“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

Tokyo, Japan—Leonardo da Vinci was known to be the very first person to draw a human spine in accurate curves and proportion through human body dissection. He had a compelling obsession to understand the connection of human body parts, how they worked and where emotions evolved. He was, in a sense, approximately a century ahead of recorded scientific technology that analyzed how blood circulated through the human body. Da Vinci was also the first person to draw a fetus in a uterus in impeccable detail, leaving behind roughly 6,500 drawing sheets of the human anatomy.

Whether this daring attempt to scrutinize human physiology by internal deconstruction made people at that time appreciate the human physical structure more explicitly or not is yet to be revealed. However, an exhibition in Tokyo, “Design Anatomy Exhibition—A method for seeing the world through familiar objects,” running until January 22 at 21_21 Design Sight Museum in Roppongi, launched with a similar objective as da Vinci: a dissection of everyday products from a design perspective to understand their physical structure, the miniscule relationship of parts, and the overall design’s conceptual harmony with society, lifestyle, and its roles and future possibilities.

About Design Anatomy (© Satoshi Asakawa)

About Design Anatomy (© Satoshi Asakawa)

The 21_21 Design Sight Museum Director and graphic designer Taku Satoh initiated the exhibition project to analyze the framework of product processing from its design, logotype, branding, graphic elements, to layout, printing, material production, packaging, and distribution. Commercial products are consumed daily without a clear awareness of their “skeletal anatomy” that impacts the environment, in relation to waste, global warming, health, and safety.

When a consumer picks up a box of chocolates from a supermarket counter, one of the most important marketing tools for selection is packaging design. The graphic elements, color appeal and composition, the communication between the design and the product itself, the feel of the box, its weight and size are the initial key points (apart from brand and price) that make a product alluring. However, the backbone of the design, in essence “engineering design,” that came with the product—the choice of paper, the cut and shape of the chocolates, the placement of the logo and the ingredients specifications, the measurement of density and air compression, the sealing process for the inner wrapping, and other factors that make up the total production—rarely comes to mind at that moment of selecting the product. Design anatomy brings this awareness forward and adds up to the product value, consequently further increasing the consumer’s knowledge of design development.

Design Anatomy Meiji Milk Chocolate (© Satoshi Asakawa)

Design Anatomy Meiji Milk Chocolate (© Satoshi Asakawa)

Satoh calls the methodology “dissect from outside inward.” One literally looks through a peephole of a product and “breaks apart” its various relational elements to visually comprehend how the product is conceived, formed, studied scientifically and chemically, and assembled. Not only is the consumer able to perceive the “genetic composition” of the product, but also reaches a conscious level of design economics that binds it with culture and lifestyle.

For this exhibition, five of Meiji Co. Ltd.’s leading products—Kinoko no Yama Chocolate, Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt, Meiji Milk Chocolate, Meiji Essel Super Cup, and Meiji Oishii Gyunyu—have been dissected meticulously into large modules, complete with the step-by-step production stage, illustrations, mechanical diagrams, historical account of branding and logotype, and examination of essential factors that contribute to the careful planning of a mass product, such as taste and raw ingredients.

Design Anatomy Meiji Essel Super Cup (© Satoshi Asakawa)

Design Anatomy Meiji Essel Super Cup (© Satoshi Asakawa)

The common methodology used for examining the anatomy of all the sample products starts from product naming, logotype, package contents (color, shape, taste, texture, and ingredients), product body to raw materials as they directly influence the product environment (history, market, and so on). A thorough physical investigation of the product provides the consumer information about the percentage of sugar content, the process of crushing and melting, the relativity of room temperature, the experimental methods used to determine taste and texture, the nature of compositional elements, the type of packaging material that needs to withstand humidity and cold and prevent toxic content, including the number of printing plates used in the printing production, and others.

For the Meiji Milk Chocolate, for instance, apart from a historical trace of the product’s evolution, we witness a dot matrix printing mechanism used for the packaging that analyzes manufacturing and distribution.

Design Anatomy Meiji Milk Chocolate (© Satoshi Asakawa)

Design Anatomy: Meiji Milk Chocolate (© Satoshi Asakawa)

In the Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt module, a comprehensive layout of yogurt production is explained such as fermentation, together with a visual documentation of how the package is kept airtight and systematized for transportation delivery.

Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt external graphic elements (© 21_21 Design Sight Museum)

Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt external graphic elements (© 21_21 Design Sight Museum)

The Kinoko no Yama Chocolate comes in different shades of brown chocolate, and each of this color conceptualization is illustrated, plus an experimental analysis of taste and texture, mouth feel, and aroma.

Kinoko no Yama color study (© 21_21 Design Sight Museum)

Kinoko no Yama color study (© 21_21 Design Sight Museum)

The Meiji Oishii Gyunyu milk carton displays the development of the packaging graphics and the conditions affecting cattle feeding and milking.

Meiji Oishii Gyunyu extension of logotype (© Rintaro Shimohama)

Meiji Oishii Gyunyu extension of logotype (© Rintaro Shimohama)

For the Meiji Essel Super Cup ice cream, we understand the production processes for frozen products and the design selection of the cup size and shape and spoon.

Meiji Essel Super Cup Spoon study (© Ayumi Okubo/parade-inc.)

Meiji Essel Super Cup Spoon study (© Ayumi Okubo/parade-inc.)

Apart from Meiji products, the exhibition also covers a visual dissection of other consumer products, such as LOTTE XYLITOL Gum, FUJI FILM, TAKARA TOMY LICCA, and more.

When da Vinci’s human anatomy drawings were first released to the general public after his death, the result was equally explosive as stupefying. Never has one single man, absent of any medical or surgical experience, ever proven such insurmountable precision, incomparable intricacy, and forceful thoroughness for illustrating so vividly the complexities of the human body.

By the same token, the “Design Anatomy Exhibition” at 21_21 Design Sight Museum, Tokyo has successfully dissected the design of Japanese consumer products in immense detail that is bound to feed one’s curiosity on not only the “anatomical” ingredients of a product, but also the consciousness of hard work, time, and intricacy devoted to the design and manufacture of an object. This exhibition undoubtedly changes every consumer’s perception of a product the next time he or she picks up a carton of milk from the counter.

For travelers to Japan, the 21_21 Design Sight Museum in Roppongi, Tokyo is the creative ingenuity of architect Tadao Ando and designer Issey Miyake. Sprawling on a picturesque garden behind the Tokyo Midtown complex, the split-level concrete structure is Tokyo’s sole design museum that functions not only as a venue for exhibitions, but also a niche for research, workshops, and meeting point of designers, architects, artists, academicians, and students that investigates the potentials and relevance of design in our current lives.

With special gratitude to 21_21 Design Sight Museum, Tokyo and Issey Miyake Europe.

About The Author

Alma R. H. Reyes

Editor, writer, graphic/layout designer, and music artist promotion/event coordinator based in Tokyo, Japan. Holds a Bachelor's degree in Interior Design, studied Computer Graphic Design at University of California Berkeley, Japanese language studies at Osaka University of Foreign Studies, and received her Master's degree in Product Design & Design Management at Kyoto Institute of Technology. Has published over 30 titles as editor and writer. Interests include design, architecture, art, photography, brush calligraphy, music, piano, concerts, film, theatre, books, poetry, travel, retro, boats, horses, wine, Italian food, and all "uninhibited" elements of life…