Japanese Design Philosophy

9 min readOct 9, 2020

Wa = Harmony


Fundamental to Musubi is a Japanese philosophy — Wa which means harmony. The search and creation of harmony affords us the ability to examine the business as a whole but more importantly it allows us to interrogate the status quo and break the shackles of tradition. Wa, drives us to go deep and helps us to cradle a strong social message and champion forms of expression and inclusivity as well as a celebration of diversity.

I have always argued for making the brand the central pivot of an organisation. Why then do so few companies do this? It is found that although the notion of organising around the brand is gaining acceptance and becoming a strategic aim for many companies, it remains uncommon in practice because it is so hard to implement without a clearly defined brand or focus on people. It requires leaders to take a holistic view of the brand and the organisation that transcends the marketing function and makes the brand a rallying cry for the whole organisation. More importantly, it requires the organisation to harmoniously align its people, processes, positioning and work environments in order to deliver the promise it makes everyday.

Harmony in All Things The Law of the Land Wa, the Japanese word for harmony, is now known by many people around the world, but what most people probably do not know is that the concept of harmony was so important in the traditional culture that it was one of the seventeen articles that are often described as Japan’s first constitution, written in A. D. 604. This law stated that all behaviour was to be conducted in a harmonious manner — not only social behaviour but business and political behaviour as well.

The future challenge will be to have an organisation that has a sophisticated culture galvanised around a sophisticated brand.

Having a holistic view is one thing but by harnessing Wa, we are able to establish a stable platform to create an organisational brand and culture that is respectful to the people charged with moving the business forward.

Branding means to burn. It is an aggressive act. Our approach is to grow the brand up from the people.

In the past the approach was to developed a logo then impose onto a company. A company cant change culture with a new logo and they cant convince people that a change of some 2D graphics will improve the toxicity of a culture. So whats the responsible answer?

Well, the corporate world is complex and it isn’t getting any simpler. For over 400 years the industrial revolution has worked hard to create systems of control. What’s we have is decisions and a mindset that is rooted in the past. But the world is changing. Thankfully the power is shifting inch by inch into the hands of people. Power doesn’t rest in the hands of the few. New world power is in the hands of many. So how do we shape a complex organisation ready for a complex world? We coalesce human values with brand purpose through the entire levels of the organisation.

Companies think in departments and it affects people in very disturbing ways. People amputate themselves from other people. The self censor based on their job title and don’t share deep knowledge up and down the organisation because of the disharmony of politics.

Japanese businesses encourage wa in the workplace, employers will look long term with employees typically giving them a career for life in order to foster a strong association with their colleagues at all levels. Rewards and bonuses are usually given to groups, rather than individuals, further stimulating group unity.

The central premise of Wa is understanding the needs and potential friction of the people who work together and their relationship to the brand. It takes the long term view. A view that a business is part of something bigger.

The opposite of Wa is a disconnected approach that results in a patchwork of initiatives and projects that fail to interconnect with each other or speak to the whole.

Clearly the failure of branding is that it is narrow and does not adequately accommodate the rich culture it must reside in. It does not take into account the wider environment. But by harnessing harmony — Wa, we are able to establish a stable platform to create an organisational brand and culture that is adaptive and robustness. This ensures that Brands will wear in, not wear out!


Konosuke’s philosophy of business is simple; his principles of success are timeless. He adopts a people-oriented approach that gives new meaning to the word ‘success.’ An understanding of human nature that embraces new values of responsibility and generosity. A management ethic that relies on fairness, harmony that inspire a sense of interconnection — and that goes far beyond the quest for profit alone.”

His brand purpose = to exist for the benefit of society

  • Provide self-service, but give service a human touch
  • Think beyond engagement to relationship.
  • Develop ecosystems and engage in holistic thinking
  • Get out of the building and gather evidence
  • Avoid silos, which prevent greatness
  • “Silos create roadblocks that deter deep conversations and cross-disciplinary collaboration.”
  • Participative management with collective wisdom
  • Ideas needs to be authentic and come from people that are going to live with it.



If there’s any power in branding, it’s the power of unification. So, with harmony as a platform, we brought people into the process of reshaping Sydney Water. The more complex the problem, the more the need to unify ideas and insights from people throughout the organisation.

Conventional design and branding usually involves a series of hand-offs along a linear process. which is understandable. So how do we shape a complex organisation for a complex world? We bring people into the process. from across the organisation and from people outside it.

Companies think in departments and it affects people in very disturbing ways. They would amputate themselves from other people. They would censor themselves based on their job title. But by synthesising all the different areas of the organisation staff are able to contribute to the larger purpose.

The failure of branding is that it is narrow and does not adequately accommodate the rich culture that it must reside in.

Brand is usually a homogeneous exercise. Here is a logo. Adopt it!

Brands needs to be authentic and come from an understanding of the people that are going to live with it!

