Designer Neo Tamura Image courtesy Nao Studio.PhotoCredit:LaurelGolio

Nao Tamura: The Star of the SaloneSatellite.Milano 2010

The SaloneSatellite is an annual event geared to fostering contact between young designers and exhibiting companies. It takes place during The Salone Internazionale del Mobile, on Fairgrounds, Rho in Milan. Each year participants, young designers under 35 present their ideas for the first time at this event.

It was The SaloneSatellite 13th edition in 2010. Approximately 700 designers (including students from the 25 international design schools) presented their fresh ideas and design on the area covered 4,500 square meters (Pavilion: 22-24). The overall installation was designed as always by architect Ricardo Bello Dias, curator of every SaloneSatellite installation since its inception. Young designers offered their new prototypes to the 1,842 exhibitorspresented  on the Fir. That year 10,000 new products were showcased on the exhibition space of 209,000 square meters. Some of the eye-catching products created by world-renowned designers were:  Nemo chair by Fabio Novembre for Driade, Spun Seat by Thomas Heatherwick for Magis British designer Thomas Heatherwick and  Scrigno wooden cabinets covered in acrylic fragments by Fernando and Humberto Campana for Edra.

The young participants of the SaloneSatellite probably dreamed of reaching international recognition.

Bottle L’EauD’Issey, design: Nao Tamura forIssey, 2007 Image courtesy Nao Studio
Bottle L’EauD’Issey, design: Nao Tamura forIssey, 2007
Image courtesy Nao Studio

About SaloneSatellite Award 2010

The year 2010 is the year when a new formula for facilitating contact between young designers and the manufacturers exhibiting at the Saloni yet further. It was the first year that Salone Satellite Prize was awarded.

Participants on the SaloneSatellite 2010, have been asked to present, in addition to their qualifying prototypes, one or more projects belonging to the product categories of the biennial events that accompany the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, that means Eurocucina and the International Bathroom Exhibition. The task was defined so that their ideas are specifically relevant to the manufacturers which exhibited at the Saloni. 

The designers who choose to present these specialized proposals participated in a contest presided by a jury composed of figures in the worlds of design, manufacturing and media.

The jury selected the three best products in the two categories represented at the Saloni in the year 2010, i.e. Kitchen and Bath.

Bottle L’EauD’Issey, design: Nao Tamura forIssey, 2007 Image courtesy Nao Studio
Bottle L’EauD’Issey, design: Nao Tamura forIssey, 2007
Image courtesy Nao Studio

The prizes were awarded on the based-on poetry, technological innovation and social commitment. The three winners of the first edition of the SaloneSatellite Award were:

  • First prize went to Nao Tamura of Nownao (USA) for the design “Seasons Serving Containers”, an interpretation of utilitarian objects inspired by both nature and technology, for her poetry. 
  • Second prize went to the Jansson/Sandelin Studio (France) – Sebastian Jansson / Finland; Fernanda Piza / Mexico, Victor Stelmasuk / Brazil, Natalie Weinmann / Germany – for “Piezo Shower”, a self-heating shower powered by nanotechnology, for technological innovation.
  • Third prizewent to the Lithuanian Gabriele Meldaikyte, who had already won Salone Satellite Moscow 2009, for “Single Hand Cook”, a kitchen set for the disabled.

The winners received a cash award and the opportunity to do an internship with a manufacturer. Winners also benefit from consulting and press office support to ensure maximum visibility of their winning projects. In keeping with its philosophy of supporting young designers approaching the world of professional design, the SaloneSatellite has renewed its agreement with ADI (Italian Industrial Design Association) that allows participants to protect their work by submitting it to the Project Registry. Copyright protection is valid only for Italy.

Nao Tamura in 2010

Nao Tamura has won The First SaloneSatellite Award at the Milan Salone Internazionale del mobile 2010. At that time, she was young, unknown designer.

She has grown up in Japan in a design family. She moved to New York where she graduated communication design from Parsons School of Design in New York. Nao Tamura worked for design companies designing mass-produced electronic devices such as smartphones and cameras or easy to use products for people with arthritis.

At SaloneSatellite 2010, she showed her first product design.

Serving platesSeasons,design: Nao Tamura for Covo,2011 Image courtesy Nao Studio
Serving platesSeasons,design: Nao Tamura for Covo,2011
Image courtesy Nao Studio

For this presentation, she chose the product based on people’s real needs. The function like serving dish is simple but necessary in everyday life. Her interpretation of this task is different from others already seen. ‘Seasons’ are serving containers made of silica sand. 

