The 36th International Exhibition for Shop Systems and Fixturing was held between March 6 and 9 (Tuesday through Friday) at Tokyo Big Sight as Japan Shop 2007. Combined with those attending the concurrently held exhibitions, a record number of people (264,717) turned out for the event, which closed on a high note thanks to the enthusiastic visitors. Now one of the major exhibitions of shop systems in Asia, the site was full of attractive products and services, with those indicative of the future of shop designs drawing particularly keen interest from the visitors. In this report, I will share with the readers the topical features of the exhibits and products from Japan Shop 2007 while attempting to discover the new trends in the ceaselessly evolving field of shop design.
From Japanese-like to Genuinely Japanese (wa)
There is an element of design that has always stood rather detached from the current fashion in shop design. An element that may be defined as the "expression of wa" has been loved throughout the ages not only for its familiarity and suitability to our tastes, but also for its multi-faceted quality that encourages fresh expressions constantly arising from new interpretations, with its traditional materials bestowing a rich spatial rendition to its applications, including shops. Regrettably, most genuinely traditional materials of Japan did not meet the requirements of architectural work, often preventing their use in shops. Under the circumstances, a great many Japanese-like finishing and construction materials have been developed to simulate the texture of the real thing and have been widely adopted in many shops. The situation, however, is likely to change. In Japan Shop, new materials for shops were actively promoted, including Echizen washi (rice paper), Kaga and Kyo yuzen (dye), lacquering, clay paneling, and so forth from Japan's traditional arts and crafts. The fact represents the emergence of "genuinely Japanese" - not merely "Japanese-like" - products as a source of materials for shop design. The already versatile expressions of wa may now start to evolve even further.
Echizen washi from Igarashi Seishi (paper maker) and Kaga yuzen from Atelier Hisatsune introduced an interior material jointly developed with a glass manufacturer. The material is resin-coated glass that successfully retains the texture of washi and the coloring of yuzen patterns. While there already exists a product made of a base material sandwiched by glass plates, the new material is the result of coating a single plate of glass with resin, paving the way for an ever lighter and thinner product. It can be used to take the place of shoji paper. Igarashi Seishi also had its fireproofed washi on exhibit as a dressing material for walls, and its feel is not very different from that of conventional washi.
The booth set up by Kyoto Senshow Club drew a great deal of attention with its new products: "Kyo Yuzen Glass," in which Kyo yuzen is fitted in glass, and made-to-order "Pianta," which permits sandwiching plant leaves and flowers of your choice between glass plates.
Aica Kogyo, known for the wall plaster Jolypate, added to its product line another 6 types of colored clay from Japan's centuries-old earthen materials. These new additions are available as "Sodo" in the Jolypate Series, providing a means of expression that will leave behind a finish suggestive of the work of a skilled traditional plasterer. Coupled with good workability, it could very well attract wide interest as a fully-fledged finishing material for the expression of wa.
These developments are seen not only in materials, but also in the design of interior elements. INTEC, for instance, presented a wash bowl finished with lacquer, projecting a sense of class. Its base is Corian from DuPont, highly reputed for its resistance to acid and weather. It is also said to be compatible with lacquer. (The company wants a lead time of approximately 2 weeks for finishing an existing Corian bowl with lacquer.) Warlon, rightly described as a pioneer in the field of wa materials, presented highly aesthetic installations born of its products combined with appropriately selected lighting effects. Paper shades on lamp stands, while aesthetically appealing, are exceptionally delicate, developing a tear from inadvertent handling or mischief. Hayashi Kohgei demonstrated how a reinforced washi cloth could eliminate this drawback of paper shades by introducing tear-proof washi for use with lighting appliances.
It is becoming increasingly possible for us to bring design concepts of wa and the texture of genuine Japanese materials into commercial environments with a degree of ease not known previously.
