'03 MUJI Identity

Reconstruction of a total identity

Newspaper advertisement, 2003
CL: Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. AD/D/C: Kenya Hara D: Yukie Inoue, Izumi Suge P: Tamotsu Fujii PR: Nobuya Morisaki Location coordination: Aoi Advertising Promotion Inc.

MUJI was born in 1980 as a result of a fusion of ideas from two men: Seiji Tsutsumi, one of the leading figures in the retail industry at that time, and graphic designer Ikko Tanaka. Mr. Tsutsumi proposed eliminating waste from the retail process in order to provide good products at low prices to the consumers, and Mr. Tanaka responded with the idea of adding a simple kind of beauty that is more appealing than opulence. In an age when consumption was considered to be the symbol of wealth, the 40 MUJI product items that had been perfected through process inspections, material studies, and packaging simplification truly delivered a powerful awakening to society.

Kenya Hara took over the art direction for MUJI from Ikko Tanaka in the summer of 2001, six months before Mr. Tanaka’s sudden death. Mr. Tanaka is said to have told Mr. Hara, “The MUJI work was so much fun I could not sleep at night.” Among the materials he delivered to Mr. Hara was a book titled “MUJI Book.” Even today, the original of a fax that Kenya Hara had sent to Ikko Tanaka remains tucked inside the front cover of this book. The fax contained notice that after much thought Mr. Tanaka had decided to accept the position on the MUJI Advisory Board and the work for MUJI art direction, and also that he had developed an idea for “World MUJI.”

Beginning in 2003, MUJI began declaring its vision for each year in newspaper advertisements. With each running to approximately 1,600 characters in length, they were rather wordy for newspaper ads. Although they were somewhat unsophisticated, they were written with the intention of prioritizing contents that would clearly communicate the thinking of the company each time, making it possible to chart the course of the brand from the ads of past years. The ad for the first year, 2003, contained two pieces. One was “The Future of MUJI,” which described the history of MUJI from its birth more than 20 years earlier and its direction for the future. The other was “MUJI on a Global Scale,” which was based on the “World MUJI” concept described in the fax that had been sent to Ikko Tanaka.

The visuals were Uyuni Salt Lake in Bolivia and the horizon from a Mongolian plateau. These locations were selected because they are two places on the globe where one can see a flat horizon for 360° in all directions. The photographer was Tamotsu Fujii. When the photos were blown up to large B0 two-sheet panoramic posters, their simple compositions produced representations of the earth in a symbolic form that could not have been clearer.

Posters, 2003
CL: Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. AD/D/C: Kenya Hara D: Yukie Inoue, Izumi Suge P: Tamotsu Fujii PR: Nobuya Morisaki Location coordination: Aoi Advertising Promotion Inc.

Newspaper advertisement, 2005
CL: Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. AD/D/C: Kenya Hara D: Izumi Suge P: Yoshihiko Ueda Location coordination: Mari Hashimoto Cooperation: Sen Sooku

In contrast, the 2005 ad was titled “Tea House and MUJI,” and featured a photo of a single bowl that MUJI had just marketed that year in the Dojinsai Tea Room at Jishoji (Ginkakuji) Temple, said to be the original model for all Japanese-style interiors. The photo taken by Yoshihiko Ueda was shot in black and white, filled with rich shades of light and dark. Through variations in the implements and items associated with a tea room, a Japanese tea room can alter its spatial reality in unlimited ways. It is because MUJI is simple that it has the freedom to flexibly accommodate the varied interpretations which people have of it. The only word on the poster was the Japanese MUJI logotype, with these four Chinese characters functioning as a receptacle to catch the thoughts of everyone who encounters it.

During the production process, Kenya Hara was frequently heard to say, “Death to poetry.” Because the products themselves already had a concept, the most direct way to gain people’s agreement and understanding was to clearly communicate only the MUJI ideas that were already contained in the products. Therefore sentiment was unnecessary. For example when introducing a product, the presentation from start to finish consisted of a straightforward description of the facts: what necessities formed the shape, the reasons for the selection of materials, and the particular improvements that were made. No decorative elements which would appeal to current trends or contemporary thinking were added to the photographs. With the apparel models, no effort was made to promote the personal appeal of the models themselves. In the advertisement copy as well, pains were taken to present only the facts in a straightforward manner. MUJI had to be MUJI in its communication as well.

Product tags, 2008
CL: Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. AD/D: Kenya Hara D: Yukie Inoue, Izumi Suge, Akiko Uematsu

In 2008, MUJI changed the designs of the tags and stickers that were attached to its products.

Because the tags and stickers are at the closest points to the products and can generate eye contact with the customers, they represent an important communication tool. With this change, the intentions behind development of the products were given top priority in the tags and stickers, aiming to communicate these intentions to a greater number of persons. The change was made on request from MUJI, which requested that the buyer should be able to sympathize with the explanations attached to each product, understand the reason why a person should buy the product, and pick it up for him/herself. Although the tags and stickers look ordinary, behind the scenes a precise and thorough design system provides support for operating a system of more than 7,500 diverse products of all sizes without collapsing.

MUJI expression is lean and muscular, with all embellishment scraped away. The only choice is for it to steadily and laboriously improve itself, and while that sounds simple it is truly no easy task.

Yukie Inoue
Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1966. After graduating from the Joshibi University of Art and Design, joined NDC in 1990. After time working in the CI Design Institute, participated in the launch of the Hara Design Institute in 1992. Presently serves as the assistant director of the same institute, and is in charge of all operations including MUJI.