MUJI & Piet Hein

Examples of the pursuit of timeless and ordinary design

​MUJI, known in Japan as Mujirushi Ryohin, translates to “No-brand Quality Goods.”  The basic principle of Japanese chain store's merchandise development is to produce fundamental and practical objects necessary for daily life and to ensure efficient and minimal manufacturing processes.  In order to achieve this, the businesses constantly review their materials and designs, streamline time and labor in the manufacturing process, and simplify the packaging.  Unlike other modern stores, brands, or manufacturers who use simplicity as a major selling point, MUJI dives deeper into what it means to be "simple." MUJI's carefully selected products are simple not just because of the way they were designed, but because they serve a basic purpose to people.  MUJI takes these items that are useful to us and designs them in a way that accentuates their basic nature instead of masking it.

PIET HEIN (1905-1996) was a Danish designer whose mathematical background led him to create the perfect compromise between a rectangle and a circle, which he named the "super-ellipse."  It began in 1959 when an urban planning team consulted Piet Hein to help them solve a problem in Stockholm, Sweden.  The planners were trying to direct traffic smoothly around a rectangular square in the center of the city: a rectangular shape disrupted the circulation, but an elliptical shape did not work either because its pointed ends were too sharp for the flow of traffic.  Piet Hein’s super-ellipse was a simple yet extraordinary solution to this urban design, and it was stimulating enough to be used in various other subjects, from buildings to tables, tableware, or placemats.  Unlike the geometric shapes that modern designers aimed to achieve, Piet Hein used geometry to soften these shapes, in order to make them more desirable and comfortable to humans.  His super-ellipse bolstered the idea that if a product facilitates a person’s lifestyle and adds pleasure, then it succeeds.  One of the most unique elements of the super-ellipse is that it is geometrically very simple, yet aesthetically pleasing enough to apply to a wide range of objects.  The super-ellipse is a testament to Piet Hein's resistance of the modern temptation to grab consumers' attention with novel shapes and colors.  He stuck to the ordinary.