Kyoto Senshow Club
Store Fixtures with Highly Refined Design Offering Freedom of Design Expression
Designing a sales floor can readily turn into the designing of is fixtures. For the brand identity and products to stand out to catch the attention of the shoppers, on the other hand, the fixtures would do well to keep their presence not too conspicuous. Simplifying the design of fixtures to the limit necessarily calls for a level of accuracy and technology that is not found so easily. Bracket fixtures (in which shelf boards and hooks are fitted into slits in aluminum wall units) are popular not only because of the freedom of choice they provide, but also because of the neatness of the resulting space brought about by the small size of their support fixings. In this year's Japan Shop, there was an exhibit of the ultimate in the design of shop fixtures from Tamatoshi. There are no fixings otherwise used to support shelf boards in its newly developed "Hang Line." Boards are simply fitted into a wall surface, each being a 3-mm thick steel plate boasting a withstand load of about 10 kg per 10 cm. Completely bare of visually undesirable parts and left only with slits and shelf boards, the product should enhance the freedom in designing the interior of shops, which is the basis of any shop environment - the ultimate fixture indeed it is.
MBA Japan's presentations included a partition made of a combination of aluminum system parts and stretch base material. Its 3-dimensional curved surface is organic and renders a soft impression to its surroundings. The stretch material lets through light, and the transmitted light diffusing on a fabric is soft and gracefully pleasing to the eye. It also possesses a good texture, possibly helping to create a user-friendly atmosphere in shops and offices. Its light weight should make it a good choice for partitions in a variety of places such as shop floors, where flexibility is often an important factor, and office reception booths.
Printers to Enter the Period of Maturation -Speed and Universal Design-
Professional-use wide-format printers have become an indispensable tool for shop interior creation, put to work when designing shops as a whole and various signs. One of the reasons behind the popularity of Japan Shop must be the availability of the latest information, updating the visitors on the most recent developments in all aspects of the industry. In short, the wide-format printers from most manufacturers are entering the period of technological maturation, now heading for differentiation through universal design in addition to price and speed. Let me cite a few examples.
A solvent-based inkjet printer "ColorPainter 64S Light" from Seiko I Infotech prints faster than its predecessors thanks to its high-speed head also equipped with an attachment/detachment mechanism that permits simple replacement by the user without a tool. The head is the result of the company's effort to correct printer problems, most of which are head-related. In the event of a problem, say during the night or on holidays, the user need not wait for the help of a service person or call center operator, correcting the problem simply through replacement with a spare head and continuing with the ongoing work.
Meanwhile, Roland DG, known for space-saving wide-format printers capable of concurrent printing and cutting jobs, has adopted a double-head in its new products, appreciably reducing printing time. Moreover, the control panel of the machine has been moved 20 cm lower to facilitate operation, often performed by women. This is the result of design review undertaken to make the machine more user-friendly to all, women and men alike. It is easy to see that the company approaches its development work from the point of view of users and with the focus on fine detail, instead of merely competing in terms of functional performance.
Seiko I Infotech
Eye-Catching Design Making a Comeback
In addition to the foregoing developments in the industry, exhibits also pointed to new and more powerful eye-catching designs, drawing upon the ever-advancing LED (light-emitting diode) technology and the increased accuracy of lenticular lenses (special lenses consisting of D-shaped convex lenses arranged in a row, often used to render stereoscopic effects or movement to graphics). A visit to the booths of three companies (Effect Meiji, Hibino, Shimizu Octo) standing side by side exhibiting large-size LED-based image projectors brought it home to me that LED-based lighting could well be a form of artistic entertainment.
The objet d'art from Mino Shoji called "Mino Heart 3D," is made of a transparent plastic sheet processed to a fine lens finish. When backlighting causes a 3-D pattern to emerge, its curiously attractive "depth" on a flat surface draws our hands for a feel despite ourselves. While the current uses of the material are more or less limited to lighting tables and lamp shades, its possibilities could readily expand depending on the creativity of designers. Arons exhibited a display that combines 3-D photos and video images projected from behind a sheet processed for stereoscopic effects by means of lenticular lenses. Lintec also deserves a mention for its unique technology, in which a visually interesting presentation has been made possible by printing white dots on both sides of a glass or acrylic plate with one side displaced for special effects. All these ideas could lead to the re-evaluation of the original objectives of visual presentations - namely, to be visually fun, to attract attention, and to entertain.
The next Japan Shop is scheduled for March 4 through 7 (Tuesday through Friday) in the year 2008 at the same venue (Tokyo Big Sight).
By Kazuo Hashiba, Editor