Ayako Takase and Cutter Hutton met as students at Rhode Island School of Design. At the time, each had a unique voice: Takase’s designs expressed the simple richness of her native Japan; Hutton’s expressed his clever and pragmatic nature.
Their voices began harmonizing in 2001, when they founded their studio, which later became known as Observatory. Their shared philosophy is that good design can create an emotional connection between object and individual. “There’s a lot of analytical work that goes into design,” says Hutton. “But there’s also an emotional aspect that can only be delivered through intuition and experience. The process is a blend of the rational and intuitive.”
An example is the very real needs behind the design of the Airia Desk for Herman Miller. People who work from home need a desk compatible with home furnishings, yet responsive to the latest technology. Takase (who once worked with designer Ayse Birsel) and Hutton gave Airia an elegant form but also built in “purposeful and intelligent features,” says Takase, such as a dual-level desktop and technology management. The result is a piece that fully supports contemporary needs.
“When I’m designing, I think about people who will be using the products,” says Takase. “I feel a responsibility to give them what they want and need, not necessarily what they expect. It’s that human interaction at the other end that appeals to me, not just creating for the sake of creating.”
Takase finds design to be a lot like cooking. “There’s a lot of care and love that goes into it,” she explains—and occasionally, a squabble between chefs. “We both still have unique design voices,” says Hutton, “so there are times we have to work to convince each other of something, but the end result is a more interesting harmony. The outcome is a stronger design.”