Casting the net wide is a longer process but it is richer and bigger so that we get a brand solution that has the depth needed to stand the test of time.

Sydney Water’s ambition as an organisation is to meet changing market drivers and positively impact on people’s lives.

While customer and employee experience and insights can spark excitement and positive feedback, it does not bring the organisation any closer to executing a cohesive and focussed message internally or externally. This requires significant management participation and a dedicated team to manage and align the complex web of interdependent activities, brand assets, systems, processes and priorities. And according to research, Sydney Water’s existing standing amongst customers is undefined and lack potent meaning.

Musubi set out to establish a transformation project to help with increased productivity, laser focus on the the new brand purpose, then shape and prepare brand message clarity and a scalable brand idea.

Our approach was to define Sydney Water’s authentic foundations and unlock the latent power of Sydney Water. Nothing is worse than trying to impose a brand idea into an organisation. We co-created with Sydney Water to establish an authentic, fact base, and deeply meaningful Brand Idea and Brand Positioning. The result of establishing a clearly memorable definition of the brand from within the organisation ensures fidelity and a sense of truth to decision-making.

Musubi translated the different parts of the organisation into a set of brand tools and strategic resources that can be executed consistently and flexibly. Ultimately the approach is to shape the strategic framework, recommendations and directions to provide Sydney Water with the readiness and ability to manage reputation building programs.

Japanese Design as a Way of Life One of the foundations of Japan’s traditional arts and crafts was a deep-seated compulsion to strive constantly for higher and higher standards of design, functionality, and quality.

The Essence of Japanese Design Focusing on the Essential Honshitsu can be translated as the “real essence,” or the “essential qualities” of an object. It also refers to the form of an object. Seizui has similar meanings, and is translated as “the pure, highly concentrated, essence” of a thing.

Learning Lessons from Nature Shizen by itself means “nature” or “natural.” When the term is applied to arts and crafts, including modern designs, it also encompasses things that are made to look like they were made by nature. As is well known, one of the special skills that have long distinguished the Japanese is their ability to apply shizen characteristics, or the characteristics of nature, to the things they make, with landscaped gardens being one of the most conspicuous examples. The obvious idea behind basing designs on shizen principles is that nature is the original designer and nature-made things are inherently appealing to human beings on both a conscious and subconscious level. We instinctively recognise that we have a physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual connection to nature; the more closely a product relates to certain aspects of nature, the more attractive it is to people. This especially applies to building materials, household furniture, utensils, and interior decorations. The Japanese learned this bit of wisdom a long time ago.

The Spirit of Nature Shizenbi means “natural beauty” — something that is at the core of Japanese aesthetics. Since the early Japanese believed that all things in nature had spirits and were spiritually connected, they were especially attuned to the appearance, character, and life of natural things. The climate of the islands was temperate enough that it was conducive to a fairly comfortable lifestyle. And just as important, the scenic beauty of the islands was so sublime, so inspiring, that it had a fundamental influence on the sensibilities of the Japanese that was to have farreaching effects on the culture they developed over the millennia. Among other things, the spiritual and physical relationship the Japanese had with nature led them to adopt both the outward beauty and the inner essence of nature as guidelines in their earliest arts and crafts. Artists and craftsmen not only viewed the materials that they shaped into utilitarian objects as having spirits, they also treated their tools with extraordinary respect, not only in keeping them well maintained but also in handling them.

Recognising and Appreciating Beauty For most westerners the deep, abiding pleasure experienced from viewing beautiful items is a very personal thing because they have never been exposed to objective aesthetic guidelines or standards. In Japan, on the other hand, bigaku, or “aesthetics,” became woven into the threads of the cultural fabric, and the Japanese developed precise guidelines, standards, and customs for recognising and appreciating beauty. For more than a thousand years the Japanese made the appreciation of beauty a part of their daily life. It was something that they studied and practiced as part of their being Japanese. Their model and standard for beauty was the natural or what was suggested by nature, including some things most westerners would describe as ugly.

Most westerners automatically distinguish between the fine arts, as devoted to pure aesthetic enjoyment, and the decorative arts, which aim at harmony between beauty and utility. The Japanese aesthetic, however, commonly mixes the two, there being no reason to separate life from art. From ancient times, therefore, beauty was present in every Japanese home. No matter how poor or how low on the social ladder, every Japanese family would possess a few pieces of pottery or lacquerware that were works of art. In the Taoist view, brought down to earth by the Zen monks of Japan, to be beautiful an object must lack something that the viewer can add from himself. There must be a “vacuum” that the viewer can enter and fill up to the full measure of his aesthetic ability. In order to accomplish this, the viewer has to cultivate the proper frame of mind. The angry, prejudiced, or frustrated person is not capable of fully appreciating beauty.




Musubi is what’s possible. Musubi is a strategic brand agency and through a lens of Japanese design principles we create and design brands, workplace culture,