June 6, 2019

Yasunori Fujikawa discusses ONFAdd's approach to product design for an evolving world

At first glance, ONFadd appears as a product brand focused on technical function. The predominately black tones give off a utilitarian angle. But beneath the surface is a much larger play at hand.

ONFAdd is part of a larger agency, known as NEWPEACE, which at its core tackles cultural pillars in flux including politics, gender, travel, and more. Each product exists as a potential solution to a challenge identified by the ONFAdd team including storage, clothing, and accessory lines. We connected with ONFAdd’s Yasunori Fujikawa for insight into the brand, its structure and how they view their contribution to the changing world and traveling lifestyle many are adopting.

See ONFAdd’s whole product line over at their site.

How did the idea for ONFAdd begin?

The catalyst was one of our team members who hates carrying bags around took it on himself to prototype a “bag that can only hold a MacBook Air.”

It was conceptualized as “hands-free, light-weight,” but this was also reinforced with elements of traditional Japanese considerations towards mobility, which helped us to realize our first collection “Inspired by Japanese culture.”

Since then, we’ve taken the theme of “mobility” beyond just Japan. It wasn’t meant as some lofty abstract concept, but rather starting from your immediate needs and making your own product to fit those needs.

What are your thoughts on the future of work and travel?

Aside from technological progress (especially mobile cloud-based AI), there’s going to be a few important changes to the context of work headed our way:

  • Diminished need for a “dedicated workspace”
  • Diminished need for people who can only judge in a “yes/no” logical framework
  • Greater need for people who can work creatively within different paradigms

Travel will be a key means of achieving that. People come up with new things by going to different places, walking through them and intermingling with communities and knowledge that’s accumulated through history. I think this is how we go about “making the world a better place” in that work starts to resemble travel for leisure and travel for leisure starts to resemble work. Eventually, the two will merge to the point they’re like any other “human activity.”

Can you tell me a bit about the sister agency? How does ONFAdd interact with that?

ONFAdd is a division of a company called NEWPEACE and its mission is to update an outdated society.

NEWPEACE is a made up of a group of small teams tasked with accomplishing that through a different theme including love, gender, politics, ideology, housing, food, education, sports, etc. Within the scope of these themes, team members conduct both client work and their own businesses.

ONFAdd is actually positioned as a company within a team whose theme is “dwelling.” One of the conditions for each theme, essentially each team, is that there has to be more than one business in it. For people trying to update the world, I think it’s important both internally and externally to commit to risk-taking using your own company. Externally it shows to a client that you’re responsible and prepared, while internally, you learn more and accumulate more knowledge about the client you can share, which makes things more efficient.

How do you come up with products? What is your process?

A vision of the world you want to create, a certain function, material, social trend, traditions from around the world and things like that can all be starting points. Oftentimes, it starts with whatever inspirations the members in charge of product design have, but sometimes it stems from something an external partner brings up. Beyond that, the general product development workflow stays basically the same: you source materials, make the first prototype, and then balance function, meaning, and economics through three rounds of prototyping.

How many of your solutions are based on traditional problems (i.e. traveling or carrying heavy items vs. digital problems)?

Our team members all have a strong interest in solving “universal” problems. Because we’re also a product-based brand, for the time being, most of our approaches are naturally geared toward realizing physical goals. So building on those two points, we’ll be looking to solve a lot of traditional problems regardless of if that problem is an old one with a long history. Rain Socks, which emerged with yesterday’s rare sneaker boom comes to mind, That concept ended up solving the fairly traditional problem of shoes getting wet in the rain, but the catalyst of the idea is quite modern.

Do you think there’s a Japanese approach to how ONFAdd solves problems? What is that process like?

We think of things subtractively. When you have a lot of problems you want to solve at the same time, you don’t achieve that by increasing the number of functions, but instead keeping its physical nature and shape as abstract and simple as possible so it can be used in more ways. That would be the most Japanese approach, I think. During product development, the design gets simpler and simpler and we rarely add features after the first sample.

What has been the most interesting product you’ve designed so far?

We emphasize the following factors with our items:

  • Hackable: It can be used to “hack” existing systems in a way that makes it more convenient for you as opposed to the original intended usage.
  • Adaptable: It’s open to change and flexibly adapts to us and our environments and situations without assuming a single correct answer.
  • Scaled Back: It distances itself from the value system of “more is more and bigger is better” and focuses on capturing the richness you find at the edge of one’s imagination.

Of the items that fit the above that many of our members like, it would probably be the Rain Socks. What started as conveniently-sized foot covers for chemical plants that also increased the durability of the soles effectively became an essential item for sneakerheads. I would say that makes it a perfect case that fulfills those requirements. At the very least, it’s an interesting product even if you just look at the sales and market response.

Do you think about some product’s lifelines? For example, the rain socks only last for 10 km which some have said isn’t very sustainable.

The team definitely recognizes that sustainability is a premise that can’t be ignored. I think brands that don’t care about that now will eventually be seen as uncool from an ethics standpoint. Most of our items are about as robust as other brands, so I don’t think the life cycle is necessarily short. However, for products that touch the ground and where the primary goal is to keep shoes clean, it’s hard to match the durability of other items, but we’d definitely like to keep improving in terms of durability and adopting environmentally friendly materials.

What types of products do you want to explore in the future?

We’re currently developing a line of super basic bags catered to a lifestyle in motion that isn’t fixed in place. The plan is to make this line the go-to for the pioneers of the segment. We hope to create the durability and timelessness that will keep it at the forefront of culture even 100 years from now, much like Louis Vuitton was when travel for leisure evolved to become part of our culture.

What’s been the most challenging part about ONFAdd?

I would say creating a culture and a brand that can carry that culture far enough to become a world-view. While I’m satisfied with the system we created and all the cool things we were able to create from it in such a short period, I feel that unless we don’t continue to strengthen the link between our product development philosophy and the target market, it’ll be hard to create the big shift in society we want. As we look to become the first choice of the people pushing society forward and create a new future with them, we need to become the brand that can communicate what that’s going to look like.

Do you think that ONFAdd only creates solutions for bigger problems in society like capitalism, unaffordable homes, or a lack of permanent jobs?

Strictly speaking, it’s not that we’re not concerned with how “big” the problem is so much as we’re a lot more interested in how great the benefit to society will be if we come up with solutions.

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