The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) received the sad news of Kenji Ekuan’s passing on Sunday, 8 February 2015. The Japanese industrial designer was best known for his iconic Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser introduced in 1961 and the Narita Express bullet train.

Deeply affected by the aftermath of World War II in Japan, Ekuan left his studies at a Buddhist temple where he was a monk to pursue his new desire to be a “creator of things”. He attended Tokyo’s National University of Fine Arts and Music and later enrolled in an exchange programme at the Art Center College of Design in California where he graduated in 1955. Two years later, Ekuan founded GK Industrial Design Associates, which later became GK Design Group and is now one of the largest design consultancies in Japan with 250 employees.

In 1970, he became president of the Japan Industrial Designers’ Association and quickly joined Icsid as a Board Member from 1971 – 1973, as Vice President from 1973-1975 and as President from 1975-1977. Kenji Ekuan remained close to the international organisation as an active Senator meeting with current Icsid President, Dr. Brandon Gien in December 2014.

Considered a pioneer of modern Japanese industrial design, his contribution to the discipline has been recognised through many international awards, among them, Icsid’s Colin King Grand Prix in 1979, officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), Order of the Rising Sun (Japan), Osaka International Design Award (1987), Sir Misha Black Medal (1995) and the Compasso d’Oro Lifetime Achievement Award (Italy).

Ekuan’s approach to design was one of “democratisation”, in an article from the Japan Times in 2001, he said, “Design to me has always meant making people happy. Happy in the sense of creating items that provide comfort, convenience, function, aesthetics and ethics. I used to do a lot of research, fieldwork, wanting to understand the psychology of human needs and response.”

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