Interview with Gen Terao from BALMUDA

Interview with Gen Terao from BALMUDA

Red Dot (1): Your first profession was musician, why did you become a designer? Tell us what was your motivation to change your profession?

Gen Terao: I spent ten years as a vocalist/guitarist in a rock band and even signed a contract with a major label but in the end the band broke up and I decided to pursue another path. Though my musical career had ended, I still had a passion to create something and to make people happy with my creations.

Around the time I came across a design magazine, FRAME, and product design intrigued me. I always had respect to the tools I used to compose music, such as Apple’s Macintosh and Herman Miller’s Aeron chair.

It came to me that even in the field of business there are companies that possess the spirit of rock bands. Typical companies will research and analyze market needs before creating a product but no rock band does a marketing survey before writing a song. In this sense, Apple, Patagonia and Virgin seemed to me like rock bands. They were doing what they believed in without being driven by the market and they were passionate about it. So I thought I’d do the same.

Red Dot (2): You founded your own company Balmuda. For what does design by Balmuda stand today?

Gen Terao: In terms of form, we aim to create something that is beautiful and not something new. New designs tend to be praised but what is new today ends up being old tomorrow. At BALMUDA we try to design our products so that they are beautiful even after 100 years. In order to achieve this sort of beauty, you need to really think about what is a natural form for that particular product. For example, our humidifier took hints from traditional Japanese water pots. While many humidifiers are square, the pot-like form feels more natural for a product that holds water, hence there is a subtle beauty to it.

Design is an important feature but on the other hand it is only one of the many features of BALMUDA products. When we create a product we value how it will stimulate our five senses. Sight is important because it is most likely to be the first sense used when encountering a product for the first time. Especially since we are creating appliances that are placed in visible areas within the house.

However, people support our products because we also value the other four senses. For example our fan creates a breeze that feels soft and our toaster creates a piece of toast that tastes miraculously good. Aesthetics are import but it is not what defines BALMUDA products.

Red Dot (3): How can the design process be described at Balmuda?

Gen Terao: In BALMUDA we have a creative team made up by 9 designers of either product, graphic or space design. This creative team is responsible for the quality of all the creative material that BALMUDA produces, whether it’s the product, website, catalogue, store design… they even do most of the photo shootings themselves.

In terms of products, our product designers are involved from the concept making stage and throughout the development they work side by side with the engineers and marketing team. Per product, the design team will usually draw about 2000 sketches and we narrow it down through discussion and I make the final decision. We never do surveys of any sort to get consumer insight.

I demand a lot to our designers. When we started developing our toaster, I instructed them to design a toaster that would make the best toast in the world. In other words, their mission was to design “taste”. The assigned designer was a product designer but while designing the form of the product he spent hours toasting and tasting with the engineers. He ended up eating 5000 slices of toast in 6 months.

Red Dot (4): Where did the ideas for your products come from?

Gen Terao: I never think of BALMUDA as a brand that simply manufactures home appliances. Our products are tools that help to enhance the lives of the users with wonderful experiences. Like taking a nap in the middle of a hot summer day with a refreshing breeze to sooth you, or watching your child sleep by a gentle breeze…

So I keep attention to what makes me feel excited or happy in my everyday life. Every time I encounter such experiences, I analyze the elements that make me feel fulfilled and think “what kind of tool would help to recreate this moment”.

Red Dot (5): Please describe how The Green Fan differs from other fans! What is special?

Gen Terao: The quality of the wind is the biggest difference. With conventional fans, the air emitted is typically swirling. Because of this swirling motion the air feels harsh when it hits the body. A natural breeze on the other hand, flows in a wide mass without such swirling effects.

The GreenFan uses a patented technology in which the inner blade of the fan emits air slowly and the outer blade rapidly. The slow and rapid airflows collide at one point which breaks the swirl and changes the air to a wide mass. This is the secret to the natural and soothing breeze that The GreenFan creates.

The GreenFan is also very quiet and energy efficient. At the lowest level, it is only 13dB which is equivalent to the flutter of 2 butterflies, and consumes only 1.5W. This is due to the brushless DC motor and also because every minute detail of all the parts has been designed upon studies on air resistance.

Red Dot (6): What was your goal when you realized The Green Fan?

Gen Terao: To create a modern tool that would benefit people. Before The GreenFan, BALMUDA was creating high-end desk lights. But the economic downturn caused by Lehman Brothers bankruptcy hit us hard.