For creating her product, Nao Tamura found inspiration in her Japanese roots, connection and understanding of nature. 

The chosen material and applied technology enabled her to realize the product with many advantages for day to day life. Handling ‘Seasons’ is facile for the user, as silicone can be used in an oven or microwave. Material is long-lasting and resistant so serving containers can be washed in a dishwasher. 

The silicone is lightweight and flexible too and offers some functional advantage of the product. ‘Seasons’ can be compressed or rolled up depending on the user’s need. In both positions, the product looks attractive. Thanks to the flexibility, silicon behave naturally and reveals its beauty, each leaf has its own shape and individuality. That way, each piece is unique and different like nature itself.

Serving platesSeasons,design: Nao Tamura for Covo,2011 Image courtesy Nao Studio
Serving platesSeasons,design: Nao Tamura for Covo,2011
Image courtesy Nao Studio

Above all, Seasons possess great responsibility to the environment. Plates made from silica sand, require very little energy to create and process silicone. The ability to process it with low-cost equipment creates an opportunity for localized production. 

Nao Tamura in the sensible way connected the Japanese approach to the nature with technology, past and present. On that base, she creates a product that is functional and attractive. While this design is organic and subtle, its functionality improves users lives.

Her the Seasons installation at SaloneSatellite in 2010 was a great success.

Nao Tamura about herself

We spoke with Nao Tamura about her career, first steps, experience and advice to young designers. Her answers are below:

1. SaloneSatellite is an international event in the design world to help designers under-35s establish themselves in the industry. What do you remember about your taking part in SaloneSatellite 2010?

My father is an industrial designer and he took me to SaloneSatellite when I was a student.

For someone who just started to learn design, SaloneSatellite-where all young designers are experimenting and exploring a new approach to design was just mind-blowing experience.

Back in 2010, I was designing mass-produced electronic devices such as smartphones and cameras etc... After a while, I said to myself, “Stop, what am I doing?” I was a part of this mass market and producing so many products without not being responsible for our planet... And then I seek out a project that reminds both me and the public how important it is to slow down and question ourselves. That’s how I came up with my project “ Seasons” I designed and exhibited at SaloneSatellite.

“Seasons” is an interpretation of functional kitchen and serving ware, inspired by nature and technology, through the cultural lens of Japan. In design, a brand new object with nary a scratch, and an object weathered and distilled by sustained use, both have their place. An object which has ceased to be useful can be recycled to begin life anew, in a fresh form. We must remain conscious of this cycle that exists in nature, just as we are conscious of the cycle of seasons.

When I look back on when I first participated in the SaloneSatellite, I remember signing up the document and submitted but I didn’t even know how to make prototype by myself, the only thing I had was an idea… I started everything from scratch… Also, I didn’t know anything about how Salone was set up. And so I remember I got a tall ladder in the city alone and brought it to the site taking the metro train and walked the long long path to the Satellite building… It was painful but good memory now:)

this chandelier FLOW[T] ,design: Nao Tamura forWonderglass, 2013-14 Image courtesy Nao Studio.Photo Credit:DavideCalafa
this chandelier FLOW[T] ,design: Nao Tamura for Wonderglass, 2013-14
Image courtesy Nao Studio.Photo Credit:DavideCalafa

2. Started in 2010, the SaloneSatellite Award introduced a further opportunity to facilitate contact between young designers and businesses. With your Seasons Serving Containers, you were the First Prize winner 2010. Have the Award had much of an impact on your career? If so, how?

After my first exhibition at Salone Satellite, I was asked by Nasir Kassamali who was the jury for the award to exhibit my installation but bigger during ArtBasel in Fall 2010. And a few years after, Paola Antonelli who was also one of the juries members recommended me to LEXUS and I was asked to do an installation during Salone.

I truly believe my design carrier started then. After I exhibited and received the award, I met so many people around the world.

I have learned the importance of not only designing an object but communicate your idea through design.

this chandelier FLOW[T], design: Nao Tamura forWonderglass,2013-14 Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Credit:DavideCalafa
this chandelier FLOW[T], design: Nao Tamura forWonderglass,2013-14
Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Credit:DavideCalafa

3. What is your opinion, why you received the Award? How your design was different from others and what additional values did it carry?

I think less about shapes and colours and more about the stories and messages I want to share. 

I believe I received the Award because of the story behind my design.

4. In the process of development of the new product, the relation between designer and client is important. How are your relationships with the companies you work with? What is most important in that relation?

