ideal that the MCOE aimed at.
From the very start, they really liked the design that we proposed. They also commented in an internal debriefing meeting that they liked it at first glance. They're straightforward people, so when they dislike something they clearly say so, and so we knew they really meant it. We will continue working with the MCOE in the future, so I am hoping that we will get to know each other more with each project and create even better products.
-- Finally, please tell us about work challenges you want to take on going forward.
Komai：I work in project design because I want to create things that people will use, I have endless interests in it. This work involves extra elements, such as the importance of usability and factors directly linked with consumers' appetite, in addition to beautiful appearances, and I find it exciting.
As a company, Shiseido has a firm foundation built up over a long period of time. Therefore, as long as we follow certain important points, we are allowed to create products with comparative freedom. Companies with a long history should be pioneers in trying various different things, or they will become old-fashioned. Personally, I'm interested in projects like those presented in "CRAFTING NEW BEAUTY," which appeared in "Works" before. I want to proactively expand my work not only within cosmetics but also to a broad range of products realizing beauty such as household appliances and services.