One day, I passed by a restaurant and through the window I saw a happy family enjoying dinner. I was shocked because day in and day out the news was talking about the economic crisis and I myself was being hit hard but even then, there were people who would spend their time and money to enjoy a restaurant dinner with their family. It hit me that my products aren’t selling because of the economic crisis, they aren’t selling because people didn’t need them.

It was evident that BALMUDA would go down in a few months. I thought “If we are to go down, might as well go down fighting” and decided to start a project that I had always been interested in and thought would benefit people. Which was to create a truly good fan. The fan was a tool that had not been innovated for approximately 100 years, and concerns of global warming and energy supply were growing.

A fan’s true purpose is to deliver cool comforting air but no one had every seemed to try and improve the quality of the air. It was always a wonder to me.

Red Dot (7): What were the biggest challenges in the development of The Green Fan?

Gen Terao: Technically, the biggest challenge was how to realize a natural breeze. I knew the key was to eliminate the swirl in the air.

I trained in a small local factory in my younger days, and the meisters there would face the fans to the wall. The air felt more comfortable when it hit the wall and bounced back because the swirl had been eliminated. I just needed to figure out how to create an impact that would stop the swirling without a wall. I read many books on fluid dynamics but it didn’t help much.

One day I saw a show on TV in which 30 kids stood side by side with their feet tied to one another and did a 31 legged race. I noticed that the faster kids get pulled towards the slower kids and in the end they collide and collapse. I thought this might happen with air as well and designed a fan that would create slow air and rapid air. It worked.

The even bigger challenge was funding though. I had this great idea and the technology to realize it but I didn’t have the funds for mass production. No bank would lend me money at the time, I was broke. I decided to show the prototype to buyers and gathered pre-orders for 2000 units. I went to the factory with these orders and persuaded them to lend me the money for production. I am grateful to the people who believed in GreenFan and supported my dream at the time.

Red Dot (8): If we look at the price, it seems to be very high at the first moment, compared to other prices for fans. What do you think are the three main arguments for the price and thus for the purchase of The Green Fan?

Gen Terao: Of course there’s a lot of technology involved and mechanical aspects that make the price what it is but I’m not going to go there. I have only one argument to make.

What is the price you would pay for a truly comfortable summer? To have a refreshing natural breeze in your room… a good night’s sleep on a hot summer night… not being distracted by the disturbing hum of a fan, a gentle breeze for a napping baby…?

Red Dot (9): Till now your product has gained a great acceptance in Asia. In Europe it is still quite new on the market. What do you think, the Europeans will say about the product?

Gen Terao: Regardless to regions or culture, everyone can relate to how refreshing a soft natural breeze is on a hot summer day. The values that The GreenFan delivers is universal and I think it will be well received in all countries.

Red Dot (10): What trends are you currently pursuing?

Gen Terao: In Germany, we have only launched a few of our products in the air category but in Japan we entered the kitchen category in 2015 and we will be starting our third line soon. That’s as far as I can say at the moment.

We have also been exploring with IOT and robotics for a while now which you may see incorporated in our products in the future.

Red Dot (11): How do you get your work-life balance?

I like excitement, so three days a week I work out at a boxing gym, during the winter I go skiing every weekend and recently I have started composing and performing music again. Among all though, I find my job most exciting. Nothing is as intriguing, challenging or drives me to be more creative. In short, my job at BALMUDA is what I love to do most. I am fortunate because work and life are not separate things for me and I don’t feel the need to balance the two.

Red Dot (12): Which product would you like to realize in the future?

Gen Terao: BALMUDA started off by creating design conscious desktop accessories. Now we are creating home appliances. The first appliance was The GreenFan and we added an air purifier and humidifier to the lineup. In 2015 we entered the kitchen category kicking off with our toaster. This year, we are planning to enter a new category in home appliances.

It is my nature that I like doing new things. I will probably continue my challenge to create products unlike any other. Because of this nature of mine, I honestly don’t know what products BALMUDA will be creating in 10 years.

Whatever the product is though, we will be developing them in the purpose to create one thing, that is memorable moments for the user. Let’s say a family has a Sunday brunch prepared by our toaster and the food is miraculously good. Good food initiates good conversation, good atmosphere and happy moments. What I truly want to do through my developments are to create memorable moments for our users.

Red Dot (13): What is your motto?

Gen Terao: “Life is short” and “Never give up”. I learned these two very important things through my parents.

I was 14 years old when my mother died and taught me that life is not infinite. No matter how much we cherish life, there is an end to it. That is why we need to make the best effort to enjoy today.

My father taught me through his life that no matter what obstacles you may encounter, you can always achieve something as long as you don’t give up. To enjoy your short life and to never give up until you have an achievement are my two mottos.

Posted on 06.07.2018

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