July stool, design:Nao Tamura for Nikari,2012 Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Credit:Chikako Harada/Jenni Roininen
July stool, design:Nao Tamura for Nikari, 2012 Image courtesy Nao Studio.
Photo Credit: Chikako Harada/Jenni Roininen

I had worked in a larger design firm in the begging of my career, but I prefer to work alone or with as few people as possible to maintain the quality of design. With client work, however; I jump into their nest as a member of a team. 

I make it a point to discuss thoroughly so that the vision of the brand is shared, the “communication” is the most important key to a good relationship with the client. When you have a mindset as a member of a team, you can’t be indifferent to sales and you want to be actively involved in display methods and presentation as well. It’s always good to see the bigger picture, rather than just being an invited guest.

LampTurn,  design:Nao Tamura forAmbientec,  2019 Image courtesy Nao Studio
LampTurn, design:Nao Tamura for Ambientec, 2019
Image courtesy Nao Studio

5. Design is very much connected to society and its changes. Today the changes are numerous: a new way of doing business, coronavirus pandemic conditions, circular economy… Designers have to look for solutions and responses to them. Do you think that the role of the designer changed now and how? 

All designers should be responsible for thinking about how their work impacts the environment and what’s happening to the world. But we used to live in a fast-paced world. If like me, you work for large companies, they give you a commission and a deadline and expect you to deliver your design within a tight time frame and unfortunately leaves us with little time to think about something important. I think this kind of pandemic time let us seek out a project that reminds both us and the public how important it is to slow down and spend time to think deeper about how much impact design can make to this planet. Working in a consistently sustainable manner is a formidable challenge. 

But this is the time to scrutinise ourselves, the world, and our client, especially if you are creative.

LampTurn,design:Nao Tamura for Ambientec,  2019 Image courtesy Nao Studio
LampTurn,design:Nao Tamura for Ambientec, 2019
Image courtesy Nao Studio

6. Do you have any piece of advice for young designers entering the design world?   

I can say, “Try whatever you want”. If you have time to think about the consequences, just make a move.

Precisely because we are in an age when anybody can feel as if she’s experienced something or travelled somewhere by browsing through the internet. It is valuable to actually feel and see things physically. 

Nao Tamura in 2020

In the year 2020, Neo Tamura is an independent designer based in New York. She runs multidisciplinary studio Nao. The list of the clients she cooperates with is long. Some of them are Artek, Ambientec, Covo, Issey Miyake, HBF, Nikari, Nani Marquina, Nippon Foundation and Wonderglass. She was engaged in a variety of design projects ranging from furniture design to items like the bottle packaging, chandelier, lamp, carpet or watch. The subject of her design is always a purposeful product, based on the user’s needs from real life.

Watches 1/6,design:Nao Tamura for Issey Miyake, 2019 Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Seiko
Watches 1/6,design:Nao Tamura for Issey Miyake, 2019
Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Seiko

Nao Tamura confirmed that she can successfully handle any design brief and different materials like glass, metal, silicon… with support of technology and innovation. She worked on a variety of projects but almost in everyone, nature is her inspiration and motifs or influences from nature can be noticed.

Watches 1/6,design:Nao Tamura for Issey Miyake,2019 Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Seiko
Watches 1/6,design:Nao Tamura for Issey Miyake,2019
Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Seiko

It seems that Nao Tamura follows Albert Einstein saying: "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better". She connects design with nature, looking at nature in the Japanese way. This approach implies accepting nature as it is and living in harmony with it.

It is not only nature an important factor in her design. Nao Tamura deeply considers each item so that her organic and subtle pieces possess the attribute of smart design. Each product is with the story which stands behind that design. In some cases, it is the imperfection of the natural beauty (rags), the responsibility to nature and cycle that exists in nature or the inevitability of the passage of time (watch). Through her products, she is sending the messages and building an emotional connection with the users.

Nao Tamura has a personal approach in design and creates products which have strong sensibility. Her design represents the balance between idea and realization,function and beauty. In modest, simple, elegant shapes she incorporates her memories, imagination and knowledge, creating her poetry in the design world.

Watches 1/6,design:Nao Tamura for Issey Miyake,2019 Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Seiko
Watches 1/6,design:Nao Tamura for Issey Miyake,2019
Image courtesy Nao Studio. Photo Seiko

The career of Nao Tamura after her first experience on SaloneSatellite has been on the rise. She has received a number of international awards including the Gold Prize at IDEA (U.S.), the IF Design Award (Germany), and the ADI Compassod’Oro International Award (Italy). Her products are part of the MoMA Museum Store collection.

This post is a story about how the SaloneSatellite Award, professional contacts during the Fair, can impact young designer's career.